Oprah Winfrey referred to Will Smith’s autobiography as the “best memoir she’s ever read” in her November 2021 “The Oprah Conversation” interview with actor Will Smith. In Will, American actor Will Smith takes the reader on a journey of his life, childhood, thorny relationship with his dad, his rap career, career-shaping chance encounters with Benny Medina and Quincy Jones, becoming the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, long-term business relationship with James Lassiter, his marriage, divorce, friendships, jealousy, parenthood, and his thought process.
In Will, he rapped, cried, was very vulnerable and he takes the reader on a journey of the renaissance man. I really enjoyed the book as it had everything you would want in a great book: Funny, Inspiring, thought-provoking, vulnerable, entertaining, and smooth.
This memoir is the product of a profound journey of self-knowledge, a reckoning with all that your will can get you and all that it can leave behind.
The audiobook was read by Will himself and it is by far one of the best audiobooks have ever listened to. Will is witty, funny, inspiring, entertaining, vulnerable, raw and down to earth. He shares lots of stories about his roller-coaster life such as his successes, failures, fears, heartbreaks, pain, and what makes him thick as an entertainer, actor, entrepreneur, and family man.
Wills Dad aka Daddio – Willard Carroll Smith
Daddio was brilliant. Like many sons, I worshipped my father, but he also terrified me. He was one of the greatest blessings of my life, and also one of my greatest sources of pain.
My father tormented me. And he was also one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. My father was violent, but he was also at every game, play, and recital. He was an alcoholic, but he was sober at every premiere of every one of my movies. He listened to every record. He visited every studio. The same intense perfectionism that terrorized his family put food on the table every night of my life.
Ninety-nine percent is the same as zero.
One brick at a time
When I was eleven years old, my father decided he needed a new wall on the front of his shop. It would be a big wall: roughly twelve feet high by twenty feet long. The old wall was crumbling, and he was “sick-o’-lookin’ at it.” But rather than hire a contractor or construction company, he thought it would be a good project for my younger brother, Harry, and me.
My brother and I worked weekends, holidays, vacations. We worked through the summer that year. It didn’t matter. My father never took a day off, so neither could we. There were so many times I remember looking at that hole, totally discouraged. I couldn’t see how this was ever going to end. The dimensions became unfathomably large in my mind. It seemed like we were building the Great Wall of West Philly—billions of red bricks stretching infinitely into some distant nowhere. I was certain that I would grow old and die still mixing concrete and carrying those buckets. I just knew it.
Stop thinking about the damn wall!” he said. “There is no wall. There are only bricks. Your job is to lay this brick perfectly. Then move on to the next brick. Then lay that brick perfectly. Then the next one. Don’t be worrying about no wall. Your only concern is one brick.
Some of the most impactful lessons I’ve ever received, I’ve had to learn in spite of myself. I resisted them, I denied them, but ultimately the weight of their truth became unavoidable. My father’s brick wall was one of those lessons.
The days dragged on, and as much as I hated to admit it, I started to see what he was talking about. When I focused on the wall, the job felt impossible. Never-ending. But when I focused on one brick, everything got easy—I knew I could lay one damn brick well.
There is no wall. There are only bricks. Your job is to lay this brick perfectly. Then move on to the next brick. Then lay that brick perfectly. Then the next one. Don’t be worrying about no wall. Your only concern is one brick.
Wills Mom – Mon-Mom
She had been a standout student at Westinghouse High School and was one of the first Black women to ever study at Carnegie Mellon University. Mom-Mom would often say that knowledge was the only thing that the world couldn’t take away from you. And she only cared about three things: education, education, and education.
The constant fear during my childhood honed my sensitivity to every detail in my environment. From a very young age, I developed a razor-sharp intuition, an ability to attune to every emotion around me. I learned to sense anger, predict joy, and understand sadness on far deeper levels than most other kids.
Recognizing these emotions was crucial and critical for my personal safety: a tone in Daddio’s voice, a pointed question from my mother, a twitch of my sister’s eye. I processed these things quickly and profoundly—a missed glance or misinterpreted word could quickly deteriorate into a belt on my ass or a fist in my mother’s face.
Character – Personality – Fear
In acting, understanding a character’s fears is a critical part of understanding his or her psyche. The fears create desires and the desires precipitate actions. These repetitive actions and predictable responses are the building blocks of great cinematic characters.
It’s pretty much the same in real life. Something bad happens to us, and we decide we’re never going to let that happen again. But in order to prevent it, we have to be a certain way. We choose the behaviors that we believe will deliver safety, stability, and love. And we repeat them, over and over again. In the movies, we call it a character; in real life, we call it personality.
How we decide to respond to our fears, that is the person we become.
As a child, I would disappear into my imagination. I could daydream endlessly—there was nothing more entertaining to me than my fantasy worlds. There was a jazz band at camp; I heard the trumpets; I saw the trombone, the zoot suits, the big dance scene. The worlds that my mind created and inhabited were as real to me as “real life,” sometimes even more so.
Living in your own little world with your own rules can be an advantage sometimes, but you have to be careful. You can’t get too detached from reality. Because there are consequences.
Make-believe is a normal part of psychological development. But as we grow up, we start to let go of our fantasy life simply because we discover that living in the real world is more valuable to us than clinging to our fantasies. We have to learn how to deal with others, how to succeed at school and at work, how to survive in the material world. And it’s hard to do that if you’re unable to perceive reality accurately.
Funny is color-blind; comedy defuses all negativity. It is impossible to be angry, hateful, or violent when you’re doubled over laughing.
Comedy is an extension of intelligence. It’s hard to be really funny if you’re not really smart.
We all delude ourselves a little bit around the things that scare us. We’re afraid of not being accepted by people at work, or at school, or on Twitter, so we convince ourselves that they’re stuck-up or ignorant or cruel. We concoct entire narratives about other people’s lives when in fact we have no clue what they’re thinking or feeling or struggling with. We invent these stories to protect ourselves. We imagine all sorts of things to be true about ourselves or the world, not because we’ve seen evidence for it, but because it’s the only thing that keeps us from collapsing back into fear.
Sometimes we’d rather blindfold ourselves than take a cold, hard look at the world exactly as it is.
The Story we tell ourselves
The problem is delusion works like poisoned honey—it tastes sweet in the beginning but ultimately ends in sickness and misery. The stories we tell ourselves, which are designed for our protection, are the same stories that create the walls that prevent the very connections we so desperately crave.
All fantasies eventually fail. No matter how hard you fight, the truth is undefeated; reality remains the undisputed champ.
Adult Mapping Childhood
Psychologists have written about how our relationship with our parents in childhood and early adolescence creates our “map” for understanding love in adulthood. When we interact with our parents as children, some behaviors and attitudes win us attention and affection and other behaviors and attitudes cause us to feel abandoned, unsafe, and unloved. The behaviors and attitudes that win us affection often come to define what we understand as love.
Performing – People Pleasing
I performed to placate my father to quell his fouler moods. I performed to distract my family from the growing tension and resentment that was consuming our home. I performed to get the kids in my neighborhood to like me. As such, I began to see happiness for myself and my loved ones as a function of my ability to perform. If I performed well, we would all be safe and happy. If my performance faltered, we were in trouble.
To me, love was a performance, so if you weren’t clapping, I was failing. To succeed in love, the ones you care for must constantly applaud. Spoiler alert: This is not a way to have healthy relationships.
In order to feel confident and secure, you need to have something to feel confident and secure about. 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 are born of insight and proficiency. When you understand something, or you’re 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’re excited about approaching and interacting with the world.
“There is a great Bruce Lee quote that resonates with me. One of Lee’s students once asked him, “Master, you constantly speak to us of peace, yet every day you train us to fight. How do you reconcile these conflicting ideas?” And Bruce Lee responded, “It is better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in a war.”
“It is better to be a warrior in a garden, than a gardener in a war.” – Bruce Lee
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.
The thing I’ve learned over the years about advice is that no one can accurately predict the future, but we all think we can. So advice at its best is one person’s limited perspective of the infinite possibilities before you. People’s advice is based on their fears, their experiences, their prejudices, and at the end of the day, their advice is just that: it’s theirs, not yours.
When people give you advice, they’re basing it on what they would do, what they can perceive, on what they think you can do. But the bottom line is, while yes, it is true that we are all subject to a series of universal laws, patterns, tides, and currents—all of which are somewhat predictable—you are the first time you’ve ever happened. YOU and NOW are a unique occurrence, of which you are the most reliable measure of all the possibilities.
luminescent conversation – Relationship with Jada
But the heart and soul of our union was then, and is still today, intense, luminescent conversation. Even to the writing of this very sentence, if Jada and I begin a conversation, it is a minimum two-hour endeavor. And it is not uncommon that we talk for five or six hours at a stretch. Our joy of pondering and perusing the mysteries of the universe, through the mirror of each other’s experience, is unbridled ecstasy. Even in the depths of disagreement, there is nothing in this world that either of us more cherishes or enjoys than the opportunity to grow and learn from each other through passionate communication.
He had a fearless passion that was intoxicating, a militant morality, and a willingness to fight and die for what he believed was right. ’Pac was like Harry—he triggered the perception of myself as a coward. I hated that I wasn’t what he was in the world, and I suffered a raging jealousy: I wanted Jada to look at me like that.
We were the two biggest Black actors on TV at the time. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was higher rated, but Martin’s comedy street cred was undisputed—he was the funniest dude on TV. I studied him day in and day out; his physical mannerisms, his vocal inflections, his scene structuring—in my heart, I knew he was naturally funnier than me, and I hated it.
“I started off looking at him as my competition, and he turned out to be one of the greatest friends and allies I’ve ever had in Hollywood.”
The next ten years of my professional life were an absolute, unadulterated, unblemished rout of the entertainment industry. Bad Boys; Independence Day; Men in Black; Enemy of the State; Wild Wild West; Ali; Men in Black II; Bad Boys II; I, Robot; Shark Tale; Hitch; The Pursuit of Happyness; I Am Legend; and Hancock. Resulting in more than $8,000,000,000 in global box office. And not to be a stickler, but that number is from almost thirty years ago, when tickets were less than half the price they are today. Adjusting for inflation . . . you know what, that’s neither here nor there.
“I had gone from being poor to rich to broke with no acting experience, to starring in the highest-grossing film in the world. And I was only twenty-seven years old.”
There’s a strange and perturbing success paradox. When you have nothing, you suffer the fear and pain of grinding to achieve your goals. But when you have everything, you suffer the brutal recurring nightmare of losing it all.
“There’s only one fear worse than the fear of not attaining the object of your desire: and that’s the fear of losing it.”
I’ve read enough to know that a critical stage of a boy becoming a man is the moment of individuation from his father, that instant when you realize your father is not Superman. He’s a flawed human. That moment when you make the scary decision to separate from him and live and die by your own hand.
The more you get, the more you want. It’s like drinking salt water to quench your thirst. We develop a tolerance that makes us need more just to get the same high.
When will enough be enough?
The problem is, the more you get, the more you want. It’s like drinking salt water to quench your thirst. We develop a tolerance that makes us need more just to get the same high. If unparalleled winning and achieving everything I’ve ever dreamed of does not secure perfect happiness and ultimate bliss, then what does?
Stopping was equally as powerful as going; resting was equally as powerful as training; silence was equally as powerful as talking. Letting go was equally as powerful as grasping.
The surfer and the ocean are a team; the mountain and the climber are partners, not adversaries. The Great River is going to do 99 percent of the work—your 1 percent is to study it, to understand it, to respect its power, and creatively dance within its currents and its laws.
Act when the universe is open, and rest when she’s closed.
There is something strangely clarifying and cleansing about looking into the eyes of someone who has accepted their pending death. The awareness of death bestows profundity and clears all the bullshit out of the way. The finality of it all makes every moment feel infinitely significant.
“Death has a way of transforming the mundane into the magical.”
Hellos and goodbyes should be that way in our everyday lives because the reality is tomorrow is not promised.
Knowing your ending
One of the central and most critical tenets of filmmaking is “know your ending.” When you understand the emotional, philosophical, and moral conclusion of your movie, you can better craft everything that leads up to it. The comprehension of the physical plot and thematic endpoints allows you to reverse engineer a more resonant and enjoyable journey for the audience. The end of a film is similar to the punch line of a joke—you want the meaning to erupt in the hearts and minds of the audience. Imagine beginning to tell a joke without knowing the punch line.”
Life is like that. You’re born into a bunch of characters, everyone’s looking at you, you can’t communicate, you can’t walk, you can’t feed yourself, yet everybody seems to be excited to see what you’re going to end up doing. So, you begin telling your joke, with no fucking clue what the punch line is going to be. You’re watching the audience—sometimes they chuckle, sometimes they boo, but deep down inside they hope you land the punch line.
The Joy of Loving
The physics of love and happiness are counterintuitive. As long as we are stuck in the need to receive—in the cycle of grasping and clinging and demanding that people and the world around us meet our needs—we will be locked into disappointment, anger, and misery. The sweet paradox is being fulfilled by giving, that 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.
I’ve realized that for some reason, God placed the most beautiful things in life on the other side of our worst terrors. If we are not willing to stand in the face of the things that most deeply unnerve us, and then step across the invisible line into the land of dread, then we won’t get to experience the best that life has to offer.
I’ve had an interesting relationship with fear my whole life. I’ve traversed the spectrum of fear reactions, from complete debilitation through inspiration and sometimes slipping into outright foolishness. But when the idea of heli bungee jumping over the Grand Canyon came up, I wasn’t debilitated, and I sure wasn’t inspired—all I could think was, This shit is stupid.
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.