Will Smith on Building a Wall

The power of small consistent effort

I first heard about Will Smith from a movie "The Pursuit of Happyness.” Without knowing much about him, I admired his acting skills and the character he was playing in the film, Chris Gardner.

Will Smith is an American actor, producer, rapper, and songwriter. He has been nominated for five Golden Globe Awards and two Academy Awards and has won four Grammy Awards.

Will Smith on building a wall

Smith first achieved modest fame as a rapper and gained a much larger audience when he starred in a popular NBC television series. He then transitioned from television to film and has achieved great success in the field. Will Smith has also been ranked as the most bankable star worldwide by Forbes.

However, the story that caught my attention wasn’t Smith’s career accomplishments. Instead, I’m going to tell you a story about a lesson his father taught him when he was 12.

A lesson taught by his father

In the summer of 1980, 12-year-old Will Smith and his little brother Harry were given a seemingly impossible task. For whatever reason, their father decided to have a new wall in front of his shop.

So his father torn down the existing wall that was 16 feet high and 30 feet long. He asked Will and his brother to build a new one, by hand.

Will and Harry started by digging a 6-foot-deep hole as the foundation for the wall. Then, they continued building the wall by mixing concrete and laying bricks every single day after school.

At one point, Will stood back, looked at the yet-to-be-built wall, and told to himself, “There will be nothing but a giant hole here — forever.”

But they didn’t stop laying brick after brick. A year and a half later, they laid the final brick and had a new wall.

Start by laying bricks

“Don’t you all ever tell me that you can’t do something.” When Will and his brother completed the wall 18 months later, their father told them that and walked into the shop.

In hindsight, it felt like their father planned this intentionally to teach them a lesson. In fact, I think everyone could pick something out from this story.In life and work, we all have a “wall” to build:

  • A healthy relationship we want to nurture and maintain.
  • A new habit we want to form and practice.
  • A milestone on the journey of mastering our crafts and skills.

They sometimes seem out of reach. And thus, we lose focus with shiny objects, or worse, procrastinate and give in to distractions.

There are countless articles on the Internet talking about how to accomplish great things — the wall we want to build — in work and life — and these can be confusing sometimes. In fact, the essential path to getting there is perfectly captured in a sentence by Will Smith.

You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s ever been built.’ You don’t start there. You say, ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. You do that every single day. And soon you have a wall.

The secret is NOT to focus on the vision. You may argue that vision is important in leading us in the right direction. And you’re right. However, we don’t usually start with a perfect vision.

Instead, start taking action, collecting feedback, and course-correcting your path. Start by laying one brick at a time. And soon, as Smith said, you will eventually have the wall.

The underrated power of tiny action

In most circumstances, when people talk about the action they’ve taken, they’re talking about a big accomplishment they’ve achieved or a huge leap they’ve made in their work or life. We start losing sight of all the small things we do every day when we surround ourselves with these conversations.

We think small actions are not important. At the same time, we believe that we’re not doing enough. We started to believe that to achieve great things, we should do something extraordinary, something worth cheering about and something that captures other’s attention.

At the end of the day, we get nothing because all we ever think about is the wall we want to build, instead of actually building the wall. And that’s why I hope this story of Will Smith reminds you of something important: Every tiny action matters.


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