What Will Smith taught me about failure

Author’s Note: Unlike any other article I have ever written, this one has a major twist in the middle. If you read it, read to the end, please. ~ Melissa




I can’t be happy about it. I don’t look forward to it. I don’t pursue it. I don’t like it when it happens.

Even when Will Smith tells me I should.

I probably should give you some background.


The first thing to know is — I have failed spectacularly and publicly. I have extracted the lessons, and moved forward, and blah, blah, blah. I would much rather have succeeded, but whatever.


The second thing to understand is, and I can’t believe I’m telling you this, I have had a celebrity crush on Will Smith for years. It’s a standing joke with which my husband and kids love to torture me.


My daughter recently texted me that Will Smith was going to be filming a movie at her school this year. She asked me to please not abandon the family. My husband told my son that his mom may leave home soon because Will Smith is going to be in Savannah. These people are hilarious. Hilarious.


So, there is a new “Will Smith Wisdom” vlog. And the first entry is about the benefits of failure.




In the video he asserts that:

  • Failure is the key to success
  • Failure is where the lessons are
  • You should work to the point where you are almost certain you are going to fail
  • Practice is controlled failure
  • You must get comfortable with, and even seek, failure




So, I was driving my son to swim practice a few months ago.


Let’s go ahead and get this part out of the way – my son’s name is Will. He is named after my grandfather, I promise.


Anyway, my sweet eleven-year-old boy looks at me and spontaneously says,


If people were perfect, they wouldn’t learn anything. ~Will Gratias


There are times as a parent when you swell with pride and take complete credit (internally) for some amazing thing your kid just did.


Then, there are the instances, like this one, when you realize that the lesson you have taught your kid is how not to be. And, they learned it well.




All the Wills in my life (ha ha) are telling me that its okay, preferable even, to fail.



And here’s the big twist.


I finished draft one of this article at 12:42 pm on a Friday.


At 5:40 pm that same day, my daughter texted me this picture…


That’s my daughter. And, she has her hand on Will Smith’s mid-back. He was rehearsing for the movie one month ahead of schedule. Maddie and her friend managed to smile their way onto the set.


You can’t make this stuff up, people.


This situation is what my pastor, Billy Hester, would likely call a “WOW Moment.” And, after I recovered from my initial shock, the synchronicity of the encounter struck me.


I revised this post. You’ll likely notice that the second half is dosed with more humility than the first.


In a 2013 video on my YouTube channel, I advised people to do the following things after experiencing failure:

  • Forgive yourself
  • Reassess your goals
  • Restart and move forward


The advice I gave in my video was wrong.


In the video, I treated failure a shameful thing from which you should forgive yourself. A stain on your record of achievements.


I will eventually delete this video and repost a new one. But I want to give you a chance to watch it – if for no other reason than for you to see if you are making the same mistakes I made.


I have, all my life, treated my failures like unwanted vermin.


In 2013, I was recovering from a very public announcement of a goal I did not achieve. And, even though the remnants of that failed goal have formed the foundation of my current business model, I still treated the “failure” as, well, a failure.


I am so stubborn sometimes.


I think I should (finally) start listening to my coach, Jen. For eight years, she has been telling me the same things that Will Smith did in his video.


The failed goal made me a writer. I write these posts easily and joyfully. Because of that failed goal, a publishing company has recently given me an amazing opportunity. I will tell you about it soon.


So, thank you, Mr. Failed Goal. Thank you. I love you. I appreciate you. You are a welcome part of me. I’m sorry I’ve treated you so badly. Come here. Let me hug you.


And, all it took for this grand revelation was eight years of coaching, wisdom from an eleven year-old’s brain, and a chance encounter between Shoeless Maddie and Will Smith.




Perfect Target

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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


  1. Cheri Hester

    You’re hysterical. And wonderful. Thank you for being so transparent and allowing us to see ourselves through you and learn from you. So excited for Maddie! ?

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thanks, Cheri, for being such a consistently affirming person. You have a gift.

  2. Paula Kreissler

    Good morning Melissa!

    I love reading your writing and all the advice that comes along with it! Today’s, as you have already defined is extra special!

    Thank you and I’m so happy you and your family are in Savannah!


    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thanks, Paula. Thanks for being so open to me when I first moved here. My #ProductivitySuperheroes interview with you is one of my favorite posts: https://www.melissagratias.com/paula-hats/

  3. MMCS(SS) Deni

    After 30 years in the Submarine Nuclear Navy where failure is now your new training plan, all the advice in the world can make one a perpetual student. There needs to be the time after life lesson homework that I begin to hold myself accountable and begin again.

  4. Kim Garrett

    WOW!!! I love this post, because its real. I love how God is always trying to get messages to us, simple….yet so profound and ultimately life changing. The number 8 means, “new beginnings” that is what God is giving you regarding how you perceive failure. Now, you’ve passed that nugget of wisdom to us all, so thank you!!

  5. Susan Whitmire

    Your advice is spot on! I still hear your voice in my head from several years ago and would make you proud. We really miss you here but so happy for you and your family in Savannah.

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Thanks, Susan. Your influence on me was profound as well. However, voices in the head…? Hmm. Might want to get that checked out. 🙂

  6. Julie Bestry

    You’re right — this is even better than what I was expecting when we talked at dinner. Great job, Doc!

  7. Justin Kolumber

    Wow, Melissa…thanks for sharing! Certainly have some things to think about as it relates to my biggest “failure” to date.

  8. Diane Quintana

    This is great, Melissa! I think that sometimes it’s easier to turn our backs on because it’s embarrassing. Everyone expected better results. Why celebrate the failure and drag yourself through the mud and mire, experiencing all those bad feelings over and over. It’s much easier (not better) to put it out of your mind and walk away. I’m saying this because I’ve failed grandly and am now (3 or so years later) finally learning the lessons that failure was teaching me. Thank you for sharing this post.

  9. Andi Willis

    What a wonderful story….series of stories! Thanks for sharing your ups and downs. We all have failures. We just aren’t all brave enough to admit it!

  10. Seana Turner

    The idea of pressing myself forward until I am likely to fail is rough for me. I don’t enjoy the process. Maybe I could word-Smith it (get my pun?) to be pressing on until I will need to learn something new or get some help. I love the healthy perspective on mistakes and failure. They are a part of life, and it can be freeing to let go a bit and stop trying to hold it all together. Loved the whimsy in this post:)

    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      I will never think of “wordsmithing” the same way again. Ever. Thank you!

  11. Janet Barclay

    Thank you for this. You’ve given me a lot to think about!

  12. Linda Samuels

    I LOVE your sense of humor and openness! But more than those even, I love how you let us in on your thought process…and how you came to appreciate life’s failures as learning experiences and openings for new paths. Bravo! Plus what amazing synchronicity among the wise Wills in your life and their wonderful wisdom. Learning is everywhere if we are open to it. Looking forward to hearing more from you.


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