The key to your success starts and ends with you – re-invent yourself
Last week I had the pleasure to speak in front of a small audience to inspire people at a cross roads in their life or career. A lady came to thank me afterwards. She quickly summarised her education and work life as not surmounting to much in her opinion. Then she asked if I would have a quick look at her phone. With shaking hands, she opened the gallery and showed me photos of the drawings and paintings she had done. They were truly breath-taking. The years of “I’m no good” dialogue had made her doubt if she had any talent at all, but there on her phone was the proof that she was incredibly gifted and it had almost gone unnoticed.
Are you worried or at the very least conscious about the environment and the fact that we are fast running down the natural resources of the planet we live on? I am. But there is one kind of wastefulness I witness every working day: the waste of people’s natural talents and skills.
Many people have been conditioned by the educational system that they start out a Nobody. The only way to turn a Nobody into a Somebody is through ticking the boxes we all recognise: diploma’s, certificates, letters behind one’s name, status symbols and things that money buys. It’s a rigid structure; a common language that divides people into the clever and the “not so..”, into the intellectuals and workers. Kids quickly know which group they “belong to”. You go to school and you are segregated by age, possibly labelled. The clever group are in an enviable position, the rest struggle on. Most parents want their child to score high, learn fast and study hard. The conviction is education opens doors and guarantees a future.
But the world has changed and no longer the highly educated are any more certain of anything than people who learned a skill. Education has always mostly been an outside-in process. You read books, you performed given tasks, you took instruction of those who had been educated more than you. The bar was set at a certain height. Intelligence was measured against some standards, based on retention and recall. Depending on whether you made the grade or not created in some cases lifelong consequences. After some time, people forgot the scores they had achieved, but they never easily forgot how it made them feel.
The educational system has not adapted quickly to the changing times. We live in a digital world with knowledge at our fingertips and the ability to learn, experience and encounter how other people have done it, researched it and explain it within seconds. We can connect with people all over the world and share experiences. We can even find the necessary teachers and coaches to guide us online.
Yet the educational structure still allows English and Maths to rule all. Creativity and art are seen as inferior and sport -despite the declining health and poor obesity rates of young people- is no big academic player. Kids are still tested and grouped by perceived ability as a result. Graphs are made by joining the dots of averages, yet everyone knows no child is the same.
How are you intelligent?
In a world with knowledge abound, intelligence is assessed against an old framework. It’s not how much you can retain that defines how intelligent you are, but how you adapt to our environment. What if the definition of it is much broader than ever expected? In his book “The Element”, educational expert Ken Robinson, says that the question is not “How intelligent are you?” but really ought to be: “How are you intelligent?” To have that level of self-awareness, to be curious and have the ability to lead, to be creative, innovative and solution focussed, are skills of self-development in modern times. How we assess the knowledge we have access to and what we do with it, is what counts.
Talent = Latent
People are a Somebody from the outset, full of talent and skill, even though undeveloped initially. There are things one has a natural aptitude for, although sadly many people aren’t aware of what that is. By playing by the rules and ticking boxes for the outside world, one might not feel encouraged to search for their particular gift or talent. People consistently measure themselves to external standards, which in many cases are perceived as not possible to reach. Imposter syndrome sets in and all of a sudden it doesn’t matter what a person’s talents are or not. Without the belief and conviction they cannot reach their potential.
What if education wasn’t a system but an exploration with the individual at the heart of it? Starting with the investigation of each person’s unique talent. What if children knew that they were already gifted and attended school to make the most of their personal resources? Learning happens best when people feel at ease and are permitted to experiment, try things out and find their own intrinsic motivation. Making mistakes are very much a part of learning. Professor Paul Iske set up the ‘Institute of Brilliant Failures’ following his experience in companies that people are so frightened to fail. To him fail stands for First Attempt In Learning, a simple but a universal truth.
I work with adults who have to greater or lesser degree survived their education. If you didn’t fit into the system you might have come away labelled by your shortcomings (according to the system), fearful to try and defined by what you’re not good at. People are so much more able that their experience in life leads them to believe. Through not fitting in, or by being labelled incorrectly, many received a low confidence life sentence that is difficult to shake. In this filtering process many natural talents are thrown by the way-side, simply unrecognised and wasted. In a world where we are quickly running down all sorts of resources, it’s crucial to put to good use the very ingredients that we have and play to our strengths. It’s the way to new thinking and innovation. And for the individual it’s the way to personal growth and fulfilment.
You are not your education. It’s wonderful to have access to teachers, mentors and coaches along the way. They are truly dedicated people often themselves confined by an -outdated- system, but they can guide a learning process and push and pull where needed. Make technology your friend, as it means access and freedom to explore and grow. Work with what you’ve got and develop your talents, whatever they are. Find your element, for working from it will consistently re-energise you.
And you are not your CV. You can invent and re-invent yourself. Your CV is the factual log, your talents and initiatives create the map. Doing what has always been done in business is predictable and belongs to yesterday. Companies need creative thinkers, those who will try and are not afraid to fail, because second guessing tomorrow isn’t possible anymore. Mining for each employee’s gold will improve each person’s engagement and ownership. By the same token: starting with the child’s talent in education creates internal motivation. They don’t have to be taught, involve them and let them learn.