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Smith: Success doesn’t mean focusing on safe bets

About this time each year, I usually offer advice to parents who are sending their kids to our local grade schools. That advice is usually a list of specific do’s and don’ts to ensure success in the classroom.

But not this year.

My daughter, Kaitlyn, has just graduated from UC Irvine. Now there is a larger message I wish to convey, one that is meant for our school board too.

When she was 9, we enrolled Kaitlyn in acting classes through South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa. It was my late wife’s idea, and though I do not know how she knew to do this for Kaitlyn, it was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made.


I wasn’t too sure about the classes. On the day of her first meeting at SCR, I still wondered why we weren’t sending her to some computer boot camp to develop the skills she would need in the world job market.

As I walked her down the hall to the room where all the kids had gathered, her pace quickened and she was walking a couple of steps ahead of me. Not unusual, I thought — lots of kids don’t want to be seen with their parents. But the real reason for her hurried walk was not because she was embarrassed to be seen with her dad, but because she couldn’t wait to get to the class.

When the door closed and I was left in the hall, I peeked in a little window to get a look at her. She was sitting on the edge of her chair and wearing the biggest smile I’d ever seen on her face.

The acting classes were the start of a commitment to the arts. She would attend the Orange County School of the Arts and go on to major in drama at UCI. She graduated with honors in a separate ceremony.


In a January 2010 interview, author and lecturer Daniel Pink spoke about the importance of honing creative skills.

“What I think is going on is that, until recently, the business world didn’t much prize people with these kinds of skills,” he said. “So if you wanted to do those things, you weren’t going to get paid much.

“Today, these right-brain types are much more in demand. That said, there are maybe 14 people on the planet who are going to make a living as poets. But, again, there are maybe a million who can use their talents as poets in work as teachers, copywriters, bloggers, journalists and other professions and business centered on creation.”

I have read a few times over the past couple of years that in the job market, a master’s of business administration, or MBA, is a dinosaur and that the new MBA is a master’s of fine arts, or MFA.

That’s due, in part, because we can train people to program computers or build things or even run businesses, but we cannot train them to be highly creative. That is an innate quality that should be nurtured at an early age.

Parents, this year’s back-to-school advice is this: In your rush to get your children to succeed, you may overlook the creative skills that will provide them with their best advantage in the future job market. Find that skill and nurture it.

As I write this, Kaitlyn is touring Europe. When she returns, she will not have a job or prospects. But I don’t worry about her future because the work she will eventually be doing will also be her passion and she will get paid for it.

That’s about as successful as one can get.


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