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.


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.


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.


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.



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.

How Do I Focus On my Key Signature Strengths

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?



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.

Elizabeth 00:06
Skill level, as well, it's 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.

Introduction 00:22
This is the Happen To Your Career podcast, with Scott Anthony Barlow. We help you stop doing work that doesn't fit you, figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that's unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:46
What was your college or university experience 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 area needs a 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 at a conference when I heard that she was disrupting the education system. I knew we were destined to be friends at that point.

Michelle Jones 01:26
I would hear them over and over and say how frustrated they were and 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. I had someone asked me that earlier.

Scott Anthony Barlow 01:45
After spending over 15 years as a professor in a traditional University, Michelle grew tired of hearing students, professors, and even the administration complain about the same things. So instead of joining in, she flipped the script and opened up her own college. Yeah, you heard me right, she launched. And as already long since graduated her first class of students. By the way, she actually brought one of those students with her. Her name is 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 to think about education.

Michelle Jones 02:23
Usually, when I tell people that I started college, I get a little bit of a quizzical eyebrows way 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. 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 Anthony Barlow 03:22
I love that. But you haven't always done this. This is been more a last couple of years, last few years called this college right now. Three years at this point, if I recall correctly?

Michelle Jones 03:33
Yeah, three years with students and four years, if you count in our timeline, the year that we spent getting ready for our first cohort of students. So we only gave ourselves, our founding team, we gave ourselves one year to get everything ready, to get a building, to hire faculty, to get through the state accreditation process 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 and operating fully.

Scott Anthony Barlow 03:58
Amazing. And Elizabeth, we're gonna 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 led up to where you said, "You know what? I have to start a college."

Michelle Jones 04:13
Yeah, I think it happened the way that a lot of these, sorts of, mission purpose based startup organizations happen, which is somebody sees a 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 to at least think they know how to affect some change, and goes out, takes a leap, takes a risk and decides "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's true for a lot of others. And I would imagine the folks that listen to your show have a lot of expertise in their area and maybe are frustrated about certain things and 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. And during that time I taught mostly business courses, management, leadership, things like that. And I'd get them as they were juniors and seniors. So towards the end of their college career after they'd been there for five, six years, and my classes were all about, "What are you passionate about? What do you want to do with your life? How do you get started doing that? What kind of difference do you want to make in the world?" And they really enjoyed those courses and those conversations. But I would hear them over and over, say how frustrated they were and 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, we're at the end, we're about to graduate, we have a lot of debt. And you know, maybe I would have actually majored in something else or gone to a different college or done something else along the way. I had someone asked me that earlier. And now I feel trapped and stuck. So for years and years, and like a decade, I listened 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 it had stopped being about, like, the learning and really helping them figure out what they wanted 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 it 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 and kept coming. And so finally I said, "Well, let's give that a try. Like, let's make a new college that is authorized by this state that we grant degrees, but we do it the way we feel it should be done." We do it what we now call "frontwards." 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 them the 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 us like a wide range of answers to that question. It's never in like a really neat, 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 this a try. And we've been at it three years now.

Scott Anthony Barlow 07:19
Okay, I want to go back for just a minute. At what point caused you to flip the switch 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 the switch in your head? Do you recall? Or maybe it was even a series of events that caused you to say, "You know what? We should actually do this."

Michelle Jones 07:43
There's definitely a series of events and a couple pivotal moments for me, where, gosh, about four years or so now, I've been collecting these ideas and thinking about this almost obsessively. And I said to my friends, basically, "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 yet. 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." And about 25 of my friends showed up and spent the entire day having this conversation about our higher education system and what went, 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". 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 had some kind of experience with the higher education system. Some of them were teaching in it. Some of them were working in college admissions, or service learning or student 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, and to my surprise, I went to my employer at the time, which was a traditional college here in Portland. And I said to the provost, "I'd like to give my notice" higher education hires in very long cycles. 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 the replacement" and the provost, and I was very nervous, because I, 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 that just kept coming. We ended up funding our startup funding through a crowdfunding campaign, because we wanted to make sure that because something like this isn't going to work unless the 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 some 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 seen them, too. There's a lot of articles and books that have been coming out for the past 4, 5, 6, 7 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 reading them and feeling like I was doing nothing about it and neither was anyone else. So, I don't know, a slow buildup of support from community and frustration probably is what it took.

Scott Anthony Barlow 11:13
I love that, though. And 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 massive books devoted to this subject, but no real action that has taken other than, for all intents and purposes, pointing it out. And there's lots and lots of people in the world pointing that out. So kudos to you for having the courage, finding the courage to do something about it, and then taking one foot and putting it from the other and then having the world actually have the opportunity to show up and say, "Yes, this is actually an amazing idea." Very cool.

Michelle Jones 11:55
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 with this territory, probably.

Scott Anthony Barlow 12:04
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 Jones 12:12
Yeah, I find that too.

Scott Anthony Barlow 12:14
So here's the question that I have. And 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 rolled, as you began 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? You've already talked a little bit, you know, looking at this frontwards versus backwards, but if you can expand on that for me, and telling you some of the other ideas that have shifted into the final version, if you will.

Michelle Jones 12:49
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. 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 students ask why as many times as they need to, until they understand all of the decisions that are being made, and all the things that happen. So that made the cut. And we use a transparent model of everything. So students always are either told 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, we hired Elizabeth. And now we have three more students who work with us, who are current students who work with us in 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 it's there's also. A couple of things I heard from faculty colleagues at the time was that the siloed subjects how like, 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, and then they go over here and learn public speaking or communications, 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 Anthony Barlow 14:30
That never made sense for me either. And honestly, I see that some of the biggest benefits in society come from collaboration amongst those areas. That's not quite the word I'm looking for. But I'm so glad that has found its way into how you run it. But I'm curious, like, expand on that for our listeners and help them understand what you mean when you say that.

Michelle Jones 14:52
So our curriculum, the core courses, all of our students take nine core courses together as a cohort, 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 in 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 that's about research and stats. And when the history person teaches that it's got history, and when the physics guide teaches it, 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 to, 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. It's all project based, there's no grades. And so they get to design their own way of learning and take the information and apply it to their interests. And so we didn't do it in the silos, we did it in this like, sort of cross interdisciplinary, 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 Anthony Barlow 16:30
The perpetual catch 22.

Michelle Jones 16:32
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 two internships, they all end up with some form of community mentorship, whether it's through one of their internships, or in Elizabeth's case, and a lot of the other students, they design their own self directed capstone project, and find mentors in the community to help them with that. They go out to community events, they get to participate in all sorts of things in Portland and beyond, so that at the end of the two years they have, and because everything's project based, they have a portfolio that lives online 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'm capable of doing. Here's a 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 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 Anthony Barlow 17:58
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 a different way. So help me understand from your perspective, what are some of the biggest differences between traditional education and this new style of education?

Elizabeth 18:42
Yeah, I would say, biggest differences, I guess, Michelle mentioned the, like, transparency and always explaining, like, the why of doing things. That was like the first thing that struck me when I found Wayfinding. Yeah, I was just, like, very blown away by like this intentionality behind everything. Like there was always, like, this is why we're doing this instead of 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 it 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... 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 like, what I'm majoring in. The first two years were all, sorts of like, one was, I say this a lot, but one was a math class that was teaching me math, that I had to know to take the SAT 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 as soon as I entered high school and then in college 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 focus on, like, straight and narrow path, it just seemed very constricting in a lot of ways. There was like no room for like, other ways of thinking or being from this success path, I guess.

Scott Anthony Barlow 20:19
When you say success path, what do you mean?

Elizabeth 20:21
Like graduating from high school, getting into a good college, going to college, getting a job right out of college, and then, kind of 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 this system?" Like, in traditional college, there's just no questioning. Like, it's just like, "Okay, what do you want to major in?" And like, not a whole lot of knowledge behind that. For my major, I was just kind of like, well, I like doing art. And I 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 do you up for? What makes you angry? And like, what do you want to change in the world?" Or even like, "How do you be in healthy relationships with people?" I think that that's something that's crucial to living a good life and is not taught at all throughout school.

Scott Anthony Barlow 21:31
No. What do you believe are some of the benefits of bringing those types of things forward into the education system from seeing it both ways, and experiencing it both ways, I think you have a unique perspective on this. So I'm curious from your perception, what do you see as the real ways in maybe your life that it does actually benefit you to bring this forward?

Elizabeth 21:57
Yeah, I really think, like, it helps me 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. And like, 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 struggled for a very long time with procrastination and perfectionism. And so like, those just really, and college came together to be like this horrible thing where like, I struggled to turn in 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 to like, be like, "Okay, this is the thing. Like, let's try and get better at this versus just you fail." And okay, I think it really helped 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 Anthony Barlow 22:54
That's really interesting. Yeah, I totally agree and have experienced the same thing myself, where it seems like, not in every traditional college and university is it this way, many of them, and I've heard this from many, many, many HTYC listeners as well, that in a lot of ways, it is less about the growth or has become over time, less about the growth, and more about the getting of the degree, the getting of the piece of paper. And it sounds like based on everything that 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.

Michelle Jones 23:35
Yeah, yeah, I would 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 cohort mates had to go through, because we'd all been through like traditional schooling. And so I'm learning of, "Oh, what does the teacher want for me versus like, what am I interested in?"

Scott Anthony Barlow 23:58
Hold on. Expand on that for me. Because I think that is very much of 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?

Michelle Jones 24:09
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 teacher is definitely like looking for a very specific sort of thing. Like our teachers didn't care, like what the actual assignment looked like. They were like really interested in, what are you interested in? And like, what do you need to learn right now? Or like, how do you need to grow right now? And what is that stuff 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 college is 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 Jones 25:07
Can I add one thing to that?

Scott Anthony Barlow 25:09
Please do.

Michelle Jones 25:10
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 want to treat students as whole humans, but they also have spent their whole lives as students and then as faculty in traditional models. And so we've had to work also on the other side with faculty to help them sort of unlearn 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, much, much harder. It's much stretchier. It's much more rigorous thinking than what the traditional college model asks either faculty or students to do. Because that means that a faculty member might say they receive 12 projects, they give one project assignment to the class, 12 students submit things back, and some of them are short films that the students filmed and narrated and made, and some are podcasts, and some are art pieces, and some are essays and some are blogs and some are musical pieces. And that faculty member has to know their subject matter in an in-depth and 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 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 in that. 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 all sounds nice at Wayfinding. But is there any rigor to it? And my response is always like, it's actually way harder. What we ask people to do Wayfinding is much, much harder than anything I ever saw in 15 years of being in the traditional higher education system.

Scott Anthony Barlow 27:12
So hold on, let's 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. But I'm super curious, why do 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, it's 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 Jones 27:58
Gosh, I wish I knew the answer to that. Because that question when it comes to me, it often perplexes me as to why that's people's natural assumption. And maybe because I know Elizabeth thinks 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, were 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 and ace it, get a good GPA, like we don't have any frame of reference for the other stuff, which is why all of that unlearning 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. And most of the time, you're not given a very specific like, here's step one, here's step two, here's step three, just follow these steps and everything will be successful. You usually have to think about things really critically and from complex paths, and integrating lots of different types of information and solving puzzles small or large. So it's confusing to me why we still think the way to teach people is this very linear, very constrained kind of way like Elizabeth was describing, because it's not really how we function.

Scott Anthony Barlow 29:33
I think to build on that because you've got my wheels turning. I wonder if so many of us are not used 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 the classes and 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, and more fulfilling in any way whatsoever, which would very much be the things that cause 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 don't have a 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 for when people do get into the workforce, and they're like, hey, there's 82%, depending on which study you look at, someplace between 71 and 82% of people that are really just not enamored in any way 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, insert your word here. But that's really, really interesting. So I love that you put that and embedded 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 Jones 31:19
And one thing about, I think people genuinely crave purpose and meaning. That is what they want to be doing with their lives. And that is why I think such high percentages 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, so 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 the 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 all 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 than I have done in my entire life. But 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. 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've earned that. Like, what you have done in two years is unfreaking believable." And the hope is that they then can call on that strength and those skills, in that community, in that network and remembering what that feels like in 5 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 Anthony Barlow 33:22
Well, first of all, I want to ask about, before we hit the record button, I just recently found out I knew you were taking a trip coming up here for some reason. In my head, I was thinking, you know, when I asked Michelle about this, she's gonna say, "Oh, it's a personal trip, and we're going..." And then you told me that it wasn't a personal trip, I'm sure you're gonna 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 a little bit about that? Because I think that illustrates some of the differences in thinking about education this way, too.

Michelle Jones 33:56
Yeah. So one of the fun things about making your own college is that you get to make a lot of interesting decisions that, you know, you've always wished this was different, or that was different, or you know. And so one of the things I always wish was different was that instead of having like a big huge summer break for four months, and like a one week off for spring break, that the breaks were more intentionally used 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 shifts, 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 at helping me figure out how to do this within the constraints that the state of Oregon has a lot of regulations about, that colleges and universities have to all abide by including us whether you're a small college like us, or a large college, like University of Oregon, it's all the same. So I created a trimester system, which is not a thing that's exists in Oregon. So technically, it's 12 week quarters, but there's only three of them. And we take these long breaks. So in the winter, we have 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, and they 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. Our donors can lead them, our faculty or 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 members or five crew donors and community members going to Hong Kong, and Chiang Mai and 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 the 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 a trip to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, which Elizabeth led two years ago. When we did it for the first time, because she had done the whole thing before, we should so hear 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 spent his young adult life in Georgia during the 1960s, during the Civil Rights Movement. They went and visited all of these historical sites and learned the history of the space by being there. So we do stuff like that every, well, 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 Anthony Barlow 37:20
What was the benefit to you, Elizabeth? Or the benefits that you saw, what was your experience there?

Elizabeth 37:26
I think travel in general, it just like helps you understand yourself and the world better, more so than like 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 spent two and a half years traveling like a lot by myself. And so I learned like an immense amount about myself. And just, I guess also just like trusting myself and my instincts and stuff like that, that 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 genocides is, like, this genocide in Romania. And I take an AP European history in high school and also like European history in college and had never learned about this. And you only find out so much, like, such a, like, sliver of knowledge, especially through public education is like, what does the government want to teach me basically, and there's so much more out there that it's never focused on, like, I was always shocked by like, how much focus the Holocaust got in, you learned about that from like a very young age, all through high school. And yet, there's so much more out there that like so many more genocides, and like horrible tragedies that didn't get any focus, 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 with, I think that's like a good skill to have as well. And then as well, leaving this trip for Wayfinding, something else that I had to, like, really learn was how to travel in a group because I hadn't really done that, like, I'd spent 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 Anthony Barlow 39:35
Well, we found the same exact thing. And actually, that's why my wife and I have made the choice 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 intents and purposes, plunked down there and live, and experience. And even though it's for a 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 has 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've been doing many things like that is because even my wife, who is a former teacher, she's taught kindergarten, she's got taught 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, you'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 Jones 41:12
Yeah, sure, no pressure. The first thing I think is fairly easy for me. But if I have to stretch to a second thing all attempted, 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 as society, we tell everybody "Oh, 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 question. 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 that you would know why you are going to college if you're going. Because 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, whatever, if you just get a job or do an apprenticeship or go to a trade school. There's a lot of other options to get to where you want to go. So make, I guess that's the first thing is like 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 that you feel like it's become all about just getting this degree, this piece of paper at the end. And that's definitely what I saw in the traditional model is that people go to it so they get the piece of paper and, like, the 4, 5, 6, 7 years that they spend in college, generally for them is not the point. It's like the point is that end thing. 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 their whole full selves. And give 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 Anthony Barlow 43:54
That's amazing. And I love that piece of advice, particularly on ,if you can't answer the question of why you're doing it, then pause.

Michelle Jones 44:03
Yeah, don't do it.

Scott Anthony Barlow 44:04
Yeah, don't do it. If you don't know the "why" don't do it yet, until you know the 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 the beginning, something that's near and dear to my heart, partially because I see many people that have gone down the traditional route and have not found what they're looking for in many, many, many different ways. So additionally, we're going through all these same questions for our kids, as well and thinking about that, even though we're 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 Jones 44:45
Thank you very much, Scott.

Elizabeth 44:47
Thanks, Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 44:49
You know, I think what I loved 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 call signature strengths, you've probably heard us talk about these before. And maybe something in that quote sounds familiar to you, you can probably see why I like it, right? But signature strengths are the place where your unique strengths and what you enjoy and the value you bring most to 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 our ultimate guide to getting hired for your strengths at Or you can actually just pause this and text the word MYSTRENGTHS, (M-Y) STRENGTHS, plural, to 44222. By the way, also, if you want to learn more about Michelle's work with Wayfinding Academy, or you know someone who would be interested in attending her school, you can always go to Thanks so much for listening to the Happen To Your Career podcast. We have so much for you next time next week, right back here on Happen To Your Career.

Phillip Migyanko 46:33
Part of that scheduling part is figuring out your prime time and the prime time that you know you work the best. And just by doing that, that brings so much momentum and, "Oh man! I got that thing done, I got this thing done" and it brings so much than doing other things throughout the day really it saves me energy for myself in doing those things.

Scott Anthony Barlow 46:47
All right, all that and more right here on Happen To Your Career. Until then, I will see you later. I am out! Adios.

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