Reading ‘The Element’ by Ken Robinson made me reflect on a change in my life which had a profound effect. I was on an upward trajectory in the navy, single-mindedly focussed on my ambition to become an officer, then it was forward again until the trajectory flattened out. I decided to become a teacher and set about this with as much determination undertaking an Open University degree course.
I went to a summer school, mixing with other students at Bath university. We were divided into tutor groups of about 25. We studied course themes, discussed and presented ideas. I found myself working with Paul Tanner, a child of the 60s, a complete opposite from my disciplined naval life. He described his past as being a hippie, no money, travelling, up in the morning not knowing where he’d be that evening and there were drugs and alcohol problems. When I met him he had been through rehab, was lecturing at a university abroad and working with recovering addicts.
I listened to his stories trying to put myself in his shoes but failing due to my structured, rules based beliefs – he was so outside my field of experience it frightened me… not knowing where I’d eat or sleep? ‘something would always turn up’… hmmm, it made me shiver. However something clicked and we got on well. At the end of the week we parted but something of Paul stayed with me. In the days, weeks and months after I reflected on my safe, structured beliefs. I could never not know where I’d sleep or what I’d eat but I did challenge myself to ‘let go’ a bit. I started to take risks, grab opportunities previously ignored, I adopted a milder ‘something will turn up’ attitude and life changed. Leaving schools I was unhappy at without another job lined up, I’ve changed career again and I’ve taken time off paid work to travel and develop in ways I would never have attempted or imagined had I been restricted by my previous beliefs.
What keeps many of us doing the same thing, the same job we hate, within our comfort zone, within known routines is these limiting beliefs which stop us finding what Ken Robinson calls our ‘Element’, ‘the point at which natural talent meets personal passion’.