How an opera singer became an education entrepreneur

Some people change career midlife. But few change as dramatically as Paul Vincent Cable. As a young adult, he was a fast-rising operatic baritone. One day, aged 31, he found himself in Prague, singing his dream role – Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’. But as he walked back to his hotel after the performance, something happened.

“I felt desolate,” says Cable. “There I was in this beautiful city doing something I loved, but I was thinking, ‘If I keep doing this for the rest of my life, am I going to look back on it and wonder if I used my time wisely?’ It triggered an early midlife crisis. For the first time, I deeply questioned the path I was on.

“I spent the next few years wandering from continent to continent, learning from the wisest people I could find,” he remembers. “They all had the same message, which was essentially, ‘Do something that makes a difference,’ and live your life as Gandhi advised – ‘Be the change you want to see.’”

With his 13-year-old son, Ayrton, Cable went on to co-found EnSo Impact. They are on a mission to transform a billion lives across Africa and other emerging markets. It was Nelson Mandela who said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” EnSo Impact’s quest is to build a mass market, branded chain of ‘changemaker’ schools.

I asked him what the keys are to becoming an entrepreneur in midlife, especially when switching to a very different industry. 

Massive personal change is possible

“The first thing to understand is that whatever course you’ve been on in life, personal change is possible,” says Cable. “It’s amazing how capable we are of learning new things. I had to learn things that I previously knew very little about, including the fundamentals of business. Because our business model includes transforming schools into health and solar energy hubs, I also had to learn about several different industries.”

Learn from masterful people

Cable realised that the problems affecting children are both in the classroom and out of it. EnSo Impact’s model not only leverages the same educational technology used in elite UK schools, but also grounds the children in “wise and compassionate living and leadership” so that they have the social and emotional skills to lead purposeful lives and create positive change.

“I was lucky enough to find a phenomenal mentor – Dr Ron Browning – to teach me mindfulness, empathy, and other internal skills which we’ve now made a core part of the curriculum in EnSo Impact. Consciously bringing masterful people into your life has unbelievable benefits,” says Cable. “By reading articles and watching interviews, I’ve also intentionally learned tons from people I’ve never met, especially entrepreneurial business leaders such as Gates, Branson, and Buffett. By modelling mastery, you can save yourself years of trial and error!”

Triple down on your strengths

“There are certain important things for creating a successful enterprise that I’m naturally very good at and other things I’m really terrible at!” smiles Cable. “Part of success is being honest with yourself about what those are. For me, the stuff I’m good at is enrolling people in the vision of what we’re doing and getting a lot of momentum going in that direction. What I’m bad at is keeping things properly documented – the whole administrative side of things. I used to beat myself up about that. But research by people like Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentimalyi is very clear: You’re best off empowering other people to handle the areas where you’re weak. Your greatest potential lies in tripling down on your strengths!”

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail image from gettyimages.

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