Careers

Will Smith says a 'sickening work ethic' is the key to his success

Actor Will Smith attends the Centerpiece Gala Premiere of Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion' during AFI FEST 2015.
Kevin Winter | Getty Images
Actor Will Smith attends the Centerpiece Gala Premiere of Columbia Pictures' 'Concussion' during AFI FEST 2015.

Will Smith is a Grammy Award-winning rapper, actor, father and husband whose success in Hollywood spans more than 20 years.

But unlike many people who credit their career achievements to their unique talent, Smith says he credits his success to his willingness to work harder than anyone around him.

In a recent episode of podcast "Rap Radar," the 49-year-old says when he first fell into acting on 90s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," he had one goal in mind, and that was to become the biggest movie star in the world.

"When I moved into acting that was the first time I started applying skill to my talents," he tells hosts Elliott Wilson and Brian "B.Dot" Miller. "You know, I look at skill and talent separately. You're born with talent and there are certain things that you just do naturally. You were gifted with a talent and you have it. But skill is acquired through discipline."

He went on to explain that he has never seen himself as someone who is particularly talented, but says he's always viewed himself as someone who is "willing to die" in the process of acquiring a skill. He says that once he puts his mind to something, he develops a "sickening work ethic" to achieve it.

"For me, to be a movie star was the first thing I ever really wanted like that and set my eyes on," he says.

In this film image, Tommy Lee Jones, left, and Will Smith are shown in a scene from "Men in Black II."
Photo by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images
In this film image, Tommy Lee Jones, left, and Will Smith are shown in a scene from "Men in Black II."

Following the 1990 debut of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," Smith starred in several blockbuster hit movies including "Bad Boys," "Independence Day" and "Men in Black." Throughout his career in Hollywood, he says he's studied the work of several people. And with the exception of Denzel Washington, Jay-Z and Eminem, he says he rarely looks at someone else's work and thinks, "I can't do that."

"For the most part, I don't live in a space of 'I can't,'" he says. "I live in a space of 'I feel confident that if I put in my 10,000 hours I can achieve anything.'"

A number of other successful leaders have attributed a thriving career to their intense work ethic. In fact, billionaire Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban says a lack of hard work is often what leads a lot of entrepreneurs to failing in business.

He tells the entrepreneur-focused YouTube channel Valuetainment that you will inevitable face heavy competition from people in your industry who know just as much as you do. But, Cuban says, the key to standing out and succeeding is to out-learn your competitors.

“If you walk into a competitive environment and they still know more about the business than you do and more about your customers, you’re going to lose,” he explains.

For Smith, he admits that he learned early on in his career that in order to succeed he had to go the extra mile. He says "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" was his first shot at acting, and to make sure that he was well-equipped for his role he learned his own lines — and everybody else's, too.

"I learned the whole screen play so I didn't learn just my lines," he says. "I learned everybody lines because I was like, 'I will not be on this set and not be performing at the level.'"

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