· 2 min read

The Wall

A Decorative Image

Will Smith begins his biography, Will, with the story of his father demolishing a 12x20 feet wall. He asks Will, 11, and his younger brother Harry to rebuild it.

Will meets this decision with stupefaction:

I remember looking at that gaping hole in excruciating disbelief. I was utterly certain that there would never be a wall there ever again.

Will and his brother worked on the wall every day, mixing concrete and carrying the buckets. They worked weekends, holidays, vacations.

There were so many times I remember looking at that hole, totally discouraged. I couldn’t see how this was ever going to end. The dimensions became unfathomably large in my mind. It seemed like we were building the Great Wall of West Philly—billions of red bricks stretching infinitely into some distant nowhere. I was certain that I would grow old and die still mixing concrete and carrying those buckets. I just knew it.

One day, Harry and I were in a particularly stank mood. We were dragging our feet and grumbling, “impossible this” and “ridiculous that.”

“Why’d we have to build a wall for, anyway? This is impossible. It’s never gonna get done.”

Daddio overheard us, threw down his tools, and marched over to where we were yapping. He snatched a brick out of my hand and held it up in front of us.

“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.”

As the weeks passed, the bricks mounted, and the hole got just a little bit smaller. I started to see that the difference between a task that feels impossible and a task that feels doable is merely a matter of perspective.

Will credits this lesson for his success.

For my entire career, I have been absolutely relentless. I’ve been committed to a work ethic of uncompromising intensity. And the secret to my success is as boring as it is unsurprising: You show up and you lay another brick. Pissed off? Lay another brick. Bad opening weekend? Lay another brick. Album sales dropping? Get up and lay another brick. Marriage failing? Lay another brick.