Life Hacker Extraordinaire
By Dana Chrysler
Everett Community College Alumni Outreach Specialist
Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” star Travis Arket entered EvCC’s U3 (Youth Re-Engagement) program during his senior year of high school. A self-proclaimed “high school drop-out with intelligence,” Travis chose EvCC for its innovative, nurturing programs and the opportunity to learn. Today, the business owner, commercial crab fisherman, investor, programmer, designer, author, and entrepreneur says that EvCC helped incubate the foundation for his success. In this candid and wide-ranging interview, Travis talks about his youth, what led him to star in one of the Discovery Channel's most popular reality shows, and what animates his adventurous lifestyle. Read more about Travis.
Tell me about your family: where you grew up, and did you have brothers or sisters?
My family is like a quilt: unorganized and incoherent patches sewn together to create a warm and embracing environment. Though sometimes, itchy.
I grew up in Snohomish County, spending the majority of my youth in Everett. Before the age of nine, my mother raised my brother and myself on Casino Road, a notoriously poverty-stricken area of Everett. Those days were spent chasing animals in the forests and rummaging through construction sites to take wood and other materials for building forts and tree houses. When I was nine, I moved to South Everett, into a better neighborhood. I continued to chase down animals, learn all about them, and share them with family and friends.
My early youth was riddled with trouble. I was constantly breaking the rules and pushing the limits of possibility for kids my age. Rules were no more than objectives to me. I would break them on purpose to experience the results.
I have one brother and one step brother. My brother was much different than myself; our personalities were not similar at all. He was a straight A student who played varsity sports and abided by every guideline and rule. I would be considered a middle child, as my brother is older and my step brother is younger. They say the middle child is always strange. I would agree.
Did your parents go to college and did they encourage you to attend college?
My mother didn't get to finish college, as she had my brother and I at an early age. That forced her to set aside her aspirations and focus on working and raising her two sons. She encouraged school and higher education as a means of success. My family was not very academic, however. My grandfather taught me a lot about being independent and the importance of consistent learning.
When and where did you graduate from high school?
I went to high school for three years at Mariner High in Everett. I never graduated from high school and, to this day, I still have no high school diploma or GED. By all statistics, I am a failure of the education system.
Let me tell you why this is wrong: when I was 13 years old, I set aside chasing animals and began programming computer systems. I tinkered and hacked away at operating systems that were new to the world. What people like myself did in those days paved the way to society as we know it today. By the age of 14, I had programmed artificial intelligence algorithms, built circuit boards, created my own robots, and ran a public access bulletin board system (pre-internet).
I had my first job at 14 programming video game modifications for the world's most popular video game at the time. From there, I worked as a contractor for Microsoft and SegaSoft. When the internet became a publicly accessible network, I began experimenting with network architecture. I regularly built and maintained my own network systems.
I was enrolled in a mandatory high school intro typing class. I could out-type my teacher and could pass all my tests with no problem. Naturally, as a rule breaker, I spent my time exploring my school district’s network. After several weeks of finding security holes within the network, I was the target of the school district network administrator. Curiosity and learning beyond my class led me into a trap. One day while in my typing class, exploring new holes in software, I was the target of a sting. The school district network administrator had been monitoring me along with my teacher to see what I was doing. I was caught learning. Instead of embracing this curiosity, I was presented with an ultimatum from the school district: I was to help the network administrator identify and fix security holes in the district network over my summer or face expulsion. As the rebel I was, I told them that I would cooperate enough to not be expelled, but would not help them fix the problems that a highly paid employee was supposed to take care of. The idea of punishing instead of nurturing was appalling to me.
I soon after started a web programming and consulting company at the age of 16 and prepared to leave high school. This was my introduction to entrepreneurship and business. By the beginning of my senior year, a new program had begun at EvCC. The U3 program was set to start and I was a good candidate: a high school drop-out with intelligence. I left my friends behind and went to college one year early.
How did you choose EvCC? Was there a selection process involved in your decision making?
I chose EvCC for its nurturing programs. At the time, the U3 program was something that I wanted to try out and take advantage of. No other college in the surrounding area was doing anything similar and it seemed like a good fit for me to be among other intelligent people. I wanted to learn and EvCC gave me that opportunity to expand.
Do you think your time at EvCC helped you pursue your current career? How?
A career is something I don't envy. A life of monotony is frightening to me. My computer science education from EvCC helped me connect with other like-minded peers and create relationships; however my current state, or career, is not directly related to computer science. I do not consider myself to have a career. I am a business owner, a commercial crab fisherman, investor, programmer, designer, author and entrepreneur.
EvCC helped incubate the foundation for my success. I was encouraged to break things and to expand my abilities, no matter what they may be.
What did you do after you left EvCC?
After I left EvCC, I took my programming and consulting business to the next step. I was making more money than my friends and learning a lot about the ins and outs of business management. I continued down that path while taking side jobs to ensure money was coming in. I worked in retail part time and what I saw scared me: I worked with people who had never taken chances. They were stuck in a circuitous life. They were unhappy. They were boring. They were dead inside.
Seeing first-hand how common that scenario was in the working field, I wanted to know why. Enter: psychological studies. To understand why people put themselves in situations of perpetual debt, I dove into behavioral psychology. This then lead me into marketing. I learned how we react and how we can manipulate decisions based on social surroundings and social engineering. I used this knowledge to push my business forward and market to large audiences. I never fully understood why those people I worked with never took a risk on their dreams, but I understood the logic behind their apprehension.
By this point, I had contracted for Microsoft and Sega for quite a while and decided that I didn't like where things were heading. So I packed up my things, looked up the world's most dangerous job and set off into the unknown to work outside among the elements. I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone to force reactions and education in the world. I found myself on a frozen rock in the middle of the ocean, about to crew a Bering Sea crab boat. That story is a book in itself, so I'll spare you the details. I found that I enjoyed working on the edge and working with my hands. The money was very good as well and I saw it as a way to have fun while banking seed capital for investments and business ventures in the future.
Soon after that, I decided to sell off everything I owned and travel the world. I wrote a list of 50 crazy things I wanted to do and see before I died. I circumnavigated the globe, spent time in over 80 countries, and completed all 50 goals within two years. When I returned home to Everett, I needed a new challenge. I still saw my friends struggling to make money instead of enjoying life. I wanted to help them; I wanted to tell them that money was not the answer to their problems and that it was only a tool in life. So, I started a quest to make a million dollars in five years. I drained my bank accounts to zero, and began.
What I learned and the people I met through that personal quest would forever change my life. I traveled the world even more, meeting with CEOs, entrepreneurs, marketers, big thinkers, and big dreamers. These people confirmed that money is a tool and, when used properly, can buy you freedom from everyday life. I wanted to bring this information to my friends back home. I continued to crab fish in the Bering Sea--that became my solace. The rough and dangerous world was a strong contrast to the fast-paced, slick-talking business world I dealt with.
I started several other companies, many of which made very healthy profits, one of which was a production company that specialized in video and photography. This set the stage for my later involvement with the Discovery Channel's number one Emmy award-winning series, “Deadliest Catch.” I had worked on one of the very few top-producing crab boats in the world for a couple years and our crew was offered a chance to be featured for the new Discovery Channel documentary. I had plans to take the season off for more traveling, so I opted out of the original documentary.
After the documentary’s huge success, Discovery Channel ordered more shows, this time wanting a reality series instead of a documentary. Over the next couple years, I worked with the production company in filming the series, photographing stock shots, and being an on air talent.
From there, I saw what was going on with other series in our genre and took note. Other shows were demanding more money; negotiations with the network were getting ugly. I finally opted out of renewing our contract and set out to create an offshoot brand from my company. We traveled around the U.S. doing special events, promotions and signings. It was a successful re-brand and is still going strong today. I then wrote a book which went on to sell several thousand copies in a genre not known for making best sellers. I bought out our publisher and took over our distribution. The framework for our marketing and distribution was unlike anything other publishers were doing and soon we had several other authors looking to us for guidance. We took a couple other books under our wing, but lack of interest and time on our side meant it slowly faded off.
Nowadays, I seek out and work with creative individuals who think outside the box to create businesses that ruffle up old industries. I am also a key member of a tour operation based in Ketchikan Alaska. It has been the number one rated tour in Alaska by all major cruise lines for the last five years and consistently in the top ten of 5,000 tours worldwide.
Did you ever envision your current career while in college?
While enrolled at EvCC, I thought I wanted to be a network architect and security professional. I never would have envisioned myself in my current position!
What courses or activities did you find to be most valuable and how did they help prepare you for your professional career or success in life?
I remember having a computer science A+ certification class where we regularly broke computer systems on purpose to understand what failed and how to fix the problem. I think a class like that, even with a computer system emphasis, was critical in helping to maintain and reinforce my curiosity. Through most of my public schooling in youth, I was always told not to break things, not to take them apart, and to have someone else fix my problems. I believe that punishing curiosity and limiting failures at an early age does irreversible damage to creative problem solving later in life. If I did not have the problem solving skills I have, I would not be where I am today.
Was there any one during your time at EvCC who acted as a mentor for you? Tell me about that relationship and why it was valuable.
While I was at EvCC, I valued my time most with instructors who were not just there to teach a class, but to share their lives. I remember one instructor in a network administration class I had. The first day I was in the class, I asked if I could take the final and be done. He said I could, but if I did, I would miss out on all the non-technical aspects of his class. I wasn't quite sure what he meant at the time, but I decided to stay and not take the final right away. Both he and I knew I could pass the final if I took it, but he piqued my curious mind and I thought that I might be missing something.
I spent that class playing a lot of video games against the instructor while the other students ran through basic assignments. During that time, however, I talked and listened to what this teacher had to say. He told me all about working in the computer industry, on a level I could relate to. He gave me advice and offered up alternative solutions to problems I already solved in my own way. He showed me that, whether in computers or life, there are always multiple ways to hack a solution to a problem and to not accept the first solution you find.
Any moments that stood out as especially memorable while at EvCC?
An especially memorable moment was the day of finals after spending two years at the school. I was on my way to finish up all of my classes and receive my two-year degree. My friends from high school were just finishing their first year, as I started a year earlier. I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot and contemplating why I was getting that degree. I sat there for over an hour, writing down pros and cons. I finally came to the conclusion that what I wanted would not be found in an award. I had left high school early, with no diploma or GED, and yet I succeeded on my own. I had pushed against the grain, broken all the rules, and purposely fought the general guidelines of public education. Ultimately, I decided to turn my car on and drive away. I didn't take my finals and, to this day, I never received my degree.
What was important to me was not the paper that told everyone I did it. It was the knowledge and experience I gained while doing it. I wanted to prove to myself that, in order to succeed, you just had to believe in yourself and experiment with your potential. That day, I left EvCC, not because I wanted to drop out. Not because it was too hard or that I ran out of money. I left because I didn't want a safety net; I wanted to take a risk.
What kept you motivated?
I found that a great way to stay motivated was to give myself mini goals. Every day, I would try and learn one new thing and test out my new knowledge in a practical way. If I could test something new every day, it did two things: it kept my curiosity wanting more and it gave me real experience. As someone who enjoys learning, I found that was the most effective way to stay interested and motivated. What also helped me was having teachers who encouraged testing and experiencing failure.
What are you currently doing?
I am a serial entrepreneur and adventure seeker. My career is life. This allows me to change my direction frequently.
Would you do anything differently if you had the chance to do it all over again?
Would I do things differently? Absolutely not. The river I've drifted through has brought me to some of the world's most spectacular places with some incredibly interesting people. The only changes I would make during my life were those that unnecessarily de-motivated and harmed others
What were your keys to success?
In order to be successful, you must personally define success. Success to one may be failure to another. For me, the keys to creating financially successful businesses were a combination of risk tolerance, persistence, tenacity, ingenuity, and chance. If we talk about a generalized American definition of success, I would attribute my fortune to my ability to interact socially. Having good people skills has been instrumental in everything I've done. Being kind and fair to those who help me has helped me succeed in certain goals as well.
But what we all need to remember is that success is a state of mind. We set goals based off what our surroundings have told us is correct and, if we don't live up to others’ expectations of success, then we are failures. Success in life to me is being happy, and to that I say the key to happiness is to explore love with an open mind, chase your dreams knowing you may never reach them, and share your experiences with others, even if you just met.
What words of advice would you give to current EvCC students?
What I would tell current EvCC students is that you may not know what you want to do with your life. You don't have to. Some people find one thing that makes them content and that may work well for them. For the rest of us, we question ourselves and our direction. I would tell them to continue their education through academia until they reach a point where they outgrow the formal system. Begin a quest for experience, as no amount of reading material will ever replace experience. I would tell them to remember that not all who wander are lost and that at a young age, you should not be worrying about a career path or making money. You should worry about being a good person and exploring yourself. Ultimately, you only have yourself, so learn to love you; you will be together for a very long time.
From this vantage point in life, what do you care about the most?
As I sit here right now, in a position of entitlement that was bestowed on me by others, I can safely say that what I care about the most is happiness. What I didn't realize until I became unhappy with stress from business was that happiness is something that should be put in front of everything else. If you're not happy, nothing will work. When strangers come up to me and tell me that I've inspired them to experience life and make huge changes to seek happiness, I am overwhelmed with fulfillment. Being happy is the most important facet of my life.