In 2009, I was living on my friend’s futon, my bank balance was overdrawn by about $200, and I was surviving on PB&J’s every day. I was 24 years old and had nothing to lose.
A year prior, I had quit my job to start an online business. I was blogging on the side and after a brief spurt of early success, by that second summer, the opportunities had dried up.
It was around this time that a viral video of Will Smith was getting passed around the blogosphere. The video was a loose edit of some of Will’s interviews over the years—a smattering of soundbites and inspirational or funny stories. He talked about motivation, perseverance, work ethic. He talked about love and having a passion for life. He talked about out-working everybody, about “being willing to die on the treadmill.” These were well-worn topics, but he talked about them in a way that electrified you when you heard him speak. It was inspiring.
I remember thinking to myself, “Damn, I never knew Will Smith was such an amazing guy,” and then dutifully got back to work.
I’m not going to lie and say that video changed my life in any way. It was a nice, modest boost of inspiration. A pick-me-up as I worked as a freelance web designer by day and blogged ceaselessly into the night. I saw the video a few times, and then within a month had forgotten about it.
Jump ahead to 2017. I’m a #1 NYTimes bestselling author, have spent 71 weeks on the list or whatever. I’ve sold millions of books. My website has been getting millions of visitors for years now. Needless to say, money is no longer a problem. And I haven’t stooped as low as to eat a PB&J in years.
Last Fall, I get an email from my agent. “We should talk,” she says. “A celebrity is interested in doing a book with you.”
My immediate reaction is skepticism. I don’t give a fuck about pop culture or Hollywood. Also, I had heard enough stories from author friends to know that celebrities were often fickle with their book projects, excited about them one month and finding them a nuisance the next.
I got on the phone with my agent and she told me it was Will Smith who was interested in meeting with me. She, too, was skeptical. She figured I wouldn’t be that into it. After all, Will blows up aliens on big screens. I’m the “Not give a fuck” guy—I’d rather let the world burn.
But I remembered that video so many years ago. I remembered that I had seen, even if for a few minutes, a depth to Will that had rarely been exposed. And that’s part of what made it so powerful back then.
I told her I was interested. I’d love to at least meet him and see if there was anything there.
It took six months of back-and-forth to nail down a meeting. This isn’t going to surprise you, but getting into the same room with one of the most famous people on the planet isn’t a simple endeavor. I met with his agent twice and his manager once. Had a phone meeting with his team. And then proceeded to get calls at completely random moments saying, “Hey, can you fly to London in two days?” “Uhh, well, I had a thing, but sure, I guess?” And then nothing… This went on for over six months.
Finally, this February, the meeting happened. I flew down to Georgia, where he was filming a movie. From there, we’d go to the Cayman Islands for a couple days. The meeting was to feel each other out. See if there was any chemistry, see if there was any potential.
Hanging out with a celebrity is weird. It’s like being in an alternate universe. All the laws of physics are still true. And you know that the world is still operating the way it normally does. But every room you walk into is different. There are security guards all around you. Simple things like walking through a hotel lobby or a restaurant become an entire event. People lose themselves around someone famous, especially if they’re not prepared to see them. I saw grown men sweat and women shriek. People literally leave their jobs mid-shift, cross through traffic and interrupt everything to come and try to get a picture. Waiters whose hands were shaking so much they could barely refill a water glass. It’s bizarre. But it’s also involuntary. I, too, felt weird as fuck when I first met him. A strange glaze came over my eyes. I was like, “I’m sitting in a car with Will Smith. What the fuck?” for a solid 30 minutes before I finally got a hold of myself.
There’s a certain hard-wiring in our brains around status and fame that is inescapable. I even find myself getting sucked into it when I’m around him. When he’s in the room, everything he says or does seems more important because he is who he is. He demands more attention, not out of some egotistical desire, but for the simple sake that his actions and opinions have far greater emotional influence on everyone else in the room than anyone does on him.
Going into that first weekend with him, I had two promises that I made to myself:
- He needs to be a person of integrity. I don’t care how rich and famous this guy is, I refuse to work with an asshole. Period.
- This can’t just be another celebrity book. It needs to have higher aspirations. Some sort of greater purpose.
On the first rule, I’ll state simply: Will is a wonderful human being. He is magnanimous, intelligent and for someone who has a team of a dozen people wiping his ass for him, incredibly self-aware. He is kind to people he doesn’t need to be kind to, and generous in ways that I think few people truly are.
On the second point, I was excited to find out that he saw this as much more than simply a memoir. He called this book “the basis of the rest of my career.” He refers to it as “his philosophy,” and a gift he wants to share with the world. Simply put, it’s not just the never-seen-before details of his life story, but the unique lessons and perspectives that have gotten him where he is today.
What I found most interesting and exciting was that Will told me that he wants to step out of his celebrity shell and “reconnect” with the world. He said that being a celebrity pre-social media meant that you had to hide yourself and your life from the world. With social media, he can control how he portrays himself, so he doesn’t feel he needs to do that anymore. In fact, he wants to share himself more than ever. He wants to express himself. He wants to help people. And to do all of these things, he needs to do more than tell his story: he needs to leverage his story as a tool to reach people in a more profound way. His Instagram and YouTube channels were the first step in this process. The book is the next.
To me, this was incredibly exciting. Here you had a person who has survived terrible hardship, from the streets of West Philly, and then grown up to attain pretty much every conventional standard of success you or I could ever imagine. Yet, he’s also willing to talk about the failures, the shortcomings and the drawbacks to that same success.
The book will be released at the end of 2019. There has been some confusion because I’ve told readers for a few months now that I’m working on a new book. I think most people assumed that I meant my own book.
I did mean my own book! I’m working on two books at the same time. My own and Will’s. Will’s just happened to get announced first (for a bunch of bizarre and strange reasons that I won’t get into here.)
My book will be coming out in Spring of 2019. I’ll be revealing the title and cover soon and all that jazz. Then Will’s will come at the end of 2019. There will be book tours for both. Mine will obviously be more low-key and personal. I’d like to have site member meet ups in each major city.
Will’s will be in like arenas and shit. Last time I talked to him about it, he said he wanted—and I’m not kidding—holograms on stage with him. God knows what it will involve. I’ll be involved but I obviously will play a supporting role. So no promises there.
Either way, it’s an exciting time, and I can’t wait to share everything I’ve been cooking up with you.