This is a good book. I grew up watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Will Smith’s blockbuster movies debuted when I came of age and actually enjoyed going to theaters. I’ve loosely followed Will’s career. Reading his memoir gave me a better understanding of someone with whom I already felt familiar.
By Will Smith with Mark Manson
Here are 7 takeaways:
- All in the name
The book is self-titled. But Will’s name is more than a name or noun. It also a verb. To will something into action. Therein we have the premise of the book and a driving force of Will’s life. The man works relentlessly. He opens the book with a story that his father made his brother and him lay bricks for a wall. When they started to complain, his father had words for them.
‘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.
Translation: focus on one thing. Do it well. Do it exceedingly well. And over time you will build consistency and discipline. Good habits. There’s always another brick. Keep going.
- Tumultuous upbringing
Will had a strained relationship with his father who he called Daddio. Will admired and revered Daddio because he was cool, enterprising, and he provided for the family without compunction. But he also drank and abused Will’s mother. This created a family rift, and Will despised these aspects of Daddio.
My father tormented me. And he was 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.
At the same time, he was extremely close to his grandmother Gigi and mother Mom-Mom. The trinity of these people played a pivotal role in his life. The book is chalk full of revealing family stories.
- Funny way out
Will wanted to be funny and he was. His desire to be funny, in retrospect and according to him, was because he wanted to please and placate his father. If he could keep Daddio in good spirits, then everyone would be ok and there wouldn’t be disputes.
And while this psychological response would later bear artistic and financial fruits, it also meant that my little nine-year-old brain processed Daddio’s abusive episodes as somehow being my fault.
It’s twisted that a child had to think like this. And no he wasn’t able to keep his father in check. But Will’s compulsion to be funny and to entertain is deep seated. As he points out, in order to be funny, you have to be intelligent. In his early rap battles, he used his wit to win over other contestants and entertain audiences.
The combination of hip-hop and humor made me untouchable.
- Power of imagination
Will’s humor was an escape. It fueled his imagination. He had an imaginary friend. And his friends and classmates thought he was a compulsive liar because he kept making up stories. The world between make fact and fiction merged in his mind.
My imagination is my gift, and when it merges with my work ethic, I can make money rain from the heavens….But as a child, what the other kids didn’t understand was that I didn’t lie about my perceptions, my perceptions lied to me.
- Rap Star
I found Will’s stories about the beginning of his rap career especially compelling. His parents gave him one year to try his rap career. And if he failed, he would have to go to college. Will’s career blew up in that year. He and DJ Jazzy Jeff put out hit records. The two of them were a match made in artistic heaven as they could anticipate what both were going to do, which made for exciting performances. They became DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
There are rare moments as an artist that you cannot quantify or measure. As much as you try, you can rarely reproduce them and it’s near impossible to describe them. But every artist knows what I’m talking about — those moments of divine inspiration where creativity flows out of you so brilliantly and effortlessly that somehow you are better than you have ever been before.
After his rap career imploded, and he lost his money, Will realized he had to plan for the future. The next time he had something good going, make sure to invest for the down turn. When his TV career blew up, he started making moves to be a movie star. Create faster than you can be destroyed.
- Embrace the moment
Will Smith auditioned for the roll of Fresh Prince at Quincy Jones birthday party at Quincy’s home. In fact, Quincy had invited all the relevant decision makers and urged Smith to read the lines. Smith initially resisted but then realized this was a make-or-break moment.The takeaway is that you have to go for it – take the leap. This is a theme that keeps coming up throughout the book.
- Strategic Thinker
I was amazed to see Will’s level of strategic thinking.
He wanted to be a movie star, so he analyzed how to become one. He realized that stars usually played heroes in movies with special effects. When he wanted to be a global movie star, he asked Arnold Schwarzenegger who urged Will to travel everywhere and kiss every baby like a politician would. Will studied where Tom Cruise was and he would copy what Cruise would do. Then Will realized that he should start doing concerts (because Cruse wasn’t a musician). Will is incredibly competitive, wanting to be the best – even at a game of Monopoly.Smith probably wanted to write a bestselling book. He partnered with Mark Manson, an acclaimed writer with a well-followed blog, to help him write one. Will realized that in order to succeed, you have to learn from others who can inspire and lift you up.
I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Great read.