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FINDING OUR WAY: Work, Life, & Death

Did you know that only 2/3 (okay 69.7% to be exact in 2016) of high school graduates ever go to college? Also, the national average of students graduating high school is 84.6%. Couple that with even lower rates of people ever earning a 4 year degree averaging around 40% in 2018 (all numbers drawn from tables available via the National Center for Education Statistics website (

So, what's my point? My point is that we, as a society, seem to promote going to college and earning a degree as the gold standard in life. Don't get me wrong, education is of utmost importance but I would like promote a different path.

I had the good fortune to meet Michelle Jones, President and Founder of the Wayfinding Academy, located in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, Oregon ( This article is not about her or her academy per se but rather of the thoughts and theories that this chance meeting grew in my mind. My ever thinking, ever curious mind. If you wish to know more about the Wayfinding Academy please follow the link provided as well as view Michelle's excellent talk on TedxTalks ( ).

I find myself at a crossroads in my life and my career. It has been a hard road this year, my 92 year old mother passed away at the end of last year, I was laid off from my job at the end of April, and several loved ones (including my fiancee, a cousin, my best friends' father, and a couple of close friends) had major surgery and/or a life altering medical diagnosis. There have been other things disrupting the flow but those are the major ones.

As I contemplated my proverbial navel I began to ask the following questions: Should I start another business? What industry do I want to work in? What company do I want to work for? What is my dream job or occupation? How do I know?

One of my avocations (aka part time job I enjoy but brings in very little money) is being an adjunct faculty member. I have worked with 5 institutions including University of Phoenix, Oregon Institute of Technology, City University of others. The thought occurred to me that most people, including myself, go to college without really knowing what we want to do. In fact, we ask the wrong questions. We ask what do we want to do (as in job title, industry, roles and responsibilities) as opposed to who do we want to be, what do we want to contribute, and so on. With this misfocus many of us grind our way through, earn a degree, get a job, and work that job and the trajectory it begins for the rest of our working life. I began to think: what if we flipped that coin on its head? What if instead of picking a job at an age where most of us have not even started to get to know ourselves well enough to decide... we spent a year or so figuring ourselves out through inquisitive exploration and curiosity what made us tick AND what vocation powered that tick?

This is when I met Michelle, learned about the Wayfinding Academy, and discovered that their mission was exactly that. Helping people find their way... discovering who they are and what made them tick prior to selecting a degree or career and devoting a lot of time to something that would simply lead to a life of grinding and churning.

This excited me to no end. I set up a meeting with Michelle to go visit Wayfinding Academy. The way my mind works is seeds of an idea are planted and then my mind processes thoughts and ideas in the background only to sprout out at the most inopportune times. Normally around 2:30 am in the morning, disrupting my REM and deep sleep. I must then wake up and work that idea or I will never sleep again (that night, perhaps that week, and once upon a time an entire month).

Prior to my visit to the Academy I reflected on my current situation. I have been in the workforce for a couple of decades, I have earned 4 degrees, I have worked in many industries, in many roles. And now, I find myself unemployed (aside from my pro bono Lean Six Sigma consulting gigs and my part time adjunct faculty duties) and, once again, trying to find my way. The seed of an idea sprouted that not only do people early in their work/career trajectory have to find their way but people who have been around need to do so as well. What if we created a Wayfinding Academy for the seasoned career folks like myself? Like many good ideas, people of like mind have similar ideas at the same time. By the time I traveled to the St. Johns neighborhood to visit Michelle and her staff had created a program for people on the other side of their careers to explore and discover their options and proclivities.

I realize I stated earlier that this article is not about the Wayfinding Academy and it is not, however, Michelle and her academy are an integral part of this journey for me.

In the course of our information interview and visit, I discovered that the next job I acquire does not matter. What matters is that I get to work with smart people on an interesting product or service within a supportive/thriving culture. I know this may not excite my next employer but it excites me and I hope it excites some of you. I hope it pushes you to contemplate your navel, find your way, and do something you love so that you can love what you do.

If more of us do this it will be a better world.

I recently watched an interview with the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. I am sad to say I can't remember who it was or what company he was leading. I think it may have been Johnson & Johnson but I am not sure. However, the who doesn't matter but what he said does. The interviewer was asking him about looking for meaning and value in the workplace as well as many Millenials wanting to work for non-profits. His answer was very thoughtful and practical. His response was twofold. On the one side he said that it was impossible for everyone to work for a non-profit and on the other he firmly believed that most people could find value and meaning working in a for profit company. He went on further to challenge his CEO colleagues to create environments in their for profit organizations such that people could find value and meaning. He ended with in doing so (creating a culture of value and meaning in a for profit company) companies would and could retain the best of the best in their company. This would lead to individuals' and company's successes.

So what's the point of all this?

Calling all humans! We must find what makes us tick, figure out where we can do this, and help ourselves and the communities we participate in to thrive and grow.

Too many articles, books, and movies have been created where a person who has earned many worldly possessions, wealth, fame, and stature comes to the end of their life and waxes philosophic how they should have spent more time with their family, their friends, hobbies, whatever... Let's not let our lives pass us by. Let's bring the meaning and value back to everything we do. Let's not be Citizen Kane who by all outward measures had it all but dying word is "Rosebud". (SPOILER ALERT) Rosebud being a snow sled he had when he was a child, the last time he ever remembered being fully himself and fully alive. Let's bring our Rosebuds into everything we do. I look forward to such a place.

I hope you enjoyed the ramblings of a closet philosopher and I wish you all more joy in your life.

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