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How Important Is It To Find Your Element?

I managed to read the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything over the weekend. The book, written by Ken Robinson, talks about the importance of finding the one thing that you like the most and then pursuing it passionately for a fulfilling life. Paul Graham more or less says the same thing in his famous article How To Do What You Love.

Robinson’s book triggered a number of thoughts in my mind. It is full of examples of people from various fields, including sports, dance, music and entrepreneurship; the people who made it big. When I was reading about these people, I found an unmistakable similarity among all of them. They all wanted to live a meaningful life. They all wanted to achieve something. They were also determined to put in the efforts, and were passionate about the things they chose to do.

What separates these people who are so full of life from the ordinary people is not that they found their element as Robinson puts it. I think it’s the zeal for perfection and the passion for life and the passion for everything that they choose to do is what makes them extraordinary.

Our education system is designed in such a way that most of the students hardly get an opportunity to try out anything in their school days. It also defines a very linear path to success. Perform well in academics, go to a decent college, get a degree and you will get a decent job. It is only after college that people realize that it doesn’t work that way. You need to have much more than just a degree to not only get a decent job, but also to live a decent life.

Our society fosters a false notion in children’s heads that to succeed in life, you only need to clear exams with good marks. Forget extra-curricular activities, even learning and understanding of subject matter is considered secondary. Independent learning is not encouraged. Students are provided ready-made notes, have tuitions outside schools and are taught formulas to clear exams. This approach proves very dangerous as students remain weak academically as well as do not develop important life skills such as communication skills, critical thinking, or appreciation of art.

I agree with Robinson that you need to find where your interest lies and then pursue that interest for a happier life. But I do not agree that this interest is innate, or it can not be created/manufactured, or that we can not have multiple interests. As a child, I was not exposed to either reading or writing. But I still developed an interest in them. Most of the people who go on to become artists have a natural interest in those arts, along with the talent of course. But I also know many people who develop an interest after they get exposed to something. One of my friends took up Fine Arts because his uncle told him to. Before that he had never thought of it as a career option. But in his fourth year in college, he said that he was really enjoying it, and liked the idea of pursuing a career in it. You develop an interest in things as you dabble in them.

I think having an interest is secondary to developing a passion for something, because it can be manufactured (provided you have talent and have taken enough training for that particular thing). What is important is the positive approach to life, zeal for perfection, being open to try out new things, open to learn new things and not caring much about the conventional definition of success. Life does not have a final goal (Death can not be a person’s final goal. If it was, everybody would have committed suicide). There is no such thing as an ultimate success. We can only have short term goals. But it is very important to enjoy the process as we strive to achieve them.