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Chase Jarvis’s Mom on How to Raise a Creative Kid

by Hanna Brooks Olsen
creativity, featured

chase jarvis kid

How do you get to the be the CEO of a company like CreativeLive? We could’ve asked Chase Jarvis himself…but instead, in honor of Mother’s Day (and because we wanted to see some of his old soccer photos), we asked his mother, Joy.

“His dad and I are extremely proud of all of Chase’s accomplishments, but more importantly we are proud of the man he has become,” Joy told me in an email. But first, she told me about the kind of kid he was, and how he got to be the way he is. Here’s our conversation:

Hanna Brooks Olsen: What was Chase like as a kid?

Joy Jarvis: He was really a good kid, but we were really hard on him, so he didn’t have a lot of latitude to be bad.

HBO: What do you mean you were hard on him?

chase jarvis young

JJ: He’s an only child, and we had a lot of friends who didn’t have children, so when we would go to someone’s house, he had the choice of staying home or coming with. So he was always given the choice to participate in the conversation, or bring something along to entertain himself. He says he remembers very clearly being given a paper plate and a piece of wood and being sent into the yard, but I don’t remember that.

A lot was expected of him. When he was in the second grade, we went to Tahiti, and I have a picture of him playing backgammon with a guy who was probably 45, and he was probably seven.

The neighborhood that we lived in was a small neighborhood, and there were a range of ages. He was three when we moved into the neighborhood, and so all the kids played together. And that’s when they created the things that they did, like the Zorro movie [which Chase talks about in his keynote here].

HBO: What did you think Chase was going to be when he grew up?

JJ: He had a variety of things that he was interested in; he started playing soccer when he was five, and soccer was something that occupied a lot of his time, even up through college. He just played all year round, either indoor or outdoor. He also played basketball, tennis, and football, and he skiied. He’s very athletic, and he participated in a lot of things. And they were all things he chose to do; we always gave him the choice.

So soccer was something that was at the forefront of what he wanted to do. He was drafted by the Sounders B-team when he was a senior in high school and played in one game where his own goalie took him out and shattered his knee. And he’d already signed his letter of intent to play at San Diego State, so he spent the whole summer rehabbing. His coach in San Diego never knew that he had his knee blown out.

He thought he wanted to be a professional soccer player for a while. But there were other things.

chase jarvis soccer

We never asked “what do you want to be?” Our mantra was “it’s your life and you need to be happy.”

I do remember one day he came home and said “I want to be an actuary.” And math was something that he was was really good at — I guess it had been discussed in calculus class that day — so we sort of went along with that. And then either the following Sunday or the Sunday after that, the Sunday paper came out, and there was a story about jobs where you can make the most amount of money doing the least amount of work, and actuary was the top job! So he said “Well, now I don’t want to do that, because everyone else is going to want to do it!”

HBO: Ha! He didn’t want to do it because everyone else would be doing it? That sounds like Chase.

JJ: Yes! He said he didn’t want to do it because everyone would be doing it.

The medical school thing…I’m not really sure where that came from. I think someone else must have told him it would be a good thing to do, because he got good grades and was very good at science. But then he fell in love with philosophy. He had all of the credits for a degree in pre-med, but his diploma is in philosophy.

I think the thing with philosophy was that he really loved it, and loved sharing the knowledge of philosophy with other students. He was a TA for a couple of years. I think the thrill for him was taking underachieving students and, as he would say, “show them the light and the path to becoming an A student.”

And he also liked standing in front of 300 people and giving a lecture.

chase jarvis football

HBO: That also sounds like him. 

JJ: That’s always been his thing. That’s part of his personality. When he was in the second grade, he put on a magic show.

Is it hard to be the parent of a creative child? How do you foster creativity?

I think you just let them be whoever they are. We built two houses, and he was very young during the process, so he saw his dad building. The house that we’re in right now, every piece of wood in this house, I finished. Sanded, sealed, stained. And so probably seeing those things inspired him…you know, he worked construction when he was in college, so he knows how to build stuff.

We always just let him do or be whatever he was going to do or be. It kind of terrifies me when I see people trying to force their kids into something they have no interest in. Or when they make them finish something. Like Chase always says, he’s a great quitter. And that’s not a bad thing.

With Chase, his dad took tons and tons of pictures. I’m not sure who went through withdrawals more when he went off to college — Steve [Chase’s dad], or the man who developed all the film that he brought in!

HBO: Ha! He was single-handedly keeping the one-hour photo shop in business?

JJ: Yes! Because Chase played football, so every Friday night, Steve would be sound on sidelines and take a few rolls…then on Saturday, it would be soccer photos.

So when Chase would come home from school at either Christmas or Summer, one of the first things he would do is go through the photo albums. And I didn’t get it at first — I thought he was reliving memories. But what he was doing was studying how the memories were created. I think that’s what got him into photography.

I don’t know how you create a creative person, other than letting them be themselves and follow their own path.

HBO: It sounds like you really let him just try out a lot of things.

JJ: Oh yes, and he was never shy about it. Like during his breakdancing phase! He and his buddy walked around with cardboard in their hands and they would just start dancing wherever, even if it was downtown Bothell [Washington].

We went to a nightclub one night [during a trip to Spain] and during the intermission of the show at this casino, they were letting people get up on stage. He was probably 12 at the time. And he said he wanted to go up, so we said “Ok, you wanna do that? Go for it!”

So he walked up, talked to someone about the music, and he just started breakdancing. And he did his little routine or whatever, and that was the end of that and he walked off stage. And the next night, at the resort we were at, he did the same thing. They introduced him as “…from America, this is Chase Jarvis.”

He also did a lot of writing; one of his teachers wanted him to go to a summer writing camp, because he had very elaborate beginnings, but by the middle of the story, it would kind of peter out. She wanted him to be able to expound his whole story.

When he was in the third grade, two of his buddies (who were in the Zorro movie), they made a neighborhood newspaper. I think it had one edition. But it was about neighborhood news, like who had gotten a tree removed from the yard. That was fun.

And rapping. He wrote raps.

HBO:…Rapping?

JJ: Yes, he wrote a lot of raps. And I would hear him on the telephone, talking to his breakdance buddy, writing raps with music playing and doing his calculus homework at the same time. I never really got that. He’s a great multi-tasker.

HBO: …Do you think any of those raps exist anywhere in the world?

You know, I don’t think so. I could look through his bedroom…

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Hanna Brooks Olsen

Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and editor for CreativeLive, longtime reporter, and the co-founder of Seattlish. Follow her on Twitter at @mshannabrooks or go to her website for more stuff.