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Grown Without Schooling
By Peter Kowalke

An adult unschooler interviews his peers to find out what they are doing and thinking now.

Chatting with . . . Patrick Meehan, Age 29
Game Designer, Businessman

Patrick MeehanRight now I’m starting a games company, Tenacious Games. We’re making a good, old-fashioned, collectible trading card game. I’ll be managing production. In the U.S., Magic: The Gathering is our main competitor. Most people go after Yugioh, so we’ll only be the second game that can say they’ve really gone after Magic. We’ll probably be the first game to go after them directly.

The team that founded this company started working on the project in 2001. We were doing the private equity thing, but it really was a bad time to raise money. So, we threw in the towel in 2002 and all went back to our day jobs, which in my case was going back to a [video] games company, Amaze Entertainment. Amaze has a portfolio including Harry Potter for PC and Lord of the Rings for handheld.

In mid-2004, we felt the market starting to come back. I was done with my project with Amaze, and really eager to move on, so I resigned and reformed Tenacious Games in late 2004. I’ve spent pretty much since then working hard to find the right mix of capital partners.

That said, in between starting that project and 2003, I started another small business with another group of friends. It is a traditional, Taiwanese-style teahouse in Seattle. That’s done really well, and I’m one of three owners. 

There’s a third thing, too. In the beginning of this year, one of the guys who’s on the board of Tenacious Games became the interim CEO of a software company that does a desktop docking and security rights management application. He asked me to come in and consult. In short order, I found myself saddled with the title of lead programmer. It is kind of a nice deal; they pay me pretty well, and I can leave whenever I need to go raise money for my other companies. My reign of terror will end soon when we get a real chief technology officer.

Grown with Video Games

I decided I wanted to work in video games probably when I was around 13, and it became an all-consuming passion. I was raised with no television in the house, so I didn’t really understand video games until the Nintendo Entertainment System; I held them in contempt as mindless things. With NES, I got the notion that there could be a story or world or some kind of narrative that would unfold, even though it was in the context of an action-adventure game. There was this whole little ecosystem, and there was a whole aesthetic with these objects that were hidden from view.

It was dream-like imagery that was really fascinating, so I played a lot of video games and decided more and more to investigate the technology behind it. Initially I would do that from the artistic angle, and I actually became really proficient and still have a weird ability to crank out pixel art in the genre of the old eight-bit games. I kept inundating game companies with really terrible video game proposals written on notebook paper. Eventually somebody at Sega took pity on me and said, “Okay, you can come up for an internship.” Not long after that I had the opportunity to go to Digipad and be in their first class. Digipad was a school by Nintendo that taught game programming, and I was hired immediately out of the class to go work at Nintendo.

Team Player

When I left school, basically I said, “You know, in spite of the fact that everybody is doing this, in spite of the fact that even probably my parents went through this, I don’t think it is the best thing for me and I don’t need it or want it.” That takes arrogance. So, early in my career, I was immature and selfish and arrogant and individual. People saw that I had talent and drive, but at the same time, being young and insecure, I didn’t understand that it would be okay if I simply sacrificed myself for the project and didn’t always try to turn the attention back to me and my accomplishments. Early on it was a challenge for me to work with other people, and I worked on projects alone for that reason.

I grew out of that when I finally was handed the authority to put a team together, because you need anywhere from 20 to 50 people in my business. Simply being a team leader put the shoe on the other foot, and I learned rapidly to be a team player or fail. So I did, and I succeeded, and I now have a group of people that really likes to work with me.

From Homeschooling to Entrepreneurship

I’m an entrepreneur, if you can’t tell. I’ve always pushed back against the notion that other people know what’s best for me, because I’m not a very trusting person. If I work for a company or go to school, I don’t trust that everything will turn out okay because that’s what they’ve said is good for me. They say it and it must be true, right? I don’t think so. In spite of science to the contrary and feelings to the contrary, in spite of the fact that I’m frustrated and bored, in spite of the fact that a lot of people who suffer through the system never really achieve what they want to achieve in life, they tell me this is going to be my best bet. You can look at that in the context of school or work, but any time you’re in an environment where you can’t understand how walking on the path you are told really is the best path, you’re at the mercy of petty politics or any number of other things. There’s this notion that if you go work for a company, you don’t have a lot of risk. But, I think we’re seeing more and more that that’s not necessarily true. All the risk is there; you just don’t have any visibility.

I want to be captain of my own ship. I think the decision to homeschool and the decision not to seek a job in corporate America, to start my own business, really is touching the same personality trait or flaw.

Risk Tolerance

Though I’ve taken a lot of risks in my life, I don’t think of myself as being a risk-taker. I don’t think I decided to homeschool because I was a risk-taker, because I sized up the risk and reward. I had to do something. The fact that it worked out okay made me more and more willing to make up my own opinion and take a calculated risk, though. It helped me learn that it can be okay to take calculated risks.

At least in my case, my experience with homeschooling did set the stage for the entrepreneurial things I’m doing now. The jury still is out whether or not that’s a good thing. I could wind up a millionaire or destitute, but without a doubt I probably would not have had the courage to go out and start businesses if I hadn’t had a positive experience with homeschooling.

Peter Kowalke grew without schooling. He is a journalist and the producer of “Grown Without Schooling,” a documentary about grown homeschoolers and the lasting influence of home education. This article was published in 2006.

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