Will Smith rocked the house at LPL Financial’s national conference this week.
He didn’t sing, but the rap artist, TV star and blockbuster actor shared the inspirational story of his upbringing and his recipe for success, as well as personal satisfaction, with a crowd of 3,500 advisors and their staffers (and more than 2,500 other guests) at the firm’s annual conference on Tuesday.
“There’s nothing like having a hit record when you are a senior in high school,” Smith joked at the beginning of his interview, which was conducted by Lisa Hughes, a Boston-based TV anchor, and highlighted his 30 years as an entertainer.
Play to Your Strengths
“I was always the kid doing a pose and looking at the camera,” said the superstar.
But it took encouragement to help him make the switch from being rapper The Fresh Prince to doing the TV show “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
“Quincy Jones, my mentor, told me to keep going, and so I gave it a shot with the show for six years,” Smith said. (Jones wrote the music for the popular show’s theme song; Smith wrote the lyrics.)
“We used improvisation for the scenes. I had freedom and was comfortable, so I did the dumbest things I could come up with — and they put it on TV!” the actor explained.
The Big Picture on Performance
Hollywood has been good to Smith and vice versa — with his films bringing in some $7 billion.
While the “Men in Black” series has been a big slam-dunk, the actor says he is not always sure of how his films will turn out.
“I’ve learned to not be concerned with the outcome, but focused on the creation and art of it,” he said.
For instance, when he was first asked about playing the star role of Muhammad Ali in a movie, “I said ‘hell no’ at first,” Smith said.
Slowly but surely he worked with Ali to improve his performance and understanding of the boxer. “Mentorship has been so important in my life,” he said.
Your Legacy Is All About Character
“I was a pallbearer at Ali’s funeral in Louisville, Kentucky, [in June] and we went through the whole city. Nobody was sad. Everyone was celebrating his life,” Smith explained, “because he lived such an incredible life, and thus in the end it was joyous. This has been such a revelation for me.”
The experience caused him to ask himself if he should make adjustments in his own life, so that he can be remembered in such an uplifting way.
“It was beautiful,” Smith said about the June 9 service, which included leaders of many different religious faiths.
“It covered the full, complete rainbow of humanity and spirituality. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life — a totally inclusive and spectacular event.” Success, No Regrets
When asked if he’d had any standout “learning moments,” the actor replied: “I have done tons of stuff I probably should not have done, but I do not have regrets.”
As he learned from his father, who ran an ice business in Philadelphia, “Fail early, fail often and fail forward,” Smith said.
Failure is “not bad,” he explains. “Nobody succeeds their way to the top. You fail your way to the top.”
Doing comedy taught him the value of this humbling approach, Smith explains: “You do it, and you are not funny a lot. Maybe, six out of 10 times you are very good. It’s training in comfort.”
It’s All About the Effort