Do you ever think much about the concept of “unlearning” something? For a transformative learning experience, we often have to take our grasp off of beliefs we’ve had for a long time.
When someone suggests a new fact that contradicts a long held belief, our inclination is to dismiss the comment.
With our students, it usually involves unlearning perceived boundaries of what’s possible for their lives regarding meaning and career happiness. People often limit their possibilities simply because they don’t believe their deepest desires are available to them. We usually catch people a few years (or decades!) into their career, but today I want to tell you about a business that is helping college students unlearn the old school ways of education.
Enter: Wayfinding Academy
A few years ago, my friend Michelle Jones started a college. (She did, what?!) Yeah. She actually started a college. After years of teaching in higher education and listening to all the woes from professors, admin, and students, Michelle decided to do something about it.
She wanted to create a more humanistic education system. One that sees the whole of students instead of just trying to fit each individual into a checkbox on a finite, predetermined list. One that isn’t focused on across-the-board achievement but on helping young people lean into their strengths and find meaning in their careers.
(By now, you can see why I love this mission! It completely aligns with what we do at Happen To Your Career.)
Michelle’s college is called Wayfinding Academy. According to her, students in this program do more internal work and career development in 6 months than she did in 10 years. From allowing students to develop their own projects based on their unique learning preferences, to designing school breaks with jobs and international travels in mind, to helping students test out career options through various internships in different industries, Wayfinding Academy equips students to find work they love from the moment they enter the career world.
I love this approach.
How the Old School Worked
In most cases, people go through at least four years of college and then graduate school BEFORE they even know if they like their career choice. For instance, maybe you received a Poli Sci degree, busted your ass through law school, and then came out on the other side only to realize you hate the day-to-day work of a lawyer (which happens to be one of the careers with the highest level of misery). But now you’re covered in student loans and don’t want to feel like you wasted the eight years you just invested. So you stick with it. And hate every day and miss your family and wish you could join your friends for drinks on the weekends but you’re stuck preparing for Monday’s hearing.
The idea of waiting until you’ve invested years in education to test out your desires sounds pretty risky when we put it that way, doesn’t it?
All the time, I hear, “I learned more in the first 6 weeks of my job than I did in 4 years of college.” It’s a phrase most of us have said ourselves, and for most of our lives, we’ve just accepted this as a reality. But Michelle and Wayfinding Academy are proving it doesn’t have to be this way. Students can learn real-world job skills and test their deep desires before committing to a career.
The Venn Diagram of Career Happiness
Life isn’t linear. It’s constantly changing. The world evolves, and with it, career opportunities and personal missions develop. Wayfinding Academy refuses to build a linear plan for their dynamic students.
“What you do with your life matters to more than just you, and when we each live life on purpose, we all thrive.” – Wayfinding Academy
I couldn’t help but think of signature strengths when I read this quote on Wayfinding Academy’s website. You’ve probably heard us talk about signature strengths before. Signature strengths are the place where your unique strengths, what you enjoy, and the value you bring to the world overlap.
We’re all living on this big blue and green planet together. What we do affects others. Isn’t it an incredible thought that if we all worked from our signature strengths (instead of trying to fit star-shaped, parallelogram, and lopsided pegs into square holes), the world would be a better place?
“As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has—or ever will have—something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.” – Mr. Rogers
While you may not be able to return to your teenage self and choose an education route like Wayfinding Academy instead of a traditional university, you do have the power to do work you love today. Career happiness is available to you. Fulfillment is available to you. Flexibility and the paycheck you want are available to you.
To learn how my team can help you secure work in your signature strengths, fill out this application and tell us what you want out of life. To hear more about the strategy behind Wayfinding Academy, listen to my interview with founder, Michelle Jones, and recent grad, Elizabeth Wegmann.
Or if you want to learn more about becoming a student or sending your kids to Wayfinding Academy, this link will take you to their website.
Transcript from Episode 269
Scott: what was your college or university experienced like. If you’re like me you may have gone to college, only to find out that most of it not that useful. I mean sure. There were lots of fun parts and, there were some useful parts too but honestly, if any industry, any or need to change in how it functions it’s higher education on today’s episode. We’re meeting with change maker. Visionary challenger of the status quo, Michelle Jones, Michelle and I actually ran into each other out of conference when I heard that she was disrupting the education system, I knew we were destined to be friends at that point.
Michelle: I would hear them over and over say how frustrated, they weren’t angry even that no, one had asked them that before. Now they’re like, well, now, I don’t know we’re at the end. We’re about to graduate, we have a lot of debt, you know, maybe I would have actually majored in something else or gone to a different college or done something else along the way had someone asked me that earlier.
Scott: after spending over 15 years as a professor and the traditional university, Michelle grew tired of hearing students, professors, and even the administration complained about the same things. So instead of joining in, she flip the script and opened up her own college. Yeah, you heard me, right. She launched and has already long since I graduated her first class of students by the way, she actually brought one of those students with her, her name’s Elizabeth. You’ll hear her in this interview too and you’re going to get to hear both of their perspectives on a whole new way. Think about education,
Michelle: usually when I tell people that I started a college, I get a little bit of a critical eyebrows raised kind of like, wait did I hear you right? Kind of response? Because, I think most of us don’t even think about that, as a thing that people can do, it just doesn’t ever happen.
Michelle: So, I’m now the founder and president and chief academic officer and a whole bunch of other random job titles for a small college in Portland, Oregon that I started I guess about three years ago, and we’ve had three cohorts of students come through so far one cohort has graduated, which Elizabeth is part of and then we have our second and third cohorts with us right now and we’re getting ready. We’re about to bring in our fourth and fifth later this year. So I spend most of my day hanging out in the small college in North Portland with students, and staff and faculty, who care a lot about doing higher education differently and we would say better.
Scott: I love that but you haven’t always done this? This is been more of a last couple of years last few years, how old is this college right now three years at this point. If I recall correctly.
Michelle: Yeah. Three years with students and four years if you count in our timeline the year that we spend getting ready for our first cohorts of students. So we only gave ourselves or founding team. We gave ourselves one year to get everything ready, to get a building, to hire faculty, to get through the state accreditation processed, through all the things that you have to do before you have students we gave ourselves one year. So, technically, four years, but three years with students in operating fully.
Scott: amazing. And Elizabeth, we are going to come back and I’m so excited to talk to you because you’ve been in that first cohort however, I am curious how did this happen? What lead up to where you said, you know what? I have to start the college.
Michelle: Yeah, I think it happens the way that a lot of the sort of mission purposed based start up organizations happen which is somebody seize, I need in their community, or in their society or in the culture and knows enough about that field that industry to get frustrated about it, to know how to affect some change or truly distinct in they know how to effect some change and goes out takes a leap, takes a risk and says, I’m going to do something about this. So, I think that’s what happened for me, although it was a very slow process and maybe that true for a lot of others and I imagine the folks that listen to your show, have a lot of expertise in their area, and maybe your frustrated about certain things. I want to try to make some change in their careers and in their paths and sometimes that’s quick. And sometimes, like, for me, it was slow. I was a college professor in traditional higher education colleges.
Michelle: and during that time, I taught mostly business courses management leadership things like that and I get them as they were juniors and seniors. So, towards the end of the college career, after they’ve been there four, five, six years, and my classes were all about; what do you passionate about? What do you want to do with your life? How to get started doing that? What kind of difference do you want to make in the world? And they really enjoy those courses and those conversations but I would hear them over and over say, how frustrated they were angry, even that no one had asked them that before, that I was the first person to come along and ask them that and now they’re like, well, now, I don’t know where at the end we’re about to graduate, we have a lot of debt. You know, maybe I would have actually major in something else, or gone through different college or done something else along the way had someone asked me that earlier. And now, I feel trapped in stock, so, for years and years like, a decade, I listen to that kind of stuff and my colleagues had similar gripes about the higher education system, but from a different angle, like, we felt that our job, had just become grading students and sorting students, and had stopped to being about like, the learning and really helping them figure out what they want it to do with their life. And now was just sort of this bureaucratic sorting mechanism. So I listened to a lot of this and kind of gathered at all and finally, my question started shifting towards like, if you were going to make your own college, what would you do differently? And then oh, my gosh. The ideas people had just kept coming in kept coming and so finally I said, well, let’s give it out a try, like let’s make a new college that is authorized by the state that we granted degrees, but we do it a way we feel it should be done. We do what we now call front words, and we start with that question of who are you? What do you want to do with your life? what difference do you want to make? give him a chance to try a bunch of things out have a core curriculum that helps them no matter what they decide to do because our students give as like, oh why, do I have answer to that question, it’s never in my career it need narrow focus and so we made our own college saying, like, we think we could do these whole bunch of things differently and better. So, let’s give us a try and even though for three years now.
Scott: Okay, I want to go back for just a minute. At what point cause you to flip this way as you’re getting all these ideas and as, you know, people are saying, well I would do this and I would do this differently and oh, by the way, I can totally see this at what point did you flip this switch in your head, do you recall or maybe it was even the series events that cause you say you know what? we should actually do this.
Michelle: It’s a series of events and a couple pivot moments for me were gosh, I have four years to show now I’ve been collecting these ideas and thinking about this almost obsessively and I said to my friends basically.
Michelle: I think I might do this. I think I’m going to start a college, and I don’t know what this is going to be like that. But if you’re interested, if you think you want to be part of this conversation and I rented out, like a little room in a restaurant here in town and I said come on this Saturday day. Join me. I’ll make sure there’s breakfast and lunch and let’s just have a conversation about what this could be like, in about 25 of my friends showed up and spent the entire day, having this conversation about our higher education system. And you know, what they think we could do better and so that told me a number of things first that told me, there’s a lot of people who care a lot about this. And if I actually wanted to do this, some of these people in this room some of these 25 people would say, count me in.
Michelle: And they were people I really enjoyed working with and who I felt like. Yeah, I actually think that with this kind of a team of people, we could probably do something and so part of it was that moment of realizing there’s a lot of people and all these people had have some kind of experience with higher education system. Some of them were teaching in it, some of them were working at a college admissions, or service learning or students services in some way. So they knew from being part of it that how we could be doing it different so, I think for one thing, it was a whole bunch of people showing up and saying yeah, please do this. I think it’s needed and then really interestingly unto my surprised I went to my employer at the time, which was a traditional college here in Portland
Michelle: And I said, to the provost I’d like to give my notice higher education hires and very long cycles.
Michelle: So, I was saying, you know, a year from now, I’m going to leave and I’d like you to you know start the process to find a replacement and the provost and I was very nervous, cause you know, I said, I’m leaving to start a college and to his credit said please do what you’re describing really ought to exist in the world. It’s really, really necessary. And I would love to see that happen. How can I support you? So, I was getting a lot of people who knew what they were talking about saying. Yes, please do that. And then not just kept coming. We ended up funding our start up funding through a crowdfunding campaign, because we wanted to make sure that something because like this isn’t work on this community, feels like it should exist and wants to be part of it and wants to support it. And you have a vision that other people can buy into. So, rather than get you know one or two wealthy people to say here’s money, we ran a crowdfunding campaign, and 700 people donated over $200,000 to get this thing going. And I think it was a series of those things where basically my community kept saying. Yes, please do that someone needs to do that. And you’ve probably see them too. There’s a lot of articles and books that had been coming out for the past, four, five, six, seven years, griping about what’s wrong with higher education. And how it’s broken and I read them and they’re valuable. But no one was doing anything about it. Like, no one was saying, hey, let’s make a different model. Let’s try something new, so finally, I got tired of readings them. I’m feeling like, I was doing nothing about it and neither was anyone else. So I don’t know a slow build up of support from community and frustration probably this is what it took.
Scott: I love that though, it’s so encouraging to see that validation. Especially on ideas that I don’t know I’m a little biased and I think that need to change so drastically, but just like you said, I mean, there are a massive books devoted to this subject, but no real action that has taken other than, and for all intensive purposes pointing it out and there’s lots and lots of people in the world pointing it out. So kudos to you for having the courage finding the courage to do something about it. And then taking one foot and putting him from the other, and then having the world to actually have the opportunity to show up and say yes, this is actually an amazing idea. Very cool.
Michelle: Yeah, thanks. I would say it’s been by far the most joyful thing I’ve ever done and for sure. The hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I think that’s what comes up this territory probably.
Scott: Yeah, isn’t that funny? How those go hand in hand? The most joyful things often are the most difficult not always, but often I find.
Michelle: Yeah, I find that too.
Scott: So, here’s the question that I haven’t actually it’ll lead to a series of questions. What were some of those initial ideas that you kept hearing that ended up making the final cut I guess you could say you know, as you ruled, as you begin, really actually, creating this and putting it into the world, in one way or another what were some of those ideas that became the core foundations and you’ve already talked a little bit you know looking at this in front words versus backwards but being expand on that for me and tell me some of the other ideas that have shifted into the final version if you well.
Michelle: Yeah, one of the ideas. I heard a lot from students at the beginning was anger and frustration about the lack of transparency that is in our higher education model. They would usually come at it from, like, we pay so much money in tuition and we have no idea where it goes. Like, where does all this money that we all spend and go and so one call for action. I kept hearing was be transparent, and if you’re going to start your own college, like, make everything open and transparent always explain the why behind everything. That’s done. And let’s students ask why as many times as they need to, until they understand all the decisions that are being made all the things that happen. So that made the cut and we use a transparent model of everything’s students always are either pulled in advance of like, hey, this thing is happening and here’s why and here’s what’s going on, or empowered to always ask I guess both, it’s not an either or and they’re always empowered to ask, and we have students who sit in our board meetings and all of our financials are open to students to look at. And now our first opportunity to hire an alumnus we did and we hired Elizabeth. And now we have three more students who work with us, who are current students who work with us and various capacities on our team. So they get to understand all the ins and outs, and all the ways that everything works. So that they feel like there’s also, a couple of things I heard from faculty colleagues at the time was that the siloed subject how students go over here and learn this like, science and then they go over here and learn statistics. And they go over here and learn writing when they go over here and learn public speaking or communication. Like, that doesn’t make sense as faculty, but it also just doesn’t make sense as humans. We don’t really learn that way.
Scott: That’s never made sense for me either, and honestly, I see that some of the biggest benefits in society, come from a collaboration among those areas that’s not quite the word I’m looking for, but I am so glad that has found its way into how you run it.
Scott: But I’m curious like, expand on that for our, listeners, and help them understand what you mean when you say that.
Michelle: So, our curriculum the core courses all are since taken that nine core courses together, as a, cohort and that’s about half of what they do with us and I’ll talk about the other half in a minute. But all of those subject areas, but they’re interdisciplinary integrated courses. So, for example, they take a course called making good choices that weaves and decision making and statistics and some sociology and some humanities and things like that. And some psychology, actually, and then they have a course on engaging with information it’s about research and stocks. And when the history person teacher that it’s got history, and when the physics guy teacher, that it’s got physics. And so they have a course called the good life. They have a course called science technology and society so these nine core courses are these interdisciplinary interwoven things that invite the students too. Yes, they learn all of the normal things you would normally want to be learning in higher education, but they can also customize it for what they’re particularly interested in, solve project base. There’s no grades. And so they get to design their own way of learning and take the information and apply it to their interest. And so we didn’t do it in the silos. We did it in this like sort of cross into disciplinary the way humans actually think and process information where everything’s kind of connected. And then the other half of their experience, which is the other thing that made the cut is that I often heard from students. Like, how am I supposed to know what I want to do? If I haven’t had the chance to like actually try anything out, and how am I supposed to show, like, I get out of college and they want me to like, have all this work experience but how was I supposed to get that? Because I’ve been in college for all this you know the whole thing, didn’t make any sense .
Scott: The perpetual catch 22.
Michelle: Yeah, so they spend time the two years that they’re with us. They try a bunch of things out. They do informational interviews. They do to internships, they all end up with some form of community mentorship whether it’s through one of the internships for and Elizabeth case and a lot of the other students they design, their own self directed capstone project and find mentors and the community to help them with that, they go out to community events, they get to participate and all sorts of things in Portland and beyond, so that at the end of the two years, they have and because everything’s project base, they have a portfolio that lives on line of all of these things that they can do and so they can put all that online and they can say, here’s all the things I have capable of doing. Here’s documentary film that I made for the good life course. Here’s a podcast that I did when I interviewed my grandmother. Here’s an art show that I put on. Here’s a presentation I made in class about in, which I created this interactive art experience for my classmates. So, they have all these things and they’ve actually tried some things out so that at the end of two years, they can say, oh, this is exactly what I want to do next in my life, and then they so far from what we’ve seen most of them just start doing it. They don’t have to you know pause and start over again and spend another several years in a different college or anything like that. They just start doing what they want to be doing because now they’ve got the skills and connections to be able to do that.
Scott: I think that there’s so many benefits from approaching it that way. First of all from everything that I just heard you say, first of all, it’s just so much more effective and efficient when you’re only looking at it from just that perspective, compared to traditional education. But I’m curious, Elizabeth since you have a very unique perspective on this, because you’ve been to a traditional college, you have gone through, as one of the first cohorts and also now you get to be involved in the different ways. So, help me understand from your perspective. What are some of the biggest differences between traditional education and this new style of education.
Elizabeth: Yeah. I would say biggest differences I guess Michelle mentioned the like transparency and always explaining the why of doing things. That was like the first thing that struck me when I found wayfinding. Yeah, I was just like they blown away by, like, this intentionality behind everything like, there was always like, this is why we’re doing this and set up just like you have to do this. So I spent two and a half years at a traditional college on the East Coast straight out of high school and I did that because that’s what everyone else. I knew was doing and like, I had never been a question of oh, I’m not going to go to college and then I got there and I was just completely miserable. There was a huge core curriculum that was like, mandatory and we had, let’s see. So, the two and a half years that I was there only in the last half year was I actually taking courses that, like, I wanted to that had to do with, what like, what I’ve majoring in.
Elizabeth: The first two years were all sorted, like one when I say, there’s a lot, but one was a math class, that was, like, teaching me math but I had to know to take that. They tend to get into the school, and I was just like, why am I paying $5,000 for this course? Like, I don’t understand, and I think there was also this push like all through high school, like, as soon as I entered high school and then in college, and it just like what’s the next step? You’re going to go to college and then you’re going to get a job, all this focused on, like, straight and narrow path. It just seemed very constricting in lot of ways. There was like, no room for, like, other ways of thinking, or being in, like, this success path. I guess.
Scott: When you say success path, what do you mean?
Elizabeth: Like, graduated from high school getting into good college going to college, getting a job right out of college, and then kind of just like working there for the rest of your life, or like, I guess that’s not quite the reality we live in now, like, people change careers a lot and stuff. But I guess what I don’t see in traditional education from high school, elementary school and into college, is like, a reflection on who are you as a person? who are you and what do you like? Like, there’s just sort of where do you fit into the system, like, in traditional college there’s just no questioning like, it’s just like, okay, what do you want a major and like, not a whole of knowledge behind that for my major, I was just kind of well I like doing art and guy was interested in, like, this traveling program that I did in high school. So I guess I’ll do like, humanitarian aid was like my major and yeah, I guess there’s not a lot of focus on who are you as a person? And what you up? Or what makes you angry and like, what do you want to change in the world? Or even like, how do you being healthy relationships with people? I think that that’s something that’s crucial to live thing a good life. And is not taught at all throughout school.
Scott: No, no
Scott: What do you believe are some of the benefits of bringing those types of things forward into the education system from seen it both ways and experiencing it both ways, I think you have unique perspective on this. So, I’m curious, from your perception, what do you see as the real ways and maybe your life that it does actually benefit you to bring this forward?
Elizabeth: Yeah, I really think it like how can we be like, a whole person and have that be acceptable. I guess, I think that, you know, I struggle with these things but I’m also really good at these things unlike in traditional college, that’s not acceptable in some ways. Like, it’s just like, you’re always supposed to be successful and you’re always supposed to get good grades. And so, like, for me, I struggle for very long time with procrastination and perfectionism and so, like, those just really in college came together to be like this horrible thing where, like, I struggle to turning work and wayfinding, I was able to, like, teachers were, like, they would work with me and my guide would also like work with me until I feel like, okay, this is a thing. Like, let’s try and get better at this versus just you fail and okay. I think it really help you grow versus just failing. I guess. I don’t really think that systems of grades and stuff help you grow as a person.
Scott: That’s really interesting. Yeah, I totally agree. And have experience the same thing myself where it seems like you’re not in every traditional college, and university is it this way. Many of them, and I’ve heard this from many HTYC listeners as well that in a lot of ways, it is less about the growth or has become overtime less about the growth and more about the getting know of the degree and the getting know of the piece of paper and it sounds like based on everything and both of you are sharing with me that very much wayfinding is committed to that growth that you’re talking about and I think that’s super cool.
Elizabeth: Yeah. I definitely say that. Yeah there’s a lot more focus on, like, growth mindset. Like, it helps teach that in some ways as well. And I think that there was also, like, a lot of unlearning that me, and most of my co-workmate tied to go through because we’ve all been through, like, traditional schooling. And so I’m learning of oh, what does the teacher want from me versus like, what am I interested in.
Scott: Hold on expand on that for me because, I think that, that is very much with the world operates, what does the teacher want from me? What does my boss want from me? And that is the normal modality in some way so what do you mean by that?
Elizabeth: I think you got an assignment in college, and there’s all this rubric or curriculum and you turn in this thing and the teachers like, there’s just all this. Oh, you didn’t meet this thing that I wanted you to do and like, the teachers definitely like, looking for a very specific sort of thing like, our teacher didn’t care. Like, what the actual assignment looks like. They were, like, really interested in what are you interested in? Unlike, what do you need to learn right now? Or like, how do you need to grow right now? And what is that step going to look like, like, what’s an assignment that you can create, or like turn in that will help you with that growth or help you with what you currently need to learn versus just yeah, I guess in traditional colleges like, everyone’s on the same plane, and everyone has to learn the same thing and that’s just not the reality we live in, like, everyone is very different and need to learn, like, different things and are interested in different things. Even in the same subject. So, yeah, I think.
Michelle: Can I add one thing to that.
Scott: Please do.
Michelle: it’s been really hard and wonderful to find faculty who are willing to teach in the what we now call the wayfinding way, because there’s a lot of unlearning that also has to happen for faculty for people who step into that role. Who want to do it differently, who want to do it better who wants to treat students all humans but they also have spent their whole lives as students and then, as faculty and traditional model, and so we’ve had to work also on the other side with faculty to help them sort of on learn that. But now that we’ve gotten a bit better at it. We’ve been practicing it for a few years. What we find is that what we’re actually asking students and faculty to do, is much harder, is much stretchier. It’s much more rigorous thinking, then what the traditional college model ask either faculty or students to do because that means that the faculty member might say they receive 12 projects. They give one project to assign it to the class, 12 students submit things back and some of them are short films that the students filmed in, naried in and made and summer podcasts and summer art pieces, in summer essays, in summer blogs and summer musical pieces. In that faculty member has to know, their subject matter and enough depth think complexity to understand how the students are engaging with it and they can’t just sit down and take a test, right? or sit down and write a paper they have to really think through how does this is apply to my life and my interest and how do I communicate that in a non standard sort of format in a way that gets my point across to this other person who’s an expert at that field, what we’re asking both sides of that relationship to do is much more challenging. One of the things people wonder is like, oh, that’s all sounds nice that wayfinding, but is there any rigour to it? And my response was always like, it’s actually way harder what we ask people to do. Wayfinding is much harder than anything I ever saw in fifteen years of being in traditional higher education system.
Scott: So hold on, let me pause there for just a second because I think that’s a phenomenon that I see show up all over the place in all areas of life and work and education and you name it and I’ve got my own opinions on why that shows up and I’m super curious, why you think people perceive what you just described about, when we give assignments, like, they have the freedom and flexibility to do it in the way that is going to fit them and achieve their own personal growth goals. I mean, that we perceive that it seems like in some ways is very idyllic, but why do we perceive that is less difficult because I think in nearly 100% of situations that is going to be more difficult. So, tell me your thoughts on that. I’m super curious.
Michelle: Gosh I wish I knew the answer to that cause that question, when it comes to me, it often preflexes me so why does people natural assumption and maybe because I know Elizabeth think about this kind of thing, quite a bit too, so maybe she can help answer this. I think a lot of it is systemic I mean, we don’t have enough models of different kinds of higher education or education at all, to know it when we see it and most people, most of us as adults, we’re never asked to do that. So, the only model that we have to rely on, is the one, we know we went through, which asked us to cram really hard, memorize information, take a test in ASAT, take a good GPA. Like, we don’t have any frame of reference for the other stuff, which is why all of that, on learning has to be part of our process and hopefully one day that stops to be part of the process and people don’t necessarily see this as idyllic. I mean, most of us in the United States are going to spend most of our careers doing something knowledge worker wise,
Michelle: And most of the time, you’re not given a very specific, like here step one here step two here steps three just follow these steps and everything will be successful. You usually have to think about things really critically from complex paths and integrating off the different types of information and solving puzzle, small or large. So it’s confusing to me why we still think the way to teach people is very linear very constrained kind of way. Like, Elizabeth was describing because it’s not really how we function.
Scott: I think to build on that, because you’ve got my wheels turning. I wonder if so many of us are not use to; one managing our own growth. If you want to look at it that way, because that isn’t something that is taught every place clearly you are allowing people to be able to practice that in every aspect, which that’s kind of what I hear that’s threaded throughout all of the classes in the way. It’s set up and everything like that. Like, they get the opportunity to lead and manage their own growth, which is phenomenal. But then the other side of that, too, is, I have found that in any area of life doing things that are more meaningful in more fulfilling in any way whatsoever, which would very much be the things that caused you to grow more too, are almost always not always but almost always more difficult comparatively and I think that your point a lot of people have the basis of comparison for that. Because they haven’t experienced that in other areas of life and a lot of different ways, which is unfortunate, but it also explains, like, many of the statistics out there or if when people do get into the workforce, and they’re like, hey, you know there’s 82%. Depending on, which to you look at some place between 71-82% of people that are really just not enamored in any ways whatsoever with the work that they’re doing. And don’t find it fulfilling, and don’t find it purposeful and don’t find it, I insert your word here, but that’s really, really interesting. So, I love that. You put that in embed it into every aspect of the system that you have created and I know that you say even right on the website. You know we’re committed to stretching the norms of education from within the system but in some ways, I would say that you have created a new system within the system.
Michelle: And one thing about I think people genuinely crave purpose and meaning that, that is what they want to be doing with their lives and that is why I think, such high percentage of people are not satisfied with the work that they do partly, because they’re not set up well to do that, they don’t have those skills to manage self growth and do purposeful meaningful challenging complex work and oftentimes the workplaces don’t ask that of them. Like, sometimes, I mean, it’s just this whole system. That’s I don’t know. And time will tell whether we’re succeeding at this, or not. I think it’s too soon to see but our goal with two years at wayfinding, is that we help our students to do that to pursue purposeful growth and challenge and meaning with a huge support network. They have all the faculty our entire crew. They’ll have a guide one person that they meet with every week for 45 minutes for two years to help them do this. So, that when they leave us, this is not the last time they’re going to have to call on this set of skills to answer the question of who am I and what do I want to do with my life? And how do I do it? They’re going to answer those questions, multiple times throughout their lives and our hope is that we get them set up for success and I can tell you this like, watching our first cohort for two years that group of people did more in two years. Then I have done in my entire life with, maybe the exception of these last same two years where I’ve done wayfinding. Like, what they did in two years I didn’t do in 10 or 12 or 15 years.
Michelle: And I don’t think they know that I mean, maybe at the end, they’re like, wow, I’m tired. I’m like you should be, you earn that like what you have done in two years. It’s an freaking believable. And the hope is that, they then can call on that strength and those skills in that community and that network. And remembering what that feels like in five or 10 or 20 years, when they get back into that place of wondering, who am I and what do I want to do? So, the goal is that this is a lifetime set of skills, but obviously it’s too soon to tell whether that’s happening or not.
Scott: Well, first of all, I want to ask about before, we hit the record button. I just recently found I knew you were taking a trip coming up here for some reason in my head. I was thinking it, you know, when I asked Michelle about this, she’s going to say, oh, that’s a personal trip and on that and then you told me that it wasn’t a personal trip. I’m sure you’re going to have fun on it and I’m sure it’s going to be enjoyable for you very much so, but it wasn’t intended purely for that purpose. So, can you tell our listeners little bit about that? Because I think that illustrates some of the differences in thinking about education this way too
Michelle: Yeah, so one of the fun things about making in your own college. Is that you get to make a lot of interesting decisions that, you know, you’ve always wish this was different or that was different, or, you know, and so one of the things I always wished what’s the different was that instead of having like, a big huge summer break for four months in, like, a one week off for spring break that the breaks were more intentionally use and designed for both faculty and students. So that we could do things like have intentional long term travel opportunities or work in the case of our students more than half of our students work at least a part time job while they’re enrolled with us and many of them pay their own tuition. So, sometimes they want to pick up a bunch of extra ships or even an extra job for a while to like, during the breaks to make some extra money to pay tuition. So, I made up a system, which the state of Oregon was really wonderful helping me figure out how to do this within the constraints that the state of Oregon has a lot of regulations about the colleges and universities have to all abide by including us, whether it’s a small college, like us or a large college, like, University of Oregon.
Michelle: It’s all the same. So I created the trimester system, which is not a thing that exist in Oregon. So, technically, it’s 12 week quarters, but there’s only three of them. And we take these long break. So, in the winter, we had seven weeks off in the spring, we have four weeks and then the summer we have five weeks and during each of those breaks, we invite our community to pitch ideas for what we call learn and explore trips and so everybody gets five minutes in a pitch their ideas and then the community votes on them. And then the ones that get the most votes are the ones that we say. Okay, go. You’re the trip leader you get to lead this trip and students can lead them. So Elizabeth has led one for us and pitched several actually are donors can lead them. Our faculty, our crew anybody in our community can lead these trips and pitch them. So December, so, just a few weeks from now nine of us are going to Asia, one of our luminaries, which is what we call our donors. He pitched a trip to take as many of us who wanted to go to Asia for three weeks. So, I think it’s four students and five community member, five crew donors and community members going to Hong Kong and Chiang Mai in Bangkok for 13 days to study the collision of cultures, you know so like, in Hong Kong we’re looking at how when the British had Hong Kong and so it’s like collision of the British and the Chinese cultures in that space. And what that looks like and feels like in present day and learning some of the history and seeing how it shows up. So, that kind of thing, every April, we do trip to Spain to walk the community of Santiago pilgrimage which Elizabeth lead two years ago, when we did it for the first time, because she had done the whole thing before we should so cure from her because the impact of travel makes a big difference and last August we did a civil rights trip to the South in the United States one of our faculty members took students there and studied he sprinted this young adult life in Georgia with during the 1960’s, during the civil rights movement and they went and visited all historical site and learn the history of the space by being there. So, we did stuff like that every three times a year and maybe Elizabeth are you willing? I don’t know. I feel like it’s intuitive to me why this matters but you probably have better words for why stuff like this actually matters.
Scott: What was the benefit to you Elizabeth or were the benefits that you sow, what was your experience there?
Elizabeth: I think travel in general, just like, helps you understand yourself and the world better more so, than my just staying in one place. So, I spent two and a half years traveling before I found wayfinding like in between dropping out of college and finding wayfinding I sent you and a half years traveling like, a lot by myself. And so I learn, like immense amount about myself and just, I guess also, just like trusting myself and my instinct some stuff like that. But I wasn’t taught in anywhere in school, or anything like that. There’s so much about the world that’s just not taught in America because it doesn’t like pertain to us. Like, I was in Eastern Europe and finding out about all these genocide in Romanian. And I take APRP in history in high school and like no and it also, like, European history in college, and I had never learned about this and you only find out so much like such a like, sliver of knowledge especially in through public education. And it’s like, what does the government want to teach me basically and there’s so much more out there that is just, it’s never focused on. Like, I was always shocked by, like, how much focus the Holocaust got and you learn about that from, like, a very young age, all through high school and get there’s so much more out there that like, so many more giants size and like, horrible tragedy that didn’t get any focused, because I guess they just didn’t matter as much to like, US history or something like that. So that’s sort of like, the darker part of it, but also, just like learning about like, different cultures and how people interact and like, learning to interact with people that you don’t speak the same language. I think that’s a good skill to have as well. And then, as well leading this trip for wayfinding, something else that I had to, like, really learn with how to travel in a group because I hadn’t really done that like, I spend most of the time traveling by myself. And so, I think that takes like a certain skill level as well. Just like, how do you like work together? And make some compromises so that like, everybody can be happy to a certain extent. I think that’s also like a really good skill to learn.
Scott: We found the same exact thing and actually, that’s why my wife and I had made the twist to pull our kids out of school for four to six weeks every year and take them to another country or another section of the world and for all intensive purposes, plunk down there and live and experience and even though, it’s for relatively short period of time four to six weeks, it still provides a lot of those additional experiences, and I think what has been as I have been having this conversation with you both what is created a lot of hope for me is that this can be done within education. And I think in many ways, I’m now realizing that part of the reason, we been doing many things like that is because even my wife, who is a former teacher. She taught kindergarten. She’s got plenty of different grades and everything like that. We’ve given up hope on much of the education system here in the US so, thank you. Thank you. Thank you for reviving my hope and to wrap up here. I am super curious, Michelle. What do you believe now that you’ve been through? And you’ve been in both systems and well I should say we’ve been in traditional, and you have created a new style of education in many ways, what would be your one to two pieces of advice that you would give people that are considering going to college, whether it be for the first time or going back to college, in any capacity whatsoever? What do you think that they should consider? What do you believe to be the most one to two important things at this point in time with all your experiences? No pressure or anything.
Michelle: Yeah sure no pressure. The first thing, I think it’s fairly easy for me, but if I have to stretch to a second thing, all tempted, the first thing I think is before just following that path that you think you should do because that’s what everybody is doing. And that’s our fault. A society, we tell everybody. Oh, no, no, no you should go to college like, we don’t care what your background is. What your situation is. What your interests are. Everybody should go to college and college is the right choice for some people absolutely no questions. And economists have long said that it’s the best chance for upward economic mobility for families that come from low income backgrounds that is now starting to change, but like, all of that factored in, my advice would be pause and ask yourself that question of what do you want to do with your life, what are you interested in? And if you have answers right away, follow those. If you don’t have answers yet pause and think for a while on what it is, maybe that means just work for some time first. Travel if you can. Take a gap year of some sort do something that’s more exploratory until you can get that answer so you would know why you are going to college. If you’re going, cause you might find that, that’s actually not the best path for you to do what you want to do. You may be able to get there quicker faster more meaningfully cheaper or whatever. If you just get a job or doing apprenticeship or go to a trade school. So there’s a lot of other options to get to where you want to go. So, make, I guess that’s the first thing as like a pause and figure out where you want to go, where you want to get to and then choose the right thing for you. And I think the other thing I’d say is know what you want to get out of it, you mentioned earlier, you feel, like, it’s become all about, just getting this degree, this piece of paper at the end and that’s definitely when I saw in the traditional model is that people go to it so they get the piece of paper and like, the four five, six, seven years that they spend in college, generally for them is not the point. It’s like the point is that end things. So, I’d say, really understand what you want to get out of it and then if you are going to go to college, choose the thing that’s going to get you the thing you want out of it. So, do you want prestige? Do you want a network? Do you want a community? One of the things that I’d say most students who come to wayfinding, the vast majority of them do not care that they get a degree at the end. They do they happen to get one at the end, but for them, that’s generally not the point. They want to be in a place that helps them grow and learn and be there whole full selves, and gives them a community in which to do that and some support with which to do that. So, know what you need out of that thing. And then pick the thing that’s going to get you what you need from it make it work for you not the other way around.
Scott: That’s amazing. And I love the piece of advice, particularly on if you can’t answer the question of why, you’re doing it and pause.
Michelle: Yeah. Don’t do it.
Scott: Yeah. Don’t do it. If you don’t know why don’t do it yet until, you know, why. Absolutely love that and I really appreciate you both making the time and taking the time and coming on and sharing what you have learned about this. This is, as I said, from beginning, something that’s near and dear to my heart partially because I see many people that have gone down the traditional around and have not found what they’re looking for in many different ways. So, additionally we’re going through all the same questions for our kids as well and thinking about that ain’t no worth 10 years out from college and for some of them. So, I appreciate on all of those levels you coming on and sharing your perspective. This is amazing. Thank you very much both of you.
Michelle: Thank you very much Scott!
Elizabeth: Thanks Scott!
Scott: I think what I love most about my conversation with Michelle was hearing how committed she is to serving her students as humans instead of names to be checked off on a roster and her radical thinking is already impacting many lives. And I believe she’s absolutely a catalyst for major education transformation and by the way, when I went to the wayfinding academy website, I found this quote “what you do with your life matters to more than just you and when we each live life on purpose we all thrive”. By the way, this reminds me of what my team, and I called signature’s strengths. You’ve probably heard is talk about these before, and maybe something that I quote sounds familiar too. You could probably well I like it, right? That signature strengths are the place where your unique strengths in what you enjoy and the value you bring most of the world overlap. And when people work within their signature strengths, when they live life on purpose they experience a much higher level of satisfaction in their work. If you’re interested in finding your own strengths, and figuring out how you can utilize them in your work, you can find your ultimate guide getting hired for your strengths at www.https://higherforyourstrength.com, or you can actually just pause this and text the word “mystrengths” to 44222 by the way. Also, if you want to learn more about Michelle’s work with Wayfinding Academy, or, you know, someone would be interested in attending in school, you can always go to www.https://WayfindingAcademy.org . Thanks so much for listening to Happen To Your Career podcast. We have so much for you next time next week, right back here on Happen To Your Career.
“Part of scheduling part is clicking up your client time and the time that you know you work the best and just by doing that that brings so much momentum and Oh! man I got that I got this thing done and it brings so much by doing other things throughout the day really save energy for myself and doing those things.”
Scott: Alright all that and more right here on Happen To Your Career. Until then I will see you later I am out. Adios!