The Story

In 1996, an artsy-fartsy charter school was founded in a small mountain town of Northern Arizona. This school was housed in six double-wide trailers at the base of the San Francisco Peaks and populated with a mixed-bag of students and teachers. Some wore tutus, and some wore tattoos (yes, both students and teachers wore tutus or tattoos…it was an art school, yes?); and all shared a common obsession with philosophy, creativity, and doing something personally meaningful and culturally valuable with their lives.

In the late spring afternoons, students would pour onto the decks outside to play guitar riffs or read Plato, pirouette through the courtyard or perform spontaneous, politically-inspired musicals (such as “The Clinton Saga,” featuring Bill’s solo “You’ve blown me away”….circa 1998). Anyway, among this crowd were four girls. Whitney, when she wasn’t singing with the school garage band, dreamed of becoming a neurosurgeon.  Ashley organized the school chapter of Amnesty International, wrote beautiful poetry, and aspired to help as many people as possible. Rebecca wanted to be a nurse.

Another girl looked at this scene of creative mayhem and wondered, “What in the world is going on here? Why do all these young people not only care about something so obsessively, but also have the ass-kicking initiative to pursue their dreams?”

She watched as Whitney grew up and graduated with her neuroscience degree, and then got into Yale medical school, where she DJ’s on the weekends and spins podcasts of anatomy lectures in with the music (All this despite the misgivings of a certain med school committee, which wouldn’t sponsor her application as she “wasn’t smart enough,” and “should be an osteopath instead”).  She watched as Ashley nannied her way through a grueling European master’s degree in political science, then took a job relocating asylees and refugees throughout the DC area, finding joy in her work despite ridiculously heavy caseloads, long hours, and awkward cultural miscommunications.  Rebecca lived with her parents to save money for a down payment on a house, never took a class she didn’t need, and graduated in exactly four years into her exact dream job, working in the infant intensive care unit; and then she bought a house. The garage band Whitney sang with was picked up by Atlantic records.

Witnessing this creative energy and persistence got this girl thinking. She was fascinated by how some people, at an impossibly young age, discover their life’s passion. She was curious where the determination to follow through on these passions came from. And beyond sheer determination, she wanted to know absolutely everything about the skills, attitudes, and experiences that create the best foundation for turning these “idealistic little dreams” into reality. She read everything she could get her hands on about motivation theory, leadership, and positive psychology, spending long nights in the Whitman College library book stacks. She worked at a boarding school teaching life skills, traveled through Southeast Asia talking to sages, and picked up professional training in coaching along the way. Ten years after graduating from that artsy-fartsy high school, she has a few things figured out about kicking ass as a young person.

The logical career path for pursing this set of interests would be guidance counseling.  Having been cursed with creative genetics on both sides of her family, however, any “logical” job sounds like excruciating torture. So, after reading The Long Tail, The Whuffie Factor, and a smattering of Seth Godin and Gary Vaynerchuk, she decided the real opportunity for supporting enterprising young people was online. Voila! The Modern Maverick Charm School was born.


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