Have you unnecessarily limited yourself by heeding common advice to follow your passion? Have you always done what you’re naturally good at? Or have you challenged yourself with something that was really hard for you? Ask yourself: What could you do or be if you decided to instead broaden your passion and tried to accomplish something that demanded the most from you? 

What skills and knowledge could you bring with you from your past that could serve you as you really challenge yourself?

Learning something new sometimes means stepping back to the novice level. But it can be a thrilling adventure!

Ø What kinds of changes can people really make in their interests, skillsets, and careers?

Ø What are the latest practical suggestions from research?

Ø And what role do new means of learning play in these processes?

We will observe, How people who change themselves through learning—and who bring prior seemingly obsolete or extraneous knowledge with them—have enabled our world to grow in fantastically creative and uplifting ways. And we will see how we all can be inspired by their examples—and by what we now know from science on learning and change—to learn and grow and achieve to our fullest potential.

Maybe you don’t feel like you have a choice. Perhaps you are the obedient child who always followed your parents’ admonitions, so you feel trapped in the luxury of your high-paying salary, nose pressed up against a window of longing for the career not chosen.

Suresh’s career was charging forward, unstoppable as a bullet train. He wasn’t just following his passion—it was driving his life. Suresh’s career switch from the music he much-loved to the math and science he had detested came as a shock even to him. Suresh was infatuated with music, he played violin from the time he was four, and then nimbly expanded his range by picking up the guitar at eight. In high school, the smoky world of jazz beckoned, and he began practicing this new freeform rhythm with nearly every breath he drew.

Math was a frustration—he blundered through algebra and geometry and never touched calculus or statistics. His high school science record was terrible. After his final exam in chemistry class, he came home and burned all of his work in the fireplace, thrilled to have passed.

Suresh knew that he wanted to be a musician and that was that. Even the mere thought of math and science made him uneasy. But then something happened. Not an accident or a death in the family, or a sudden shift of fortune. It was something much less dramatic, which made the change all the more profound. Even with plenty of support, however, a major career change can be as burdened as jumping from one high-speed train to another.

People who change careers or start learning something new later in life often feel like dilettantes—novices who never have a chance of catching up with their new peers. Much like wizards who think they are Muggles, they often remain unaware of their power.

Like Suresh, I had a passionate contempt for math and science and did poorly in both from an early age. But unlike Suresh, I didn’t show any early talents or special abilities. Each school day ended with me dumping my books, I was a goof-off.  Our household was monolithically Hindi-speaking, and I floundered in sixth-grade English class. My wise father listened to my whining and finally said: “Have you ever considered that the real problem isn’t the teacher—maybe it’s you?”

After changing my section, my father, surprisingly, was proven wrong. The new high school language teacher inspired me, making me wonder what it would be like to think in different languages. I learned that I liked studying languages, so I began to study Russian also.

Motivating teachers matter. They not only make you feel good about the material—they make you feel good about yourself.

But against all odds—and despite Suresh’s early plans—He is now a professor of engineering, firmly planted in the world of math and science.

Educational outreach and impact like this is unprecedented—it is clear that people are hungry to learn, shift, and grow. We need a manifesto about the importance of orbit shifts in producing vibrant and creative societies and in helping people to live to their full potential. An “orbit shift” is a deep change in life that occurs thanks to learning.

People have unexpected twists in their career paths all the time. There’s good evidence that our abilities to be successful in any given area aren’t at all fixed. This availability of new ways of learning—new tools for an orbit shift—is so overwhelming that the reaction has often been a collective no; the older systems of career development and learning are fine. They are the only ones that matter! This new stuff is a flash in the pan.

But slowly—often unnoticed—the orbit shift revolution grows. Such orbit shifts don’t just involve learning new skills or changing careers, but also changing attitudes, personal lives, and personal relationships.

In orbit shift, we’ll follow people from all over the world who have made unusual career changes and overcome enormous learning challenges. There are profound insights from these “second chance” learners that are valuable no matter what career you might be shifting to or from or what you might be interested in learning. Orbitshift is so important that countries are even devising systems to foster its growth.

To emphasize changes from artistic to mathematical or technological skillsets, rather than the other way around. This is because people often don’t think an “artistic to analytic” change is possible. And, whether we like it or not, there are more societal tugs at present toward technology. But whatever you are interested in, you will find plenty of inspiration here—from the bus driver who overcomes depression, to the electrical engineer who converts to woodworking, to the publicly tongue-tied, mathematically gifted young woman who finds within herself a talent for public speaking.

Breakthrough obstacles to learning and discover your hidden potential, the scope of your ability to learn and change is far broader than you might ever have imagined.

For now, though, let’s return to Suresh’s story. It was a simple thing, really, that kicked off Suresh’s career shift. One day, he was invited to play his guitar at a local pediatric cancer center. He hoped that his beloved music might boost the children’s spirits. The brief visit turned into another visit, and then another. He found himself drawn to the courageous little patients, some of whose stories broke his heart. He was so moved by them that he eventually started a concert series for cancer patients.

As this unfolded, he began to discover something surprising. Playing music all day, every day wasn’t fulfilling him as a person. Somehow, the thought of caring personally for patients when they were at their most vulnerable began to feel more meaningful to him than performing for people he might never talk to or see again.

Suddenly, something clicked. Something impossibly scary: Suresh decided that he would become a doctor.

He felt like a fool—there was nothing in his past to indicate that he could be successful in math and science. What made him think he could do this now?

Like many who struggle to reinvent themselves, he decided to start small in acquiring the mental tools he’d need.  Several months before class began; he bought a basic mathematics e-book on his iPhone so he could run through the concepts while traveling to performances or commuting to school. At first, he found it disheartening; as there were so many basic math concepts he had forgotten or poorly understood. He couldn’t help but think oh God, what am I doing? I am at the top of my field in music, and I am about to start at rock bottom in medicine.

However, he was well aware that one of his strengths—one he had built through years of practice in music—was the simple skill of persisting at difficult tasks. If he could practice for all of those hours to get into mathematics and science; there was no reason he couldn’t learn them. It would just take hard work and focus.

Knowledge of his strengths didn’t remove his doubts—and didn’t change the fact that his studies were often really, really difficult.

Most of the people taking the mathematics course were engineering students who had taken it in high school and just wanted to boost their physical science. Suresh felt like he was in a go-kart competing against seasoned race car drivers. When he mentioned to the professor that he was a musician, the professor couldn’t figure out why Suresh would want to take his class. But in the end, he fought his way to an A-minus not bad. “Believe it or not,” he noted, “I came out with an A. I had gotten a C+ in the easier high school version, but now that I had committed myself to learn the material, I had become a completely different student.”

As he progressed, he found himself with A’s in chemistry and other tough classes that he would never have seen himself taking previous years. Suresh took the NEET three weeks after his board examination.

Suresh is now a doctor in AIIMS, Delhi; his background in music has proven to be a boon to his medical career in both large and small ways. For example, in auscultation—diagnosing through listening to heart sounds—he found that his trained ear, which is sensitive to very fine differences in timbre and timing, allows him to pick up on those differences much faster than other people.

Playing in ensembles with other musicians, Suresh learned to listen to the musicians around him and not just immediately interject his own musical thoughts. In a similar way, he found that giving patients space to talk and not immediately talking over them can lead to better diagnosis as well as a better patient-physician relationship.

More than that, Suresh has discovered that the characteristics needed to perform as a musician are surprisingly similar to those needed to “perform” in a patient encounter or procedure. He is coming to appreciate how his years of practice with musical improvisation spill over into his new life in medicine. He finds himself coping well with unexpected situations or emergencies in which he must use his growing expertise in new ways. The difficult switch from music to medicine has also allowed him to grow more comfortable with being pushed out of his comfort zone.

You might say, “Hey, wait a minute. Suresh was obviously a pretty bright guy—he just never put his effort into math and science before.” But how many of us are like that, with whatever subjects, skills, or areas of special expertise we’ve never seriously tried to tackle?

How many of us, for whatever reason, go off track in our lives? And how many of us eventually find ways to turn things around through learning new skills and approaches? How many others seem to be on track career-wise, but have an itch for something new and sometimes scarily different?

Many ordinary and extraordinary people have made fantastic changes in their lives by keeping themselves open to learning.

You’ll see how previous expertise in very different subject areas doesn’t need to be a shackle to a past you are trying to escape. Instead, it can serve as a launching pad for creative career pathways in your present and future.

Welcome aboard the new world of Orbit Shift and broaden Your Passion.

Now You Try!

Author Subhash Jain

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