Smith: Passion brings biggest rewards in life

Last month, my good friend Larry ventured down from Los Angeles to have lunch. We ate at Plums Cafe on East 17th Street and talked until they started to close.

Larry and I have been friends for about 40 years — not close friends, but friends. Over the years, we have kept tabs on each other through mutual acquaintances. I have always thought of him as a good man.

Larry is a successful businessman and someone I would trust for business advice. In his world, many of the things I believe are inconsequential are important. In that world, whether you live north or south or east or west of certain streets matters to some. The type of car you drive is important and so are the clothes you wear.

During our lunch, though, Larry told me something that surprised me.

"I've always admired you for pursuing your passion," he said.

Larry's statement opens my annual column of unsolicited advice to all graduating high school seniors.

Though I wanted to be a writer since I was 9, I did not make an active attempt to pursue this passion until I was 43.

Because I had no writing or journalism experience, I had to create my own. I wrote and self-published a book, which offered the perception of writing experience. In 1998, I entered a writing contest sponsored by the Daily Pilot and won the only prize, which was this column. From there, I got writing assignments from several magazines. On one day in 2000, my byline appeared in eight publications with five separate feature stories or columns.

In November 1998, concurrent with writing this column, I went to work for an advertising agency as a copywriter, even though I had no copywriting experience.

"A good writer can write anything," the agency's creative director told me.

I stayed there nine years and left as the vice president of marketing. In 2004, I wrote a five-page letter designed to attract more clients to the agency. That letter was used for almost three years and generated millions of dollars in business.

Those are a few of the highlights of my success. Accordingly, there were many low points. In 1998, the year I transitioned out of my business to become a writer, I earned $17,000, mostly through work in a menial job on a graveyard shift and I wrote during the day.

Yes, I was driven to become a writer, and 18 months after I began my pursuit to write full time, my income was in the top 2% of writers nationally.

That last statistic is for the folks up in Los Angeles and elsewhere who believe that's what really matters in life. Seniors, take it from a guy who has had it both ways: It doesn't.

What you will appreciate 40 years from now, what you will take pride in, are all of the things that have nothing to do with money. You will most appreciate the friends you've made, your family and the satisfaction of the career you've chosen.

Many years ago, I made the mistake of trying to be what others thought I should be. It took 23 years for me to get around to pursuing my passion. If you truly want to understand how gratifying life can be, do the work you believe you were meant to do. And if you choose a career in the military, I will be the first to salute you.

Do this, and perhaps one day, a friend will tell you that you are admired for your decision.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to

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