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What Highly Successful People Can Learn From The Will Smith Slap

May 1, 2022

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The 94th Academy Awards, held on March 27, 2022, should have been a time of celebration for all of the performers, directors, and other movie personnel who worked so hard on their films. It was the first time the Oscars had an all black production team. QuestLove, a first-time director,  won the 2022 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for ‘Summer of Soul. It was an epic night but there’s only one thing that anybody’s talking about: The Will Smith Incident. 

Everybody seems to have something to say about the incident, and there have been many takes, both good and bad, about violence, masculinity, acceptable joke targets, and so much more. While I don’t ever condone violence, my heart goes out to everybody involved in this situation because, at its core, this type of event can happen to anybody who’s highly successful and deals with high-pressure situations regularly. 

While it might not be as dramatic as slapping a presenter on live television, dealing with a behavioral snap is something that may happen to anyone.

Here are my thoughts on some lessons we can learn from this situation:

How One Bad Moment Can Overshadow Success

When you Google “Will Smith Oscar,” the results focus on the slap. And that’s a shame because March 27th should have been one of the happiest nights of the Smith family’s life. Will Smith won his first career Oscar in his thirty-plus years of acting. And he’d put everything on the line to win that award; the role of Richard Williams, father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, was emotionally and physically demanding. 

But instead, everybody’s talking about the slap.

As high achieving people, with success comes scrutiny. People will talk about you, hate on you. You may be the subject of jokes and maybe even nasty rumors. But at the end of the day, you can’t control what other people do, say or behave. But what we can do is control our own reactions and our own behavior. Don’t give anyone the satisfaction of taking you out of your character and responding in a way that overshadows all the hard work you have done to achieve success.

Learning To Deal With Constant Criticism

As Smith noted in his acceptance speech later that night, “I know, to do what we do, you’ve got to be able to take abuse. You’ve got to be able to have people talk crazy about you. In this business, you’ve got to be able to have people disrespecting you, and you’ve got to smile, you’ve got to pretend like that’s OK.” 

As successful people, we deal with constant criticism. When you are high profile and in the limelight, you have to weather all kinds of negativity, especially when you’ve risen to a high level of success. When we internalize this criticism and negativity and don’t have a good way to deal with it, anybody can snap. We’re all human, and our emotions are strong and important. But we need healthy ways to deal with the negative things in our lives.

When you have a safe space where you can deal with the negativity in your life, it’s less likely that you’ll react in a moment of anger. Whether you’re constantly the butt of jokes or you’re being attacked because of your work or your success, you can’t afford to publicly snap. As you’re dealing with life and business and working on your goals, you need to have an outlet. This can be a therapist, family members or a circle of folks who you trust and who support you, but make sure you have that safe space.

Cultivating a Support System

Another important lesson to learn from what happened with Will Smith is to cultivate a good support system. Instead of security escorting Will away, what happened immediately after the slap was that his friends surrounded him with words of support and encouragement. Denzel Washington, Tyler Perry, and Bradley Cooper immediately went over to him and talked to him– not as fellow actors, not as celebrities, but as his friends. Later Will shared that Denzel gave his some sage advice that we can all learn from, “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you”. As high achieving successful people, the question is not if but when that devil will come for you. It’s so important to cultivate a support system of people who love you, no matter what so that when that day comes, you have people in your corner.  

We all need a Denzel. We all need somebody who will be there for us in those impossible moments, who will give you good advice, who will let you cry and be yourself and be vulnerable. That person is your ride-or-die and they’ll be there for you in your darkest moments. 


Find out more about how I deal with stress and success by visiting my blog, and start your journey to creating A Devine Life.

Tameika Isaac Devine

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