Vocation as Finding Your Element

Ken Robinson is one of my favorite speakers. His TED Talk on Education and Creativity is the all-time most watched TED Talks and worth seeing more than once. His book Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life is a wonderful resource. If you don’t have time to read the whole book, you might watch this brief encapsulation and animation of its central idea: that we each have talents to contribute linked to our abilities and passions and the best hope for the world is that we cultivate the diversity of gifts we have rather than only valuing some.

As he talks about this idea of cultivating an education system that treats us more like valued and contributing elements of a living organism rather than parts of a mechanism, I was reminded of St. Paul’s description of the Body of Christ, where the diversity of gifts is only to be celebrated. Paul begins with language very similar to Robinson’s:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Cor. 12:4-7).

And then Paul continues with imagery that has been beloved by the Church ever since and that might also be helpful to remember, particularly as we move increasingly in education toward standardized tests and cutting the program budgets for the arts:

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body (vv. 14-20).

In listening to both Robinson and Paul, I was also reminded of the Christian teaching about vocation: that God calls – Latin vocare, from which “vocation” comes – each of us to use our distinct passions, gifts, and experiences for the sake of the world God loves so much. I don’t know if Ken Robinson sees himself as a vocational counselor, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he does. And I think St. Paul would agree. 🙂

I will put both the 3-minute animated short, as well as the 40-minute full presentation, below. Both are produced by the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts (RSA).

Note: If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to click on the title at the top of the post to watch the videos.