Will - by Will Smith
It’s a lot of fun to listen to the audiobook. You can hear Will start rapping when he remembers his early career as a rapper. You can hear him impersonating Mohanmod Ali, Nielson Meldela, and Charlie Mack. I understand his struggle of not feeling enough since that is how I was brought up as well: 99%=0, in other words, all or nothing. I have to say that the Vipassana meditation would not allow you access to an iPad. I understand why you slapped Chris Rock out of your fear of not protecting your family in the Oscars. But violence won’t bring peace to anyone. Everyone is a work in progress. Thank you for the journey, Will!
Here are some text that I highlighted in the book:
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. . . .
Well, my father gave me my name, he gave me his name, and he gave me my greatest advantage in life: my ability to weather adversity. He gave me will.
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.
I grew up at 5943 Woodcrest Avenue on a tree-lined street of thirty grayish-red brick row homes, all connected.
I hated it so much was that they were unknowingly poking at the thing I most hated about myself, my sense that I was a coward.
And while he never learned to overcome his own demons, he would cultivate in me the tools to confront my own.
She stood right back up, looked him in the eye, and calmly said, “Hit me all you want, but you can never hurt me.” I have never forgotten that. The idea that he could hit her body but somehow she was in control of what “hurt” her? I wanted to be strong like that.
How we decide to respond to our fears, that is the person we become. I decided to be funny.
I had been scared my whole childhood, but this was the first time I had been aware of my own inaction. I was my mom’s oldest son. I was less than ten yards away. I was the only chance she had for help. Yet, I did nothing.
I think I like math because it’s exact; I like when things add up. Numbers don’t play games or have moods or opinions.
Comedy is an extension of intelligence. It’s hard to be really funny if you’re not really smart
But Mom-Mom got me—she delighted in my peculiarities. She made space for me to be as silly and creative as I could be.
When movie studios said they couldn’t cast me because African American leads don’t sell to international audiences, I wasn’t necessarily offended, I just couldn’t understand how a motherfucker that wrong could have this job. It wasn’t just the racism that bothered me, it was the stupidity. People would tell me how I was supposed to be, and it just didn’t make any sense. I felt like their rules didn’t apply to me.
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.
After about two weeks, Daddio started commenting that this was the longest period in his life that he’d gone without seeing any Black people. (Apart from us, of course—we’re Black.) Daddio was suffering from Negro Withdrawal Syndrome, or NWS, but one day at a rest stop in Wyoming, he saw a Black couple driving away, and he chased them and pulled them over just to shake their hands and say hi. They thought it was very funny.
Never heard her say a negative word about my father, even though he had beaten her daughter. With her Bible in hand, her arms were open not only for us but for everyone. She was joyfully her brothers’ and sisters’ keeper.
When I think back to my childhood, I visualize my father, my mother, and Gigi arranged as a philosophical triangle. My father was one side of the triangle: discipline. He taught me how to work, how to be relentless. He instilled in me an ethic that “It’s better to die than to quit.” My mother: education. She believed that knowledge was the irrevocable key to a successful life. She wanted me to study, to learn, to grow, to cultivate a deep and broad understanding, to either “know what you’re talking about or be quiet.” Gigi: love (God). Whereas I tried to please my mother and father so I wouldn’t get into trouble, I wanted to please Gigi so that I could bathe in that transcendent ecstasy of divine love. These three ideas—discipline, education, and love—would fight for my attention throughout the rest of my life.
All my career, my performances, my albums—everything—has been a relentless, unbroken quest to relive the delicious purity I felt when I played “Feelings” at Resurrection Hall for my Gigi.
performance became my little secret oasis of love. It gave me the warmth of affection but behind the protection of a mask. It was perfect: I could hide myself and be loved at the same time, mitigating the risk of vulnerability but gaining everything.
And it’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re grateful.
I was raised to believe that I am inherently equipped to handle any problems that may arise in my life, racism included. Some combination of hard work, education, and God would topple any and all obstacles and enemies. The only variable was the level of my commitment to the fight.
I’d get in more trouble for doing the same things my white classmates would do. I got called on less often, and I felt like teachers took me less seriously.
At Catholic school, no matter how well-spoken or intelligent, I was still the Black kid. In Wynnefield, no matter how up I was on the latest music or fashion, I was never quite “Black enough.” I became one of the first hip-hop artists who was considered “safe” enough for white audiences. But with Black audiences, I was labeled “soft” because I wasn’t rapping about hard-core, gangster shit. This racial dynamic is something that has plagued me in various forms throughout my entire life.
I learned to move between these two worlds. If I was making the kids on the corner laugh, I wasn’t getting my ass kicked. If I was making the white kids at school laugh, I wasn’t a nigger. If I was making Daddio laugh, it meant my family was safe. I began to equate laughter with safety.
This injustice infuriated me. I leaned over to Mom-Mom and Daddio and told them what was going on. Without a word, they looked at each other, and in a moment of rare but potent agreement, they stood up, and we left. We drove home that night in silence. A few days later, over dinner, without looking up from his meal, Daddio said, “We’re done with that school.” And that was that.
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.
Throughout my life, I have been haunted by an agonizing sense that I am failing the women I love. Over the years, in my romantic relationships, I would always do too much. Coddling, overprotecting, desperately trying to please them, even when they were totally fine. This insatiable desire to please manifested as an exhausting neediness. 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.
Meanwhile, in the real world, I buried my shortcomings further under layers and layers of performance. I adopted a personality that was indefatigably cheery, upbeat, and positive. I responded to the dissonance of my world by remaining purely constant: I was always smiling. Always fun and ready to laugh. Nothing wrong in my world. One day, I would be in charge, and everything was going to be perfect. We are going to have a big house on a huge property and everybody’s going to live together, and I’ll take care of everybody. I would be the golden child. My mother’s savior. My father’s usurper. It was going to be the performance of a lifetime. And over the next forty years, I would never break character. Not once.
The other reason I never lost a rap battle was because I had been raised in the house of Daddio, molded and chiseled by his unrelenting work ethic. I practiced incessantly.
Our hopes had finally collided. And these hopes were inherently incompatible with each other. One had to give way. One of us was going to have our heart broken.
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.
“Jus’ remember, Lover Boy,” she said, “be nice to everybody you pass on your way up, coz you just might have to pass them again on your way down.”
Living is the journey from not knowing to knowing. From not understanding to understanding. From confusion to clarity. By universal design you are born into a perplexing situation, bewildered, and you have one job as a human: figure this shit out.
Life is like school, with one key difference—in school you get the lesson, and then you take the test. But in life, you get the test, and it’s your job to take the lesson.
It is so painful when people I care about miss the opportunity to elevate.
Whether they don’t see the grander vision, or can’t take the heat of the fresh challenge, or they’re trapped by some hidden, self-defeating narrative, over and over I have suffered the pain of waving from the bow of the new ship as they’re left behind, standing on the shore.
“Well, if the muthafucka you’re looking for is Will, he’s in the house. You’re welcome to come in and kill him now. And the whole family’s home, too, coz if you touch Will, you gon’ have to kill us all. . . . But we ain’t acceptin’ no fuckin’ threats from you.” Daddio immediately turned his back on a man who could easily have shot him and strolled into the house. I’m not sure if it was his military training or his upbringing on the streets of North Philly, but he taught me a valuable lesson that day: It’s better to die than to walk around scared.
Some people thrive at high altitudes, but others can’t breathe. Quincy Jones called it “altitude sickness.”
Both of us were wildly deficient, but together we made one really capable person.
I didn’t recognize it in this moment, but I would see clearly later, that this was a gesture of humanity that was nonexistent in the environment in which Bucky was forced to survive. He noticed it, and he became visibly emotional.
The thing about money, sex, and success is that when you don’t have them, you can justify your misery—shit, if I had money, sex, and success, I’d feel great! However misguided that may be, it psychologically permeates as hope. But once you are rich, famous, successful—and you’re still insecure and unhappy—the terrifying thought begins to lurk: Maybe the problem is me.
Daddio used to say, “You can stop a homicide, but you can’t stop no suicide.” Ready Rock was making good money doing what he loved. He was performing in front of thousands of people and seeing the world. He had a crew of friends who would die for him. Yet, there was some blind or broken part of him that, for some reason, couldn’t perceive the full scope of the opportunity stretching out before him. He had made his way into the abundant part of the Great River only to scratch and claw his way back to the desert.
Because of my childhood experiences with Daddio’s destructive streak, I’ve always had very low tolerance when I recognize similar energies within people around me. The funny thing is, it’s always crystal clear to me when I perceive them in others, but I’m blind as a bat to those same energies within myself.
It’s two against one: it’s you and the universe versus you. It’s respectable to lose to the universe. It’s a tragedy to lose to yourself.
Becoming famous is about as much fun as the material world has to offer. Being famous, bit of a mixed bag; but fading famous sucks ass.
I turned and gracefully made the ex–famous person’s walk of shame. Inside, I was raging, but as is my habitual emotional way, on the outside, I was totally calm. I didn’t know where I was going, but block after block, I just walked. Charlie said nothing but kept step right behind me. We walked for miles in silence.
The universe had given me a second chance, and I swore to God that I would not need a third.
Sometimes, people try to play the cards that they wish they had, instead of playing the hand they’ve been dealt. The capacity to adjust and improvise is arguably the single most critical human ability.
“But I have a partner,” JL interjected. “I don’t make the final decision. You’ll need to speak with him.” “OK, let’s set that up.” “Absolutely; immediately. My partner works at the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” JL said evenly. “I’ll set the call. And any deal that you and he come up with, I’m down for it.”
“Right. And who’s the Fresh Prince?” Quincy barked. “Me,” I said. “EXACTLY! Don’t nobody know what the fuck you’re supposed to say better than you. If they could do what you do, they wouldn’t have hired you. You say what you wanna say, the way you wanna say it. And when somebody has a problem with it, tell ’em to call me.”
But I was not a master—I was a scared little boy in the shadow of a giant.
Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said there are only two human problems: (1) knowing what you want, but not knowing how to get it; and (2) not knowing what you want.
My mind swerved and careened like a drone through my childhood. I had talked so much shit about Daddio—now, here I was. Would I be smart enough to orchestrate the building of a wall for my son? Could I put food on the table and keep the lights on without fail? Would I be strong enough to fend off someone who came to kill him?
During the months of my preparation, I would spend four or five days at a stretch without breaking character. Not once, not one moment. I would go to a jewelry store or a bakery and try to discern what Paul’s likes and dislikes were. I wanted to get comfortable in real life and real situations, not only thinking as Paul would think, but learning to involuntary feel the way that he would feel.
Smith is no more “real” than Paul—they’re both characters that were invented, practiced, and performed, reinforced, and refined by friends, loved ones, and the external world. What you think of as your “self” is a fragile construct.
nothing was too trivial to fight about
The reason we make vows is because we know we’re about to do a hell walk.
“You are not a movie star if your movies are only successful in America. You are not a movie star until every person in every country on earth knows who you are. You have to travel the globe, shake every hand, kiss every baby. Think of yourself as a politician running for Biggest Movie Star in the World.”
How could I beat him? What do I have that he doesn’t have? And it hit me. Music.
Jada had no illusion that love and family would be an easy endeavor; this was another reason she hated traditional wedding ceremonies.
But when I became movie famous, something fundamental changed. Some friends and family I had known my whole life shifted into one of two camps: Either so respectful and deferential that it felt like we were strangers—I couldn’t find my loved one within their new behavior. Or, in the second camp, they became disrespectful to try to show me that I’m not no damn movie star round here.
Some stories just bounce off us; we don’t get it, we don’t feel it, it doesn’t mean anything to us. But some stories penetrate; they get past our defenses and plunge into our secret spaces, bypassing our brains and inducing physical reactions: tears, chills, laughter, gasps. They light us up, creating ecstatic pleasure; they inspire us; they make us want to strive. Great stories illuminate truth, and ultimately make us want to see the movie again and again and again.
“You can’t win. You can’t fight with a kid’s mother. The kid will hate you forever.”
“I don’t want anybody else to do this movie,” Ali says. “I’ve been tellin’ people no for years. But I would be honored if you would tell my story to the world.”
the always-positive reaction was about people’s deep recognition and reverence for a life lived in integrity. In the face of grievous injustice, profound prejudice, and financial devastation, he never wavered from the convictions of his principles. He was the greatest fighter of all time yet would always say, “My religion is love.”
I had experienced the magnetism of fame, I knew well the allure of celebrity, the attraction of money, but this was my first dose of the power of purpose and the radiance of service.
Desire is what you want; purpose is the flowering of what you are. Desire tends to weaken over time, whereas purpose strengthens the more you lean into it. Desire can be depleting because it’s insatiable; purpose is empowering—it’s a stronger engine. Purpose has a way of contextualizing life’s unavoidable sufferings and making them meaningful and worthwhile. As Viktor Frankl wrote, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”
I think subconsciously I didn’t want to spend extended time with him for fear that I wouldn’t live up to his impression of me. Maybe I thought he’d ask me to do something or change something about my life that I’d be unable or unwilling to change.
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.
So, Will, to what do you attribute your meteoric success?” “Well, I consider myself to be fairly average in talent. Where I believe I excel is in my unflinching, unyielding discipline and work ethic. While the other guy is eating, I’m working. While the other guy is sleeping, I’m working. While the other guy is making love . . . well . . . I’m making love, too, but I’m working really hard at it.”
Daddio didn’t believe in taking it easy on kids. He thought that giving children false wins did a vile disservice to their growth and development—even to their ability to survive in the world. He smashed me game after game, month after month—checkmate after brutal checkmate—year after year, until I was thirteen years old.
But Gabriele’s artistic passion culminated in two game-changing moves: one, he gave us an Italian film, Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves, which won the Academy Award for most outstanding foreign language film in 1950, and through the translator, said, “This is the movie I want to make.” And then, he got me: he said, “If you don’t choose me to direct this film, please don’t choose an American filmmaker, because Americans don’t understand the beauty of the American dream.”
The problem was, I’d conflated being successful with being loved and being happy.
If I am more successful, I’ll be happier, and people will love me more. I was trying to fill an internal emotional hole with external, material achievements. Ultimately, this kind of obsession is insatiable. The more you get, the more you want, all the time never quite scratching the itch. You end up with a mind consumed by what it doesn’t have and what it didn’t get, and in a spiraling inability to enjoy what it has.
We can and must be helpful and kind and loving, but whether a person is happy or not is utterly out of your control. Every person must wage a solitary internal war for their own contentment.
How dare they waste my valuable time like this?
I did not know how to stop, or be still, or be quiet, or alone. I’m addicted to the approval of others, and to secure their approval, I became addicted to winning. And to guarantee and sustain my stream of massive victories, I became addicted to working, to grinding, and obsessively pursuing perfection.
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.
“Vipassana—it means ‘to see things as they really are.’ ”
As long as you are twisting and contorting and selling yourself out for the affection of others, you will always be untrustworthy.”
a Freestanding Man is self-aware, self-reliant, self-motivated, self-confident, and utterly unswayed by people’s approval or disapproval.
I knew I had done right by myself, but I hated that someone else—an innocent—had gotten caught in the cross fire of my internal war.
Surrender transformed from a weakness word to an infinite power concept. I had had a bias toward action—thrusting, pushing, striving, struggling, doing—and I began to realize that their opposites were equally as powerful—inaction, receptiveness, acceptance, non-resistance, being. 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. “Surrender” to me no longer meant defeat—it was now an equally powerful tool of manifestation. Losing could be equal to winning in terms of my growth and development.
“If I’m this beautiful, I don’t need #1 movies to feel good about myself. If I’m this beautiful, I don’t need hit records to feel worthy of love. If I’m this beautiful, I don’t need Jada or anybody else to validate me. If I’m this beautiful, and I have this internal sanctuary I can always return to, then I don’t need anyone to approve of me. I approve of me. I am enough.”
“I’m sayin’ you did great with your life. And when you’re ready to go, I want you to know that it’s OK. You raised me well. And I got it from here. I’m gonna take care of everybody you love.”
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.
Spoiler alert: There are no relationships, careers, or houses with a name that can fill the hole. There is nothing that you can receive from the material world that will create inner peace or fulfilment. The truth is, “the Smile” is generated through output. It’s not something you get, it’s something you cultivate through giving. In the end, it will not matter one single bit how well they loved you—you will only gain “the Smile” based on how well you loved them.
Allowing the best within you to serve and unleash the best within others is the most intense of human pleasures.
What we needed from each other was unconditional love and support—not judgment, not punishment, but total, unbending devotion to each other’s growth and well-being.
It’s easy to “love” somebody when they do what you want them to do, exactly how you want them to do it. But how do you behave when they step outside of your picture? How do you treat them when they hurt you? Those are the times that determine whether or not or not you actually love somebody.
But bravery does not mean the absence of fear. Bravery is learning to continue forward even when you’re terrified.
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.