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You 2.0: Loss And Renewal

A young Maya Shankar.
Courtesy of Maya Shankar
A young Maya Shankar.

As a young girl, Maya Shankar was well on her way to a promising career as a classical violinist. Itzhak Perlman had taken her on as his private student at the Juilliard School. But not long after, she injured her finger while playing a difficult section of Paganini's Caprice no. 13. She tore a tendon in her hand, bringing her musical career to an untimely end.

Today, Maya has reached a new pinnacle in an entirely different field. She served in the Obama administration as a senior advisor at the White House, working to create better policy using insights from behavioral science. Her work in government was far-reaching — helping students get to college, workers save more for retirement and millions of children get access to school lunch.

It's a calling she couldn't have anticipated at Juilliard, where she dreamed of being a concert violinist. What followed in the days after her musical career ended was an incredible sense of loss.

"I was really devastated to lose something that I was completely in love with, and so passionate about, and that had really constituted such a large part of my life and my identity," she says. "I was first and foremost a violinist."

This week on Hidden Brain, we look at turning the page and starting anew. At the end of the podcast, you'll hear musician Aimee Mann read a poem by Emily Bishop.

Special thanks to From the Top for music of Maya's performances used in the episode.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Shankar Vedantam is the host and creator of Hidden Brain. The Hidden Brain podcast receives more than three million downloads per week. The Hidden Brain radio show is distributed by NPR and featured on nearly 400 public radio stations around the United States.
Kara McGuirk-Allison