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Learning

Unexpected Lessons from the Book About Will Smith’s Life (That Left Me Speechless)

Will Smith and Mark Manson book

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons


Will Smith helped me get jiggy with it in the 90s.

His films raised me through the television. He seemed so badass in the movie Bad Boys. I recently read his book “Will” co-written by Mark Manson from “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” fame.

At the start of Will’s story he lives by a crazy motto: “99% percent is the same as zero.” By the end of the long book I didn’t even recognize Will or this navy seal style quote anymore.

The book was completely unexpected and left me speechless, contemplating my life in a totally different way. That rarely happens.

Here are the unlikely lessons you can learn from Will Smith.

The cliffhanger at the start of the book

Most of us know Will as a funny guy that’s a hard worker.

As I open his memoir I reach a cliffhanger. Turns out Will contemplated suicide after his dad hit his mother and she didn’t come home. This is the first time I’d heard that.

The polished exterior of famous people often contains a shattered interior.

Imagination is power

Will has done a lot in his life. From his time as a rapper with his DJ partner Jazzy Jeff, to the tv show “Prince of Bel Air,” to being an iconic Hollywood actor that broke every box office record.

Hard work and luck don’t buy that level of success.

I knew there must be something else in his secret sauce, yet I never knew what it was. Will reveals his hidden superpower in the book.

That’s one of the things about having an overactive imagination: I could make my mind believe anything.

I instantly thought of Walt Disney, the imagination king. How big you can dream determines a lot of the goals you achieve in life.

The ability to dream gets suppressed inside of us as early adults. Our boss or employer tells us to stop going off track and get back to work. So we do. We ignore our imagination. For many of us we live our entire lives without ever resuscitating our imagination.

Imagination opens the restricting valve of possibilities.

Flow states drive Hollywood, too

Once you understand flow states you see it everywhere. Will’s success as an actor and rapper are both heavily influenced by flow states.

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.

That night with Jeff was the first time I ever tasted it, the place the athletes call “the zone.”

Will even talks about the concept of “automatic writing.” He says it’s a theoretical psychic ability where a person can write words without consciously writing at all. (This happens to me every day … haha.)

Whatever you want to do in life, the power of flow states can help you get there. Flow is where you do the best work of your life, and the feeling of time seems to speed up.

Discover flow.

All big life goals are true of this one sentence

The problem is, all of your dreams are on the other side of pain and difficulty.

Humans are wired to avoid pain and seek pleasure. Pleasure leads to easy short-term feelings and painful long-term feelings. Will says, “If it was easy, everybody would do it.”

Don’t chase easy. Chase hard.

Hard is where your potential gets unlocked. Hard is where the hidden levels of fulfillment hide. Hard is what creates meaning for your life.

I learned from Will that to finish anything hard you need to remove the option of quitting. When there are no other options other than to progress forward, your mind is forced to find a way. This is where your genius zone lies.

Gif Credit: Giphy

The gift of a mentor

That’s how Ali was. He was always trying to create something that would make you smile forever.

One of Will’s mentors was Muhammad Ali. Many people mistakenly think Ali was a boxing champion. Nope. Ali became famous for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. He was a civil rights activist in a pair of boxing shorts.

Ali’s decision to skip the war made him lose all his boxing titles and face 5 years in jail. The story became so influential that Hollywood made a movie about it.

The directors wanted Will to play the role. He said no. Ali picked up the phone and met Will. The infectious comedian inside of both of them led Ali to become one of Will’s mentors.

During the filming of the last fight scene in Mozambique, one of the Mozambique boys on the set had left urine drops on the toilet seat. The cleaner, a white South African, wiped the boy’s face on the seat to get the droplets off.

Will wanted to fire the cleaner for what he did to the boy.

It became clear that if he did, the entire crew would leave in protest. Despite the consequences and the millions of dollars it cost, he fired the man. Ali’s teachings had rubbed off on Will.

Ali taught Will that morals are more important than money.

“The problem is, the more you get, the more you want”

The book makes you feel at the start like all the money Will was making could fix any problem. I used to think that too.

No amount of money is ever enough.

Will is living proof. Even with a net worth in the hundreds of millions he still wanted more. One more movie. One more appearance. One more tour.

This thirst for success led Will to a dark place he faced behind closed doors. Up until the book none of us knew. We all thought Will had it all … until he didn’t. Until he had nothing except a boatload of money and a sh*t-ton of pain.

“More” isn’t the answer to a meaningful life.

Your memory can enable or destroy your dreams

Do you ever call bullsh*t on your memory?

I do.

Will explains our memory isn’t a flawless recording, or a document, or a video, or a photograph that can’t be tampered with.

Our memories are a psychological representation of events. We manipulate most events based on:

  • Our imagination
  • Our stage of life
  • The stories we tell ourselves
  • Our level of optimism vs. pessimism

When I look back on my own memories this is true. My battle with mental illness, my failed startups, money I’ve lost — my mind warps all of it based on the programming that life happens in our favor.

That belief rewrites over my memories to conveniently shift the story. If I was homeless or a drug addict then these same memories of weakness could become the justification of those outcomes.

We can manipulate our memories to work for or against us. We decide.

An unqualified life is the secret to success

“When you are unaware that you shouldn’t be able to do something, then you just do it “— Will Smith

Many of us go through life waiting for permission slips from school, college, bosses, critics, and strangers.

Will didn’t qualify to do everything he did. He got a job on a major tv show with no acting experience. He said yes to major movies and decided to figure out the details later. The path became clear as he said yes to opportunities.

I feel the same way. I started to write online with poor skills and dark mental health issues. In retrospect it shouldn’t have been possible. My mind should have ruined the opportunity, like it did everything else. Yet it didn’t.

Knowing your limitations before starting a goal is a destroyer of dreams.

Powerful mindset: do it until you figure it out.

Even famous DJs are fighting a battle you know nothing about

Will’s popularity started as a rapper. He formed a group with DJ Jazzy Jeff. The two of them blew up with several unconventional rap songs.

Jeff was always the hero of the group because of the wild DJ moves he had that won him several notable awards in his field. They’d go on tour together.

Will was the loud one. Jeff was often subdued.

It’s assumed that Jeff’s behavior was due to his personality. Jeff later told Will after all of their success that he acted this way because of a sheltered childhood, the after-effects of a battle with cancer.

Will says “every time we would have to leave Philly, he suffered extreme anxiety attacks and other physical reactions. He would have thirty-to-forty-minute vomiting spells, but for the longest time, he never said a word.”

When I read these sentences I couldn’t believe it. It was like reliving my own similar experience back in 2011.

Mental illness is everywhere. It’s normal. What’s not normal is suffering in silence when you don’t have to.

The sudden collapse of Will Smith’s life

Towards the end of the book Will’s life starts to alter direction.

The happy-go-lucky, bulletproof, self-help-inspired life implodes. He says, “I was failing miserably, but on the outside I was winning.”

The marriage Will has to his wife Jada starts to hit a rocky patch. What becomes apparent is that Will’s ego has made him a famous Hollywood actor but depleted all other areas of his life.

He’d become a cocky a**hole.

It all starts to fall apart when Will organizes a birthday celebration for his wife in an exotic location. He had a fancy dinner with a 20-yard-long flowered walkway with all of her favorite artists. Mary J Blige performs. All members of the family were in attendance. Everything felt perfect to Will.

The final display of love was a documentary Will had put together. It featured the voice of his wife’s dead grandmother. The film traced her roots all the way back to slavery times. The whole thing took three years to put together.

Will thought he’d outdone himself. The film got a standing ovation. Everyone had tears in their eyes, except his wife.

Back in the hotel room one sentence rips apart his world.

“That was the most disgusting display of ego I have ever seen in my life!”

Will saw perfection. His wife saw the lie he’d been living. Everything Will did was a performance that he desperately hoped would lead to applause and recognition like his movies did.

Around the same time Will’s 11-year-old daughter has a hit song. It becomes obvious he has done it again. Then he comes home one day to find his daughter has shaved her head. The hit song was about long hair so this style was … ummm …. a complete mismatch.

His daughter is not happy with their perfect life either. She quits the music business at 11 years old despite a record deal from Jay Z.

While all of this was going on I had no idea. At this time in Will’s life I noticed him show up a lot on social media. I assumed it was a cash grab. He started to share a lot of deep wisdom and philosophy.

It seemed Will Smith had died and been reborn.

Mr Hustle (aka Will) once said, “I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be outworked, period. … But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die.”

This level of ego and silliness had vanished. Getting more applause, more awards, more box office smashes didn’t seem important anymore.

The book reveals what happened. Will and his wife split for a period of time to go off and find their own version of happiness. He ends up on all sorts of exotic islands. The people around him enjoy the sun and sea.

Not Will.

He can’t think in the present. He doesn’t understand nature.

These harsh realities cause Will to visit a shaman and drink a psychedelic tea. He does this thirteen more times.

I was floating deep in outer space. I was trillions of light years away from earth.

The spiritual experience he has taught him that he doesn’t need all the external stuff he’d been chasing his entire life. After I read this all the philosophical social media content made sense.

When your life collapses it can be rebuilt when you focus on the internal.


Will Smith is an interesting character. It’s easy to think famous celebrities have it all. Turns out they’re just as broken as us.

Fame, money, and success are distractions.

A simple life is underrated. If you live a complex life of meaningless junk for long enough, you’ll eventually get forced back to simple like Will was.


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Tim Denning
I am an Aussie Blogger with 500M+ views — Writer for CNBC & Business Insider. Inspiring the world through Personal Development and Entrepreneurship. You may have seen my work on Medium, LinkedIn, Bitclout, or Twitter.

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