Will by Will Smith
If you like biographies and the entertainment industry, I recommend reading, or listening to, Will by Will Smith. Will did the narration for the audiobook and he did an outstanding job. This is one of my favorite books that I’ve read in the last year. He shares his humanity and weaknesses as equally as his successes and strengths.
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My Favorite Quotes
- Stop thinking about the wall, there is no wall, there are only bricks.
- Only speak when it improves on silence.
- How we decide to respond to our fears, that is the person we become.
- When you are unaware that you shouldn’t be able to do something, you just do it.
- Learning is really easy when you can feel that your teachers love you.
- We all want to feel good about ourselves, but many of us don’t recognize how much work that actually takes.
- Internal power and confidence and born of insight and proficiency.
- It is nearly impossible for the quality of your life to be higher than the quality of your friends. -Confucius
- Living is the journey from not knowing to knowing.
- It is amazing how skewed your vision can become when you see the present through the lens of your past.
- Clarity of missions is a powerful cornerstone of success.
- All of your dreams are on the other side of pain and difficulty. A mind that tries to seek pleasure, comfort, and the easy way inadvertently positions its own dreams.
- When we pursue what we believe to be a profound and valuable goal, it stirs the best parts of ourselves and others.
- It is impossible to build something that is of a higher quality than the quality of the people around you.
- Stopping is equally as powerful as going, resting is equally as powerful as training, silence is equally as powerful as talking, letting go is equally as powerful as grasping.
- Losing can be equal to winning in terms of your growth and development.
- Are you paying attention to the wall, or are you paying attention to the brick?
- How can we fully pursue and realize our visions, while at the same time cultivating love, a thriving family, and fulfilling relationships?
- Does it matter to you how I feel?
- What behavior alterations are you willing to make to show me how much you care about how I feel?
- Are you willing to put your thoughts and feelings aside in order to care for mine?
- What do you worship? (Will says this is the greatest question he has ever been asked.)
- Are you sure? (Will says this is the second greatest question he has ever been asked.)
- When will enough be enough?
- If unparalleled wining, and achieving everything he’s ever dreamed of, doesn’t secure perfect happiness and ultimate bliss, then what does?
- Can you find safety in yourself, and not from some external source for approval?
Table of Contents
- Introduction: The Wall
- Chapter 1: Fear
- Chapter 2: Fantasy
- Chapter 3: Performance
- Chapter 4: Power
- Chapter 5: Hope
- Chapter 6: Ignorance
- Chapter 7: Adventure
- Chapter 8: Pain
- Chapter 9: Destruction
- Chapter 10: Alchemy
- Chapter 11: Adaptation
- Chapter 12: Desire
- Chapter 13: Devotion
- Chapter 14: Boom
- Chapter 15: Inferno
- Chapter 16: Purpose
- Chapter 17: Perfection
- Chapter 18: Mutiny
- Chapter 19: Retreat
- Chapter 20: Surrender
- Chapter 21: Love
Introduction: The Wall
Stop thinking about the wall, there is no wall, there are only bricks. Your job is to lay this brick perfectly, then move on to the next brick. Don’t worry about the wall, your only concern is one brick.
When I focused on the wall, the job felt impossible and neverending. When I focused on one brick, everything got easy.
The difference between a task that feels impossible and a task that feels doable is merely a matter of perspective. Are you paying attention to the wall, or are you paying attention to the brick?
The secret to Will’s success is as boring as it is unsurprising; you show up and you lay another brick.
Chapter 1: Fear
Will’s mom would often say that “knowledge is the only thing the world can’t take away from you.” She only cared about three things, education, education, and education.
Will’s mom would “only speak when it improves on silence.”
The thing that Will most hated about himself was his sense that he was a coward.
“99% is the same as zero.” Was one of his dad’s favorite sayings.
His dad was continually training them to be mentally and physically able to handle life’s adversities, but he unwittingly created an environment of constant tension and anxiety
In acting, understanding a character’s fears is critical part of understanding their psyche. Fears create desires and the desires precipitate actions. People behave the same way in real life.
How we decide to respond to our fears, that is the person we become. Will decided to respond to his fears by being funny.
Chapter 2: Fantasy
Will’s imagination is his gift. He had an incredibly vivid imagination as a child. When his imagination merges with his work ethic, he can make money rain from the heavens.
“Never argue with a fool, because from a distance people can’t tell who is who.” -Will’s Mom
He could make his mind believe anything. He was able to cultivate an almost delusional level of confidence.
When you are unaware that you shouldn’t be able to do something, you just do it.
Later in his life, he invented the fantasy that becoming rich and famous would solve all of his problems. The pursuit and maintenance of that fantasy only drove the people he loved further away from him.
His fantasy life protected him in some ways, but also caused him to feel more guilt and shame.
Chapter 3: Performance
When thinking about his childhood, Will visualizes his father, mother, and grandmother (Gigi) arranged in a philosophical triangle.
- Father = discipline
- Mother = education
- Gigi = love/God
Gigi had an invisible power. She would never apply force, yet no one could resist her overwhelming energy.
Will has never been more certain of someone’s adoration than the look on Gigi’s face when he performed “feelings” at Resurrection Hall church. He has been chasing that look in the eyes of every woman he has ever loved since. Everything he has done has been a relentless quest to relive the purity of that moment.
The look of invincible serenity is the look that people have when they know things the rest of us don’t. This was a look that Gigi had when listening to the church choir.
Will was raised to believe that he is inherently equipped to handle any problems that may arise in his life, racism included. Some combination of hard work, education, and God would topple any and all obstacles and enemies.
Will was never afraid of overt racism. As he got older he became aware of the more insidious types of silent and unspoken prejudices around him.
He was one of the first hip hop artists who was considered safe enough for white audiences, but black audiences labeled him as soft. This racial dynamical has plagued him in various forms throughout his life.
As long as he was the funny kid, he wasn’t just “the black kid.” Funny is color-blind.
He began to equate laughter with safety. As long as he was making people around him laugh, he and those around him were safe.
Throughout Will’s entire life he has been obsessed with finding the perfect joke. The joke that would make everyone laugh. Perfect wording, perfect tone of voice, perfect delivery and physicality, all of which would coalesce into a perfect moment of comedic nirvana.
Will’s family refused to have him baptized as Catholic even though it would have given them a 20% reduction in tuition. They went to a Baptist church with Gigi growing up.
Will loved being in his father’s home movies, it brought him closer to his father. He always wanted to be in front of his dad’s camera. This undoubtedly played a role in his desire to perform on film later in life.
A television scene from the show Dallas changed Will’s life, he was never the same after it. It was a scene when the wife came to breakfast on a horse. He wanted his family to live on a property like that.
Will buried his shortcomings under layers and layers of performance. The next 40 years of his life was the performance of a lifetime and he never broke character.
Chapter 4: Power
Will’s all time favorite artist was Grandmaster Caz and The Cold Crush Brothers. Caz was undeniably the greatest influence of Will’s hip hop life, he wanted to be just like Caz.
God blessed Will with the gift of words, and he began to get a glimpse of the power of those words to alter and shape his reality. He asked himself, “If I have this much power, shouldn’t I use it for good?” Words can affect how people view themselves, how they treat each other, how they navigate the world.
Will decided he would use his words to empower people, to help rather than hurt.
In the same way the power of his words had almost destroyed him, Will was not starting to see their power painting his dreams.
Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang put major dents into mainstream barriers, everyone was listening to that song all the time at Will’s Overbrook High School.
By the time that song took off, Will had been writing rhymes every day for eight months. He had pages and pages of difference concepts, punch lines, and stories. He kept a stash memorized for rap battles. Freestyling became popular and he was great at freestyling.
Will practiced incessantly at rap battles and freestyling. He spent hours and hours filling notebooks with rhymes every day. He would stand in the mirror practicing verses making sure his face and body language were perfectly matched to reinforce the punch lines. He worked on tightening his delivery and trying to deepen his tone.
Learning is really easy when you can feel that your teachers love you.
We all want to feel good about ourselves, but many of us don’t recognize how much work that actually takes.
Internal power and confidence and born of insight and proficiency. When you understand something, or you are good at something, you feel strong and it makes you feel like you have something to offer. When you have adequately cultivated your unique skills and gifts, then you are excited about approaching and interacting with the world. Being good at something allows you to be calm in a storm.
This quote by Bruce Lee resonates with Will “It is better to be a warrior in a garden than a gardener in a war.”
Rapping earned him the approval of his peers that he craved, and gave him a sense of power. He knew that he was good, but he also knew he had to work, he had to go get it.
Chapter 5: Hope
Every artist knows those moments of divine inspiration where creativity flows out of you so brilliantly and effortlessly, that somehow you are better than you’ve ever been before. Will felt this for the first time in his life the first time he performed with DJ Jazzy Jeff in a basement at a birthday party.
DJ Jazzy Jeff was the first friend Will ever had that outworked him. Jeff never did anything else but work on his skills as a DJ. Jeff stood in front of his turntables 14-18 hours a day, 7 days a week, all year long.
The early months working in Jeff’s basement were among the most creative times Will ever experienced.
Will’s and DJ Jazzy Jeff’s rise in the Philadelphia hip-hop scene was nuclear.
Their big break came in 1986 when Jeff was invited to compete in the New Music Seminar Battle for World Supremacy. This was a DJ and MC battle competition held every year in New York, it was like the Olympics of early 1980s hip-hop.
Jeff won’t the 1986 World Supreme DJ title at that competition. You can listen to his winning routines on YouTube.
Deep down inside, Will knew that his dreams would be made or broken by the people he surrounded himself with. He likes this quote from Confucius “It is nearly impossible for the quality of your life to be higher than the quality of your friends.”
James “JL” Lassiter was a friend of Jazzy Jeff’s and they hired him to be their manager. JL was not a casual guy, he didn’t care about fame or money, he worked incredibly hard for the people he loved.
Hope sustains life. Hope is the elixir of survival during our darkest times. The ability to envision and imagine a brighter day gives meaning to our suffering and renders it bearable. When we lose hope, we lose our central source of strength and resilience.
No one can predict the future, but we all think we can. Advice, at it’s best, is one person’s limited perspective of the infinite possibilities before you. It is based on their own fears, experiences, and prejudices. The combination of you and now is a unique occurrence of which you are the most reliable measure of all the possibilities.
Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you can’t do something.
Chapter 6: Ignorance
Living is the journey from not knowing to knowing, from not understanding to understanding, from confusion to clarity. Life is learning. You’re not supposed to know at the beginning.
We’re all waiting for deep knowledge and a sense of certainty before we venture forth. We’ve got it backwards, venturing forth is how we gain the knowledge.
Life only teaches through experience. Even when you don’t have a clue what you’re doing, you have to get on the bus and move forward.
Will is trying to climb and fly as high as humanly possible, and he wants to take the people he loves with him. At critical moments when the necessity to level up presents itself, some people rise to the occasion and others fold.
Chapter 7: Adventure
Will learned that travel is vitally important, it lends critical perspective.
When creating He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper, all they cared about was being inspired and enflamed by the creative process. They were having fun creating and they were on the cutting edge of a burgeoning global artform.
In 1989 they won a Grammy Award for Parent’s Just Don’t Understand, which made them the first rappers ever to receive a Grammy Award.
Chapter 8: Pain
The Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff launched a rap hotline which was the first ever 900 number. This was the predecessor to modern social media. They would leave a pre-recorded message every day about where they were and what they were doing. Fans would could call in and listen and they were getting 5,000 calls a day at the height of its popularity. This worked out to about $10,000 they were earning every day on the hotline.
Environment is critically important. Choosing the city you live in is as important as choosing your life partner. Will moved to Los Angeles after breaking up with his first girlfriend, he loved the City of LA.
It is easy to justify your misery when you don’t have money and success. However, once you are rich and successful and are still insecure and unhappy, it becomes scary to realize that maybe the problem is me.
Chapter 9: Destruction
Their second album And in This Corner was a flop, they had taken their success for granted and didn’t put in the work on this album.
It is respectable to lose to the universe, it’s a tragedy to lose to yourself.
Chapter 10: Alchemy
As a general rule, when someone asks Will if he can do something, the answer is always yes.
Benny Medina was the real Fresh Prince of Bel Air that the show was based on, Benny is the one that recruited Will to play the role.
Quincy Jones understands magic, he sees the universe as an infinite playground of magical possibilities. He recognizes miraculous potential in every moment, everything, and everyone around him. Quincy Jones made the Fresh Prince show happen. Will’s audition for the show was in Quincy’s living room at a birthday party. This is one of my favorite stories in book.
Quincy had learned how to prepare the environment and invite the energy in. He was a conductor in both the electrical and musical sense.
Don’t block your blessings. Opportunities are abundantly and perpetually flowing around us. We can easily miss them, or even worse, block them or repel them.
Just like when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead and they had to move the rock. “Magic” demands three things: awareness, preparation, and surrender. Awareness is faith, you have to believe in the possibility. Preparation, move the rock, we must identify and eradicate the poisonous resistances and impediments within ourselves. Surrender, stay out of the way and trust the “magic” to do what it does.
The deal making and production on the Fresh Prince of Bel Air was completed incredibly quickly. Will’s audition was on March 14, 1990 and the pilot aired on September 10, 1990.
Will’s mom was an avid reader, her every free moment was spent reading. Will hadn’t even read an entire book until well into his twenties. He had not experienced a love for reading until he read The Alchemist by Paul Coelho which was his first literary love affair.
The Alchemist transformed his way of seeing and being. It is probably the most influential book he has ever read. It empowered his dreamer spirit and validated his suffering.
Chapter 11: Adaptation
Change can be scary, but it is utterly unavoidable. Impermanence is the only thing you can truly rely on. If you are unable or unwilling to pivot and adapt to the tides of life, you will not enjoy being here. Sometimes people try to play the cards they wish they had, instead of playing the hand they have been dealt. The capacity to adjust and improvise is arguably the single most critical human ability.
Things can be perfectly useful and absolutely necessary during certain periods of our lives, but a time will come when we must put them aside or die.
It is amazing how skewed your vision can become when you see the present through the lens of your past.
You have deeper talent inside of you that you can’t even imagine yet, and you’re never going to find it if you don’t reach for it.
There is a difference between talent and skill. Talent comes from God; skill comes from sweat, practice, and commitment.
Chapter 12: Desire
What does he want? As an actor, this is the single most important question to ask of the character you are portraying. If you want to understand why someone did something, you only need to answer the question “what did he want?” The next important question is “why does he want it?”
The war between desire and obstacle is the heart and sole of dramatic storytelling.
You tell me what you want, and I will tell you who you are.
Will’s manager JL, was frustrated because they didn’t have a specific goal they were pursuing for Will’s career. He kept asking “what is your dream, what are we trying to build, what do you want?” For the first time ever, Will finally vocalized his true inner dream “I want to be the biggest movie star in the world.”
From that point, JL focused his efforts on helping Will achieve the goal of being the biggest movie start in the world. He spent the next several months reading every screenplay in Hollywood.
According to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, there are only two human problems. One, knowing what you want and not knowing how to get it. Two, not knowing what you want.
Clarity of missions is a powerful cornerstone of success. Knowing what you want gives direction to your life. Every word and action can be accurately chosen and harnessed to precipitate your desired outcome.
Once they had their goal, the first question they asked was “What makes someone a movie star?” (as opposed to simply an actor).
Achieving goals requires strict organization and unwavering discipline.
Chapter 13: Devotion
If quitting is an option, you’ll never finish anything hard. The only way an imperfect mind can be forced to achieve is by removing all other options.
All of your dreams are on the other side of pain and difficulty. A mind that tries to seek pleasure, comfort, and the easy way inadvertently positions its own dreams.
Chapter 14: Boom
Will traveled to Sydney, Australia for the grand opening of Planet Hollywood in May, 1996. He did it to meet Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, and Bruce Willis. He cleared everything on his schedule to be there.
He told them “I want to be the biggest movie star in the world” and asked for their advice. Arnold told him that “you are not a movie star if your movies are only successful in America.” You have to travel the world and shake every hand, think of yourself as a politician running for biggest movie star in the world.
Will started to notice how much other actors hated traveling, press, and promoting. He scanned the field of his competition to see who else knew this secret, he saw that Tom Cruise was the head of the pack. He started monitoring all of Tom Cruise’s global promotional activities. When he arrived in a country to promote his movies, he asked movie executives for a copy of Tom’s promotional schedule. Will vowed to do 2 hours more in every country. Will joked that Tom Cruise is either a cyborg or there are six of him. 😂
Will got reports that Tom would be on the red carpet for four and a half hours at a time, in Berlin he stayed to sign every single autograph until nobody was left that wanted one.
Will thought about how he could beat Tom Cruise at promoting his movies, and he realized his advantage was music. He started setting up stages and doing free live concerts outside of his movie premiers.
After he was introduced to The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, they became the central conceptual framework for how Will Smith chose and made movies for the rest of his career. The Hero with a Thousand Faces became his second literary love affair and he bet his entire movie career on the book.
Chapter 15: Inferno
The secret question that all big dreamers have is this. How can we fully pursue and realize our visions, while at the same time cultivating love, a thriving family, and fulfilling relationships?
The harsh reality for everyone that loves a dreamer is that everything comes second to the dream. Will’s dream was his entire purpose, he saw the realization of his dream as the only road to love and happiness.
Chapter 16: Purpose
Will says he has never met a more thorough cinematic scientist than Michael Mann. He was blown away by the thoroughness of research, attention to detail, and preparation that Michael had put into the Ali film.
Michael Mann had Darrell Foster as a trainer to prepare Will for the Ali film. Darrell became a member of Will’s team and was with him for the next decade.
You fight how you train. “You do everything how you do one thing.” – Darrell Foster
You either do your best all the time, or you don’t.
When training for Ali, a switch was flipped that took ten years to un-flip. At that point, the warrior within Will took complete command of everything in his life.
The one year of training and five months of filming Ali was the most grueling mental, physical, and emotional test of his entire career. It was also the most transformative.
Meeting Nelson Mandela was Will’s first dose of the power of purpose and the radiance of service. Nelson Mandela gave will this advice, “Never underestimate the power of what you do.”
“You’re either helping or hurting, and if you’re not committed to helping you need to go home.” Was what Darrell said to one of Will’s friends that was eating a candy bar while Will was training for Ali.
Will was coming into the understanding of the power of purpose. Purpose and desire can seem similar, but they are very different, sometimes they are even opposing forces. Desire is personal, narrow, and selfish. Purpose is wider, broader, and a longer-term vision encompassing the benefit of others. Purpose is something outside of yourself you are willing to fight for. Desire is what you want, purpose is the flowering of what you are. Desire tends to weaken over time, purpose strengthens the more you lean into it. Desire can be depleting because it is insatiable but purpose is empowering.
When we pursue what we believe to be a profound and valuable goal, it stirs the best parts of ourselves and others.
Chapter 17: Perfection
Will had a core group of supporters on his team and lists many of them near the start of the chapter. I’ve noticed in reading biographies that many people who have accomplished great things in life had a team of talented and supportive people around them.
Will is a dreamer and a builder. He pictures grand visions and then he builds systems to make them real in the world. His love language is helping the people he loves build extraordinary lives for themselves.
It is impossible to build something that is of a higher quality than the quality of the people around you.
The paradox of success: when you have nothing, you suffer the fear and pain of grinding to achieve your goals; when you have everything, you suffer the brutal recurring nightmare of losing it all.
Will is a master Monopoly player, he has studied and worked with professional instructors. He fully intended to compete in international Monopoly tournaments.
Will had conflated being successful with being loved and being happy. These are three totally separate things. Because he had conflated these things, he suffered from an insidious subtle sickness of wanting more, more, more. He was trying to fill an internal emotional hole with external material achievements.
Chapter 18: Mutiny
At the time his daughter wanted to start singing, Will’s mindset was that there is no reason to do anything unless you are prepared to take a shot at being the best in the world at it.
Feeling good is most important thing to most people everywhere, all the time. We chose our words, actions, and behaviors in order to achieve a feeling that we deem positive. People determine whether or not you love them by how well they feel you honor their feelings.
Will has always been less concerned about someone’s immediate feelings, than about their overall wellbeing. When left unaddressed, this can fester into them feeling unloved. People care less about facts and truth than they do about how they feel and how well you have displayed that you care about those feelings.
Nobody cares what you think and what you feel, they care what they think and what they feel.
These are the unspoken questions of the people around you.
- Does it matter to you how I feel?
- What behavior alterations are you willing to make to show me how much you care about how I feel?
- Are you willing to put your thoughts and feelings aside in order to care for mine?
People want you to behave differently so they can feel better. How much you are willing to change will prove to them how much you love them.
When Trey was 20, Jaden was 14, and Willow was 12, Will began to experiment with his parenting by reassessing his relationships with his children in terms of his care and concern for their feelings.
“Dad, what do you worship?” This was a profound question that Will’s son Trey asked him at dinner one night. He brushed off the question saying that he worships God, but he couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s the number one greatest question he has ever been asked. And the second greatest question is, “Are you sure?”
Chapter 19: Retreat
Will did not have many addictions, but he was addicted to the approval of others. To secure their approval, he became addicted to winning. To guarantee and sustain his stream of winning, he became addicted to working and obsessively pursuing perfection.
The deeper issue at play was that he saw downtime as the enemy. His need to fill every second of his life kept him from having to feel.
When will enough be enough? The problem is, the more you get, the more you want. It’s like drinking saltwater to quench your thirst.
If unparalleled wining, and achieving everything he’s ever dreamed of, doesn’t secure perfect happiness and ultimate bliss, then what does? It is impossible to fill a spiritual hole with external things.
It’s weird how people can feel when you’re seeking. Higher curiosity seems to emit energy at a different frequency. As soon as you truly open to something different, it’s like a cosmic shout into an energetic megaphone.
Will took a 14 day trip to his home in Utah to be alone. No phone calls, no text messages, no television, no computers. Just being alone and reading on his iPad. This time in Utah launched the greatest period of reading in his life, a period that lasted for the next several years. He read at least 100 books over the next few years, he lists dozens of them in this chapter.
He wasn’t enjoying being with himself and wanted to get away as fast as he could. It dawned on him, “if I don’t want to be with me, why would anyone else want to be with me?”
Chapter 20: Surrender
Can you find safety in yourself, and not from some external source for approval? Can you become a freestanding man?
A freestanding man is self-aware, self-confident, and utterly un-swayed by people’s approval or disapproval. He knows what he is and what he wants. Because of this, he surrenders his considerable gifts into the service of others.
Will had a bias towards action, pushing, striving, and doing. He began to realize that their opposites are equally as powerful, inaction, receptiveness, acceptance, being.
Stopping is equally as powerful as going, resting is equally as powerful as training, silence is equally as powerful as talking, letting go is equally as powerful as grasping. Surrender no longer meant defeat. Losing could be equal to winning in terms of his growth and development.
Will said he’s never done drugs or taken pills. He talks about some experiments he did taking Ayahuasca (a plant-based psychedelic) because of a recommendation from a friend.
Minimizing his talking became Will’s practice for maximizing his awareness. He had always seen the world as a battlefield, he now understood that the true combat zone was his mind.
Chapter 21: Love
Death has a way of transforming the mundane into the magical.
There is nothing that you can receive from the material world that will create inner-peace or fulfillment. The smile is generated through output, it’s not something you get, it’s something you cultivate through giving.
The physics of love and happiness are counterintuitive. As long as we are stuck in the need to receive, we will be locked into disappointment, anger, and misery. The paradox is being fulfilled by giving. Your output precipitates the input. Giving and receiving become simultaneous. To love and to be loved is the highest human reward and ecstasy.
Allowing the best within you to serve and unleash the best within others is the most intense of human pleasures. Love is discovering, cultivating, and sharing your unique gifts for the purpose of uplifting and empowering others.
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