Will Smith has been doing it for a long time. He has managed to transcend and transform his 80s Hip-hop persona into the industry mogul he is today. But for some reason, Smith is seemingly overlooked and not given credit for his intellectual adeptness. Which is interesting because as one of the most successful actors in Hollywood, there is much to be learned from Mr. Smith. Particularly, the philosophy behind his success and his emphasis on what is necessary to become great.During the promotion for Ali, for which Smith garnered an Oscar nod—only to lose out to Denzel—he sat down with the veteran journalist and PBS mainstay Charlie Rose to discuss his personal philosophy on achieving greatness, among other things. Smith warns us of complicating very simple concepts as it relates to greatness. While seeking counsel from Ali himself and the incomparable Nelson Mandela for his role, he says the veterans demystified the concept of greatness for him.
“WE DIDN’T GROW UP WITH THE SENSE THAT WHERE WE WERE WAS WHERE WE WERE GONNA BE. WE GREW UP WITH THE SENSE THAT WHERE WE WERE ALMOST DIDN’T MATTER! BECAUSE WE WERE BECOMING SOMETHING GREATER.”
Smith had the realization that what made these men great wasn’t some complex, esoteric idea that very few people had the privileged knowledge of. What made these men, and others like them, great was their willingness to stick to their principals no matter what. Greatness is “I know who I am, I know what I believe, and that’s all I need to know. So, from there, you do what you need to do.”
In accordance with his definition above, greatness is a very tangible feat that the most ordinary among us can achieve; it means that greatness is something that truly exists in all of us. With that in mind, he says, “we didn’t grow up with the sense that where we were was where we were gonna be. We grew up with the sense that where we were almost didn’t matter! Because we were becoming something greater.” Smith’s philosophical prowess is on “a hundred
thousand trillion.” It is a testament to his principled work ethic and simplistic rue brick for achieving greatness. His developed worldview above illustrates his expanded moral imagination as a youngster. His present day condition was irrelevant because of his understanding of working hard to develop skill through ardent practice and repetition. He warns us that “the separation of talent and skill is one of the greatest, misunderstood concepts for people who are trying to excel.” In the Gladwellian sense, he contends that talent is naturally within each of us, but skill is developed through passionately dedication one’s self to one’s craft for hours on end.
Smith had the realization that what made these men great wasn’t some complex, esoteric idea that very few people had the privileged knowledge of. What made these men, and others like them, great was their willingness to stick to their principals no matter what.
What a glorious concept for students of the post-Hip-hop generation aspiring to advance socially and spiritually. If we look closely at an anecdote from Smith’s childhood, we should get a glimpse into the secret of his success. His father’s main lesson to him was to “never build walls.” Instead, the elder Smith encouraged young Will to focus on laying one brick as perfectly as a brick should be laid.
Because Smith has been concerned with laying perfect bricks instead of building walls, he has conquered any goal he has set for himself and done it with an outstanding amount of professionalism. Smith’s instilled worldview is advantageous because it makes any task a small thing to a giant. The enormity of any challenge is less daunting because of this systematic approach. Besides, eventually those perfect bricks develop into the perfect wall.
It can be argued that he is so successful because of laying perfect bricks throughout his career. Between winning the first Grammy awarded to any rap artist and having a stellar music career, staring in a mega hit television program, and becoming one of the most successful box-office draws in the history of film, he has focused and practiced to create the best product (wall) he possibly can. In fact, Smith’s father had him and his brother work on building a wall for more than a year. A feat that Smith never thought would be finished. What was his father’s message? “Don’t ever tell me you can’t do anything.”
And it is interesting to know that Smith was not always so confident in his own abilities. He recalls that during his first year as a rapper being courted by the Cosby Show to become one of the original a cast member, but always made excuses to miss it. He had been controlled by his fears. Smith had to undergo a process of self-inventory to achieve his goals and realized that his greatest fear is of being afraid. He hates the feeling that comes along with being scared to do something. Instead of avoiding his fears, he has trained himself to strategically attack the things that he was scared of. This practice enabled him to go into NBC executive offices as a 19 year old and wow them into creating a sitcom around him.
Smith has gotten where he is through hard work, dedication, and a philosophy that has ensured his prosperity. Smith knows who he is, he knows what he believes and that’s all he needs to know. It is with this confidence that Smith believes he can do anything; even become the president of the United States if he’d like to. The day the Fresh Prince becomes commander in chief is the day that our culture will become a formidable force. Thank God for aspirations. Thank God for Hip-hop.