May 12, 2020
Patrick Cook-Deegan is a serial social entrepreneur, educator, writer, wilderness guide, former lecturer at Stanford, and an education innovation fellow, who has adamantly been focused on re-designing the American high school for the 21st century to help students craft meaningful lives. Starting in Stanford’s d.school, he launched Project Wayfinder—a year-long curriculum combining the best of social emotional learning, mindfulness education, design thinking and 21st-century skills for schools. Their programs have been taught to over 15,000 students in 200 different school programs throughout 25 states in the U.S. and 18 countries, including Australia, Canada, China, Ireland and Japan.
My hope is that coming out of this, we've re-imagined what this industrial model of education that's existed for the last hundred years and has stopped really serving a lot of our students, particularly adolescent students in the last 50 years. We will ask what is the purpose of education? What does a meaningful education look like? And also how do we prepare the next generation to inherit the earth that we have now? Because I would argue that we're not doing a great job and that this is a moment to reflect on that both practically and at a very deep level.
Welcome to evolve today's guest as a serial social entrepreneur, educator, writer, wilderness guide, former lecturer at Stanford and an education innovation fellow who has adamantly been focused on redesigning the American high school for the 21st century to help students craft meaningful life. Starting at Stanford D school, he launched project Wayfinder a year long curriculum, combining the best of social emotional learning, mindfulness education, design. Thinking in 21st century skills for schools with only one in five adolescents reporting feeling a sense of purpose. This innovation curriculum is designed to help all students develop lives of meaning and purpose being called curricular gold. Their programs have been taught to over 15,000 students in 200 different school programs throughout 25 States and 18 countries including Australia, Canada, China, and Japan. However, this purpose driven leader did not begin knowing what his own purpose was. Having checked all the boxes of a successful student as an all American lacrosse player and still finding his time in high school meaningless.
He went on a journey of self discovery for five years. He traveled alone to countries such as the democratic Republic of Congo, birth, Korea and Rwanda, including a 28,000 mile or 2,800 miles solo bike ride through Southeast Asia, deeply affected by the injustices of the world he witnessed during his travels. Over the last decade, he has launched a number of programs and organizations including inward bound mindfulness education back to earth, Brown university social innovation initiative, and spent five years working as a human rights advocate. In Burma since then, he has educated thousands of students in their own transformational experiences, spoken at more than a hundred schools, including Duke, Yale, and UCLA and has been featured in Washington post Boston globe and NPR, Stanford social innovation review edge utopia, UC Berkeley's greater good and recently published book a pur purpose rising. I'm honored to welcome founder and CEO of project Wayfinder, a man who could probably lead you through self reflection or the wilderness. Patrick Cook deacon.
Hey Brandon, thanks for having me on.
Absolutely. Well you have studied quite a number of people, you know, dealing with their purpose and how they discovered their purpose and have kind of noted that a lot of them started by traveling abroad or getting involved in some sort of social costs. Take us back to when you first gave up lacrosse to travel the world and what you began to discover about yourself.
Yeah, so I'll share a little bit. You know what that moment was, what I did and then how I came back differently. So I mean the, the moment was very clear to me. So I went to Brown university. Providence Rhode Island has a beautiful new England campus. And that had been my goal for many years. I mean as long as I could remember, I wanted to play division one lacrosse at an Ivy league university. So my freshman year, you know, I thought I was living the dream life. I would carry my lacrosse stick around everywhere just to let people know. And then by the end of freshman year, I remember sitting on the grass that may, and it was a beautiful may day and I was looking up and I just remember being like, what am I actually doing with my life? Like I couldn't answer the question and I just been doing things that were either hard or achievement based or I was supposed to do for so long.
And it felt kind of like, like a void. And so I didn't know what to do. And I spent another year in that not knowing. And if you look at the college mental health crisis, often there was this thing called the sophomore slump. And that hit me very strong. And so my sophomore year was a lot of not knowing. And at the end of my sophomore year I quit lacrosse. I bought a one way ticket around the world and I want to go on a journey by myself. So I went on that journey and there's more I can share on that. But I, I came back very, very different. I re I had a new group of friends. I changed what I studied and more importantly I had a much better sense of what I wanted for my life and not what others wanted for me.
During your time through Southeast Asia, you actually did a 10 day meditation retreat and was talking about how it was harder to do that than actually riding the bike. How, how did this change your life and why was that so hard to start?
Yeah, so I mean, you know the, I've been riding my bike about 75 miles a day for two months and I met this woman in non panic Cambodia and she was like, well, you seem like you had a lot going on. Maybe you should try some meditation. And so I biked to this place called Batam bong and Northwest Cambodia didn't really know what I was getting into. I just thought it would be easier than biking all day and it turns out way harder. So you wake up at 3:00 AM and they do seated meditation for about 14 hours a day. And my, my knees hurt. And you know, sometimes you get a Western meditation halls here in American, they have all these cushy seats and yet all that. But there it's, you're sitting on the ground and mostly you're sitting with your own thoughts and that's really challenging.
And so I would just say it was transformational and growing up I'd grown up with a lot of anger and a lot of like anger issues and playing football and lacrosse help take them out. But now that I wasn't doing that anymore, I just didn't know what to do with it. And I would say that it helped me deal with that more than anything else. As basic emotional management and control. When you feel like it kind of opened you up to be more receptive to some of the things that you were seeing? Yeah, I mean it was a total, totally transformational event. And led me to want to have other people have that transformational event, which eventually led me to work with inward bound mindfulness education, which leads mindfulness retreats for youth all over the country. You've worked with quite a few different social organizations.
What what made you finally decide to, it was time to start building a project? Wayfinder yeah, it's a great question. So I, I had been, when I came back from that bicycle trip, I started speaking at high schools and colleges across the country about developing a meaningful and purposeful life. So I spoke at about 40 schools and you know, I didn't use the language then, but that was really what I was going for. I said, you know, you're going to have to push yourself. You're going to have to wake up and every human and every society has scripting about what they should do, who they should be. And if you don't explore which of that scripting is for you and which isn't, you're going to live with a lot of sheds or you might live without a lot of reflection. And so I've been pushing youth and teenagers and adults to do that since that bicycle trip.
And then what led me to start project Wayfinder was having worked with youth for 10 years and, and working in the high school system, I just saw that there was this gap in helping students develop meaning and purpose. So it doesn't just happen, right? If you look at the science of it, there's a lot of science behind how you scaffold a sense of purpose. But I'd never seen a curriculum that intentionally did it. And you know, your podcast for the most part, interviews, people that have meaning and purpose and they all did it in a different way. But if you went back and traced, what were some of the key things that got them there? It would be, you know, often it's traveling abroad. Often it's having a mentor. Often it's having an inner life and a contemplative experience. It often involves doing a project that you really care about, that's hard, that you want to give up on that you keep doing. So I saw all of these components of it, but I was like, where's the curriculum? So I was teaching at a public school in Oakland and I just started making up my own curriculum. And eventually I was like, well, it could be codified this and could other schools do this. And so that was kind of the for it.
Yeah. And then you guys you started it in Stanford D school and I'm actually applying for a PhD to research launching a disruptive model for higher education and applying to Stanford. So I was curious what your experience as a fellow was and how did that, how'd you make the most of that as a founder?
Yeah, I mean, those experiences. Amazing. So I was sitting around Oakland one day. It was like a Saturday hanging out with some friends. And this was talking about, you know, what I was doing in Oakland and with my students. So one of my friends said, you know, there's this fellowship at Stanford where they pay you to launch a tree project and use design thinking. And I was like, that doesn't exist. Look it up. And that's what it was. So I applied and I got paired there with a full time product designer. And so basically we took a lot of the ideas I had and put them into a paper based curriculum. So it wasn't just an experiential education that only I could lead, but that we could codify it. And so that whole year, I mean I won, I got familiar with the design thinking process for making curriculum and products. And two, it just exposed me to a lot of really amazing thinkers to think about how can we push the boundaries of adolescent education.
Yeah. what are the research that you have a Lumion on? Is dr bill Damon's about purpose? So how did you use that kind of research and neuroscience and things to formulate this curriculum?
Yeah, so dr bill Damon runs the center for adolescent, a center on adolescents at Stanford. And he actually was the head of human development at Brown prior to that. So I'd actually been exposed to his work for a long time and he'd guests lectured in some of my classes. I took it Brown. And so he's, you know, the leading figure and studying how purpose development happens in adolescents. And that's probably one of the reasons I wanted to go to Stanford. And almost everyone that has their PhD in the field or it's been working in the field has some ties to dr Damon. So I would say a lot of his work is the core
Of what we're doing. And so he defines purpose as something that's meaningful to the self and consequential to the world. So you have to know what you care about and you have to have it apply to the world. And so his work and is really core to what we do and all of the curriculum that we design is evidence-base. So his office is actually just a few blocks down from the D school at Stanford. And so, you know, work on something at the D school, go over and, and, and Bill's been involved since the beginning. And is an advisory board member as are some other members from his staff?
Well, based on the definition of his, what do you feel like your purposes?
Yeah, so actually I, at our organization project Wayfinder we ask people to write that what's your purpose statement? And mine is to develop, catalyze and launch a purposeful organizations, programs and movements. And so I think my sweet spot is really igniting things or catalyzing things. And that could be a program, it could be an organization or it could be a movement. And I really like working at the intersection of those three. So can you build all three of those at the same time? So an example of that. So when I worked at inward bound, we were building the organization. We were a big part of the mindfulness and education movement and we were also, you know, refining the program that we use to serve teens. A lot of your work started with high schoolers. You know, right now a lot of high school experiences feels meaningless.
They're kind of questioning the model. Why are they going through it? But why were you so adamant about fixing that model? Yeah, so I mean, I went to a big public school in Annapolis, Maryland with 2000 students, comprehensive traditional high school. You know, a lot of the classrooms don't have windows. You know, you get there at seven 15, you eat it too. You don't go outside. You go from class to class to class. You know, no one ever asked a teenager, Hey, is this how you would educate yourself? Does this make sense? You know, it doesn't make sense from a neuroscience perspective, even from a learning perspective, right? So if you were doing your podcast, there's no way that you would interview seven people in a day and give yourself six minutes in between to go to the bathroom and like see your friends in the hallway.
Right? You wouldn't do a good job. No. And you certainly probably don't schedule your podcasts at like 3:00 PM when people are tired. So there's just some basic things about the design of high school that don't make any sense for the students or the teachers. So that's from like a design perspective from a like personal experience is that I actually, I kind of had a lot of fun in high school. Like I played a bunch of sports, like, you know, I live next to the water, we'd go jump in the water. Like it was kind of fun, but I couldn't, that no one could ever give me a good explanation for why I was taking a lot of the classes I was taking or how it connected to my real life, you know. So like I remember taking geometry and I was like, ask my teacher, I was like, when am I ever going to use this?
And not to say geometry isn't useful, but she couldn't answer it. And so I was like, well then why should I take this class? And so I kept having questions like that and the system doesn't like it when you ask those questions. Right. And then the answer is to get a good grade and follow the path of achievement. And then so let's say you take that logically, well if you keep doing that your whole life, then what does that get you? Right. And so I just remember having a lot of big questions about being a human being in adolescents, which by the way, all adolescents experience, it's a fundamental part of adolescence. And for the most part the traditional high school experience either ignores, negates or is actually like in conflict with those big questions. Yeah, we'll project Wayfinder the lessons help explore themes such as self-awareness, world awareness and purposeful action.
Can you explain each of these and how you help students figure these out? Yeah, so like I said, coming back to the definition of purpose. So it's something that's meaningful to the self and consequential and prosocial for the world. So that means you have to start with yourself. So we have one activity called journey map where you actually map your life journey and you put who are mentors, who were tough turns, what were transformational events. I mean, if you look how humans make meaning is they have to have a story about their own journey. And if you have a story about your own journey, even if you've gone through hard things that shows that you've made it through it people have like a stronger sense of identity and self. So that's like one of the ones we do. In self-awareness. Another one is about your values.
Like what are your most core values and where do you get that from? So we start with the self and then we move on to what's going on in the world and why, why should you care, right? So we have activities exploring the world and, and what we try and do is exploration without doing something first. Because a lot of harm happens when you go into a situation and you say, Oh, I was here for 10 minutes. I see the problem, I'm going to solve the problem. Right? And so the design thinking process, one of the key parts is empathy. So you actually ask users what's going on? So we incorporate that. And then the third part is actually doing a purposeful project. And so bringing together what's important to you, what do you care about in the world? Go do something about it.
One of the most powerful things I think about this curriculum is you guys are asking a lot bigger questions that students aren't necessarily always getting asked and particularly more like why questions that are important to them. Why do you think these are so impactful for them? Well I think there's two reasons. One is that like adolescents are wired to ask these questions, right? So if you look at, I don't know if you know dr Dan Siegel at UCLA, his research and the book, that rainstorm, right? It's like that they're naturally like they want to ask these big questions cause you think historically evolution, like humans had to leave the nest during that period and individually and set up their own home. So you have to like take healthy risks to move from being a child to a mature adult. So one, it's like wired into our biology.
And then the second is because humans are curious and, and they're particularly curious when they're in adolescents. And a lot of our traditional school system either squashes that curiosity or puts it, you know, squash it somewhere. So you might know dr Ken Robinson gave this Ted talk basically on how school should foster creativity. And it was like the top three Ted talk ever watched. Like it's not, it's also, it's amazing. It's also not rocket science. It's like humans are curious schools, cross curiosity schools and doing that. Awesome. Right? You know, and so, and the other thing I would add is that this isn't just like from an outside perspective. So there was a recent study done on 22,000 high schoolers in America and they asked, what are the three most common things you feel at school for high school? And I was tired, stressed, and bored.
And there wasn't even a positive emotion until number seven. You know, that's, that's a 22,000 students at a wide variety of schools. And then another study showed that teens are the most chronically under slept group of people in the country. And while they're in high school are the most stressed out demographic of any demographic in the United States. So what that's leading to is in the past decade, rates of depression and anxiety have almost doubled for teenagers. You guys have about like 30 to 50 hours worth of exercises in your curriculum. What is some of the most unique exercises in that curriculum? Yeah, so we have one called the purpose compass. And so I think that purposeful projects happen at the intersection of three things. So one a skill or strength that you have or want to develop. Two is a need that you care about in the world.
And then three is like something that you love to do. And so we call that the sweet spot. So I'm going to take your podcast on disrupting, but I need you saw was there needs to be a different type of podcast that covers this type of content as something you'd love to do is probably interview people. And a skill or strength you have is you know, organizing, self-starting and maybe your interview skills. So at that intersection there's your podcast. And then the other thing that we talk about is that purpose is project based. It's not a one thing. So like if you were still doing this podcast in 60 years, I might be like, Hey man, maybe you should do something else. Right, but you're going to use that intersect action and, and learn from this to develop other purposeful podcast projects along the way.
Yeah, I think that's important too because as you start to move through these different projects, like you build skill sets that help you to further develop the next project and further explore what your actual purpose and your passions or exactly. So if you think of the rise of high school in America, so basically in 1900 less than 5% of people graduated from high school and by 1965 about about 65 to 70% were graduating. So we added a percent of a percent of the population was graduating high school for most of the 20th century. And for most of that time, if you graduated with a high school degree, you could get a job basically doing something similar for the rest of your life in some ways. Right? It was built around this industrial model of education was built around an industrial model of economics. So in case anyone hasn't noticed the world doesn't exist like that anymore and no one is gonna leave high school now and have the same job for the rest of their life.
And in fact, the department of labor study showed that 70% of jobs that current high school graduates have in their lifetime don't even exist yet. And the average millennial in 10 years has seven jobs. So he is not, can we set you up for this one thing you're going to do for the rest of your life? You know, like a company man in Japan or post world war two factory worker. But the key is how do you scaffold purpose by scaffold, purposing full projects that build and iterate on each other and how do you give them the skills to be able to transition between those products. They're going to have those seven different jobs and whatnot. Exactly. And that's where self reflection is really important. Right. So I have a friend who was going through a really, you know, had had a really successful career in one thing for five years and instead of just jumping into the next thing immediately he spent six to nine months really reflecting.
And it was actually for him way more uncomfortable than just working hard. You know, there's a, there's a discomfort in it, which is natural and good and you spend a lot of time and we had a lot of conversations and went for a lot of walks and then he landed in a job that he really was very intentional about and now has blossomed in it. But a lot of the skills, like he needs to work hard and be good at the job. But the other key part was that reflective process and figuring out what is next and what makes the most sense. Right? You guys have a large influence from the culture of Polynesian wayfinding. Do these things inspire and kind of be applied to actual everyday life? Yeah, so like I mentioned on that trip, I got exposed, spent a lot of time in Australia and New Zealand and got exposed to Aboriginal tracking and Polynesian navigating.
And I, I was always fascinated. I mean, I love going outside for as long as I can remember. And, and I always felt an alienation from the natural world in, you know, in a modern school or in a lot of our industrial society. And so I thought like, we're missing something in our culture, like our culture. There's no culture that could survive for more than a thousand years in the way that we're treating the earth and each other, right? We're on the path to destruction. So I got really curious, what did cultures look like that survived thousands of years in the place that they were and didn't destroy that? And so that led me into different cultures that treated their relationship with the natural world differently. And then when I discovered some of them, I realized, Oh, well they treated their internal journey differently as well.
And the different, the connection between inner and outer was, was much more nebulous. It was one in the same. Whereas in our like the, the world we live in now, it's like this is your inner world. This is your outer world, this is your job, this is your home. And I think some of the things that COBIT has exposed is how not true that dichotomy is. So to come back to your question of how has it influenced is that, well, let's say you are going to your friend's house in New Jersey now you could get on your phone, put in their address into Google maps, get on a highway, and without really thinking at all or engaging your prefrontal cortex, you could get to their house, right? But if you will, 500 years ago on this continent, you would have to have a ton of skills of what time of day is it?
What should I eat, where should I go? What should I watch out for? And so there's a, there's a level of paying attention to your environment and then regulating yourself. And then we think of life as much more of a, of a journey unless it's a straight line. And so if you think about Polynesian navigators who travel from Hawaii to Tahiti using traditional navigation, so they're on what's essentially like a, a boat, the size, twice the size of a living room with 12 people and a navigator can get there using the S, the sun, the stars, the moon without any modern instruments. And you just think of how attuned they have to be to the natural world and to themselves. And so we hold that up as an example of like how we want students to navigate life.
What do you think about you know, with the current time right now being in COBIT and having, you know, exponentially more screen time just as people, but also in online learning and having that disconnection from, you know, an actual environment or the natural environment. How do you think that plays into effect?
Yeah, I mean I, I think it's, I think it's a two way street actually because I know some people that are actually spending more time outside or with themselves because their lives isn't as busy or they don't commute or, or honestly like some of my friends just need to get away from their kids so they go outside, walk. So I think in some ways it can connect back to like what's important and what supports this whole existence we have in the first place. And then the second part, you know, which is less awesome as they are, humans weren't designed to look at screens all day and be on screens. Like they weren't actually designed that way. And that, I think one of the things we're seeing is the primal instinct for social connection that happens with body language that happens with laughter. Mmm. And you know, I'm sure a lot of your listeners have been on one of those zoom calls with 60 people or nothing's happening. And it's just frustrating. Whereas if you're a gathering with 60 people, you can kind of choose it. There's so many social cues that you pick up on. That, that that's, that's how humans were designed. And so in some ways I'm hoping that this is like a rehumanizing like change and that there's some positive change that comes out of this crisis.
Yeah, absolutely. Well, speaking of relationships, one of the, the goals of your guys's project is to kind of change the relationship of the teacher with the student and to be more like a guide or a mentor. How has this style relationship more conducive to the students' learning?
Yeah, so w one of the things we advocate for, so we have a section called teacher as mentor. And so historically the relationship of the teacher in an industrial model has been, I have knowledge and I'm going to dispense this knowledge to you. Right? So it's, and this isn't always true, there's so many gray lines here, but that's how it's traditionally set up and that that means it's a one way street. Whereas fundamentally what mentoring means is two things. One that it's a bi-directional street. And two that you have to show some of who you are to be a mentor to someone. You don't have to show some of who you are to, you know, teach Microsoft Excel or you know, the history or like a geology class. But if you actually learn how QM and how this relates to purpose is that I've had the chance to interview hundreds of people who are purpose exemplars and some of them talk about their mentors more than they talk about themselves. And so mentors are critical and you can't have a mentor if you don't have a bi-directional relationship. And so sometimes people say, Oh, are you saying we shouldn't teach things and lectures are terrible and we should just talk about our feelings all the time? Like, no, what I'm saying is that both are valuable and that if life is about balance or out of balance in, in direct instruction versus relational building of relationships in a classic school contact.
How have you guys been helping a scene? You guys had a response to coven 19. And one of the things you were touching on was having that meaningful connection online in these times of isolation. How have you kind of fostered that relationship
Online? Yeah, so we've taken our trainings online. So Adrian, Michael Green, who's our school lead and this amazing facilitator, he's been adapting what we do. And you know, we, he, so we're training the Berkeley school of public health or chain community college in Southern California. And honestly, people were skeptical. They're like, ah, you can't do this. And people have come back and said, actually, I love this and wow, there's ways to do this. You have to be thoughtful about it. But if you think of experience design online in the same way that we think about experience design in person, there's, there's ways to do it. And so I, I've been pleasantly surprised that, that people felt really connected. And there's been some parts that actually work a little bit better online. Another big part is gratitude is a big thing. And inside that con contemplate a practice.
So how have you guys kind of weaved that throughout the curriculum? Yeah. So Kendall cotton Bronk teaches at Claremont graduate university and she got her PhD with bill Damon and she studies a lot the intersection of purpose and gratitude. And so basically people that have more gratitude are more likely to feel purposeful. So it's, it's, there's a sense that if I'm grateful for my life and I'm grateful for the world, then I want to take care of myself and I want to take care of the world, which means that I might act more purposefully. Mmm. And a lot of the practices, you know, net to meditation in for pasta tradition, there's a lot of practices I've been exposed to that just focus on gratitude. Mmm. And I just think it, it's so fundamental to hue. So human beings that thrive. I got, I don't know if I could name a human being that I really want to hang out with on like a Thursday night that just winds all the time and isn't grateful.
Like, like long was the last time. Yeah. And you were like, mm. Yeah. I was just like, don't like that person because they're like grateful for food and water and they appreciate it. You know, like it doesn't happen. And the other thing is that gratitude often takes some sort of spaciousness or intentionality as if you're just going through your day. It's hard to just pause and to have that. And so what we try to do in our, like we have this activity called gratitude Island that talks about that gratitude is a practice. It's not just a thing that randomly happens and you train yourself to be grateful, right? And there's a million practice out there, a gratitude journal saying a prayer before a meal, calling a friend and telling them that they mean something to you. So we have one activity called support crew where you basically named different people that support you in your, and how they support you. And the homework is to approach that person and say, Hey, here's the role you play in my life and thank you for playing that role. And we have yet to have someone come back and be like I didn't like that homework.
Right? Yeah, that's amazing. A lot of this touches on you know, combining this with values touches on the intrinsic motivation that people have and a lot in the current system as we talked about before, is designed for like entrance, entrance motivation. You know, trying to get those grades, check off the boxes. Why do you think it's designed this way? And like how do we start to begin to flip that?
Yeah. So this is a, this is a fundamental paradigm shift that we're hoping for. I'm in education and I actually think coven might accelerate that, right? Because it's harder, you know, like I just talked to a principal who they're making everything pass fail this semester and no normal high school would do that. So then a student says, well, what do I want to learn and how do I want to learn it? Or there's an organization called out school where teachers and students have to opt into a class. So in a surprising turn of events, teachers and students both like it more. And so, yeah, coming back to the big picture is that our high school system in particular, and a lot of our culture is built off of extrinsic motivation. So that means that there's an extrinsic reward and grades are one of the most prevalent examples of this.
Mmm. And so I think that a valuation and accountability are absolutely critical. Like you want to evaluate is someone learning and you want people to be accountable for their actions, but there's very little evidence that like grades are the best way to do that. And then from a perspective of purpose, purpose means you're intrinsically motivated, right? So you can have blind achievement with extrinsic motivation. So, you know, chasing money, someone could be very quote unquote successful, but they're highly motivated by extrinsic markers. But, but to have a sense of purpose, you have to have intrinsic motivation. And probably some of the people that you interview on your podcast and that, you know, in their late teens, early twenties have to do this basically rewiring of their motivation system to move from more extrinsically motivated to more intrinsically motivated systems. Hmm. And one thing just to add is that some people are like, Oh, are you saying you shouldn't be extrinsically motivated ever? You know, sometimes people hear that nature and it's like, no, you know, like, I did a workout this morning and I want to do 25 pushups. Like, that's great, you know, but if my whole life was I want to do the most pushups so I can show off to someone that's different than I want to push myself.
How do you get students to start seeing these intrinsic motivations for themselves?
That's what our whole curriculum is scaffolded around and it's, that's not a simple thing to do, right? If you could flip a switch on that, then yeah, you'd be probably a pretty well known human being. And so that's actually what I call it is inner excavation and that you have to start to excavate people's interiors. And then, but one of the best things to do is to give them autonomy and to ask them. So like how often do we ask students, Hey, what do you actually want to do? What do you want to study? Why do you want to study that? And then what are you naturally drawn towards? Right? So people that thrive in the workplace generally like what they do, right? But they have to have some sense of do they like doing that? So I think a lot of it starts by asking deeper questions of why and then having a self awareness of like what's important to you and why do you want to do that?
Well, I noticed you guys are piloting a college toolkit now and how have you best taught college students purpose and what would a ideal higher education experience look like for you?
Yeah, so just to back up a little bit. So we started with the high school toolkit and then we pilot it. And then we developed a college toolkit in conjunction with the Stanford flourishing lab about two years ago. And then this year we've actually launched a middle school and ninth grade curriculum on meaning and belonging. So now we span from seventh grade through graduate school. And our college curriculum has been taught at Brown, Berkeley, university of Hawaii, Stanford. We have about eight pilot colleges this year and we'll probably have 15 or 20 next year. And so we have, how it works is it's a two ways. It's a credited class that you do or it's done in like an academic advising scenario. So I've taught it at Stanford. And, and it's had really powerful effects. I mean, and I also taught at Berkeley and there's one young woman who actually, whose story, I mean, I gravitate towards this a little bit somewhere in my own, like she came to Berkeley, very high achieving played lacrosse too, and then quit and lost her whole identity.
And this course helped her reorient to like, what's important and especially a lot of like what's important to her and not her parents and what's important to her, not just what she should do. And so we hope that it's like a transformational experience. And that if you think of purpose as a journey, and I always think of it as a winding road. We want each of our courses to be a turning point in someone's life. There's, I don't ever expect someone's going to walk out of our course and be like, I got it. Cause that's not how humans work. What I want them to be like is wow, that like I got it a little bit more and I have some tools that I'll leave this class with that will help me navigate when I'm, when I need to make decisions and figure this out for myself.
Scaling this to like an entire model of higher education, what do you think that would look like?
Well, so basically we work in two ways. So we, we designed like, it's like a class you can take out a university or it's integrated into academic services. So there's a lot of mentoring programs at colleges or support programs. And so it's a tool that those advisors can use. You know, project Wayfinder. We're, we don't build brick and mortar schools. And one of our theories is that we can affect a lot more students by having really transformational experiences with like a minimal amount of infrastructure bill. Right? Cause they're already a hundred thousand K, 12 schools and you know, 5,000 colleges in the U S like, I don't, I, there's different models of them and we could get into that in a different conversation for sure. But it's a very, that's a very resource intensive bureaucratic game that I mean, frankly, I'm not, I'm not that good at, it's not my favorite thing to do.
Right, right. How have you guys been measuring sort of the impact or the success of the students after they've gone through this curriculum?
Yeah, so we've worked with Heather Malin who works at bill Damon's center to come up with a questionnaire based on like meaningfulness, purposefulness, motivation. And so our schools can opt in to that survey. The other way that we measure it is like, do schools come back to us? Cause if they come back to us, then it's probably working. You know, it's like if you go to a restaurant and you like food and you come back one of them, you know, a great way a restaurant could measure success. It's like, what percent of our first time customers come back. And then the third way is that we have like stories of impact. So Adrian, Michael, as I mentioned, our school success director was interviewing someone from Virginia Commonwealth university where we teach sorry teaching this year and there was like a really profound student story came out of that.
W what's been the most impactful story that you feel like you've had since starting project Wayfinder?
Yeah, I mean, so one of my friends started a, an all girls school in in New Jersey. And it's mostly working class immigrant refugee families. He's from Turkey and a lot of the students are from Syria or from Lebanon or or Turkey. And I got to go and visit his class and he taught the class and there was this one young woman in it who, Mmm. Basically it had always kind of viewed herself as like a victim due to, you know, just with all the hard things she'd dealt with in her life. Totally. Understandably. But you know, she, she always kind of had a chip on her shoulder. And so through the class my friend who taught her and then her project was to help other young women, not that different her age, like move through the same process she did.
And by doing that, she transformed her own story from someone who experiences this thing that was really hard, that made her different, just someone that experienced this how to a skill and an asset and a way to help other people who are also experiencing it. And then did this project helping other young, recent women who and immigrate the U S and it was like a totally different, even being like much more powerful, much more in her own skin and more proud of who she was and where she'd come from. And so I think like nothing in her physically changed, but her mindset changed. And through helping other people, it helped ignite her own sense of purpose and sense of self. It's amazing. For our listeners who are listening now, maybe are lost on their own purpose. What first steps would you have them to take to start cultivating their purpose?
Whoa, man. Well that's, it's a great question. It's a challenging question because the variety of experiences our Westerners are having are probably so different. I would say some things that I've, I've seen in my anecdotal research and talking to purposeful people that seem ubiquitous amongst people that have a sense of purpose one is having a mentor or having someone to look up to and to talk about that seems critical. So looking for that person to, that actively developing that relationship and learning to talk about our students is, it's very unlikely that a mentor is just going to call you one day and be like, Hey, I want to mentor you but you have to reach out to someone. But developing a mentoring relationship is pretty key. I, I think having some sort of contemplative or prayerful practice or quiet, quiet contemplative practice is really powerful.
Another thing is just spending time alone outside in the natural world and not, you know, like I'm a mountain biker and surfer and stuff, but I don't mean doing something, but I mean, just being quiet out in the natural world. The fourth that I presume a lot of your listeners have already been abroad but they haven't, that often shakes things up. And a lot of what Kendall cotton, Bronx work shows is that for people to develop a sense of purpose, they have to get out of their everyday experience like and then the fifth one is like actually working on like a purposeful project that it, that lives at that intersection of what you have to do a strength and skill and a need in the world. And I think one of the big confusions about purpose is one that it's the same as achievement or two that you have more purpose if the scale of your purpose is impact is bigger.
So one of the things I always talk about is there is like my friend had a, a grandma growing up who took care of a lot of her grandchildren and she was like this incredible human being, like very loving and like her purpose was to like nurture her family and her grandchildren. You know, like she wasn't featured in USA today. She didn't go to Columbia business school. None of that, but like she was really deeply purposeful. And so for some people I think their desire to achieve and their actual purpose come in deep conflict with each other at a day to day level. And when those two things can merge, like really powerful things can happen. Great answer. Well, before I get to my last question yeah, so I mean project wayfinder.com is our website, if you're an educator or you work in the education space, I mean we'd love to talk to you about our curriculum.
We work with, you know, seventh through higher ed. And we now have 86 schools and work with 7,500 students and we'll probably be more next year. My email is Patrick app project wayfinder.com and then you can follow us on Twitter and Instagram. And we, we post pretty meaningful stuff. It's not just like what did we do, but really thinking about and the Twitter space, sharing about the purpose education movement and on Instagram thinking about like what is purpose and meaning really. Well, my last question is how can we push the world to evolve? I think you have to answer that question in light of coven. And so I've been thinking about this a ton and most deep transformational culture and society shifts happen in the wake of crisis. So if you think of the rise of social democracy after world war II or the GI bill after world war two is that countries, cultures are prone to accelerate rapidly after crisis, sometimes in stuff that would be inconceivable or take decades before. So my hope is that coming out of this, I mean in the space that I am, they're like, we've reimagined what this industrial model of education that's existed for the last hundred years and has stopped really serving a lot of our students, particularly adolescent students in the last 50 years. And think back is like what is the purpose of education? What is, what does a meaningful education look like? And also how do we most
Prepare the next generation to inherit the earth that we have now? Because I would argue that we're not doing a great job and that this is a moment to reflect on that both practically and at a very deep level. Yeah. One of the things I think about this time you touched on earlier when you know, finding your purpose is having something that shakes you out of your everyday life. And this is shaking everyone you know, a personal scale, but all the way up to a larger scale as a society. Yeah, exactly. Well, thank you so much Patrick, for coming on today. I appreciate you sharing everything that you have and love the work that you guys are doing with project Wayfinder.
Brandon is an entrepreneur, certified professional coach, and podcast host.
His aim is to evolve the individual through education, entertainment, and philosophy so together we can ask the world's biggest questions, build businesses to solve them, & live fulfilling lives in the process.
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