Want to Create a Midlife Wisdom School?
I know a catalyst when I see one. Having been on the Boards of Burning Man, the Esalen Institute, and Glide Memorial Church, I saw how these singular locations led to more global transformational festivals, personal growth retreat centers, and urban progressively-minded churches.
It’s been a joy to have so many social entrepreneurs reach out to learn how they can replicate our Modern Elder Academy in Baja. Some of them read my essay about our first year lessons. Some flew from around the world to experience our week-long program. Some have become “Catalyst Fellows” helping us write the playbook for how Midlife Wisdom Schools become a popular trend in mainstream culture.
Here’s our advice for those who want to create a physical campus (online programs are a whole different animal). Of course, you’ve gotta get the hospitality basics right: comfortable and attractive accommodations, a certain amount of solitude, healthy fresh food, and a friendly and reliable staff. But, here’s where the differentiation can occur:
- Wisdom is shared, not taught.
Curate conversations while sprinkling in lectures on evidence-based social science that amplify your educational point of view. But make it experiential with lots of small group discussions and oodles of fun. Laughing equals learning.
- Cohorts should be small and diverse.
We average 16-18 which is small enough to be intimate. And our scholarship programs (at least 50% of our annual midlife students receive a scholarship) create a socio-economic diversity that enhances the education on many levels.
- Identities are shed at the door.
It helps that the vast majority of our “compadres” (midlife students who are “co-parenting” each other) don’t know each other and we haven’t shared LinkedIn profiles in advance, as it allows everyone to start fresh.
- Length allows depth.
We’ve created an arc of learning and experience for our week-long programs. We’ve seen success with our two-week programs as well. Be careful thinking you can create transformation in just a day or a weekend workshop.
- Foreign and remote.
More than 85% of our MEA market is from the U.S. and Canada (although we’ve had 22 countries represented so far). Our southern Baja location is just an hour from Los Cabos airport which makes us pretty accessible. We’ve found that people are more open to being “liminal” (vulnerable, in transition) when they’re in a foreign place without urban or habitual distractions.
- Homes, not dorms.
Our campus is comprised of four homes and four contiguous pieces of land over four acres. MEA’s familial flavor is enhanced by the residential nature of four to six-bedroom homes in which compadres bake bread, fill the dishwasher, and don’t feel like they’re in an institutional dorm or formal hotel habitat.
- Nature is our teacher.
Our beachfront location offers the power of metaphor with whales breaching and sea turtles hatching. With plentiful farms and desert surrounding us, this offers beauty, recreation, and spaciousness to maximize the sense that nature creates renewal.
While we don’t profess to having all the answers, we are pleased that our high commitment, high connection (social) approach is working. In fact, our Net Promoter Score (NPS) for our first two years is 94, which suggests we’re tapping into a big societal need. Feel free to reach out to us if you want to learn more.