Chris Gardner: “Hey. Don’t ever let somebody tell you, you can’t do something. Not even me, all right?”

Christopher (his son): “All right.”

Chris Gardner: “You got a dream, you gotta protect it. When people can’t do somethin’ themselves, they wanna tell you, you can’t do it either. If you want somethin’, go get it, period.”

You probably couldn’t tell me who Chris Gardner is if I were holding a gun on you. I’m also guessing the name Horatio Alger would also trigger a deer-in-the-headlights-look to many of you younger subscribers. Alger was a 19th-century American author, best known for his three dozen juvenile non-fiction novels about impoverished boys and their rise from humble backgrounds to lives of middle-class security and comfort through hard work, determination, courage, and honesty. If people know anything at all about Horatio Alger, it’s that they incorrectly think it was he who ascended from rags to riches, when the truth is that this fact applied to his characters, not him. One thing is sure; Alger would have loved to have lived in the same century with Gardner, so he could have written about him and his accomplishments.

Pursuit of HappynessAs you read this, keep in mind the portion of Gardner’s quote that I opened with that appears in bold type, because that’s the central focus of this post.

In the early 1980’s Gardner worked as a lab research assistant at the University of California in San Francisco, which only paid a stipend of about $8,000 a year. This amount was considerably insufficient to support a family, so after four years, he took a job as a medical equipment salesman, doubling his salary. His life took a turn after a chance meeting with a well-dressed man in a red Ferrari, who had just finished conducting a sales call at San Francisco GeneralHospital. Gardner inquired about his occupation and he told Chris he was a stockbroker. Long story short, this man introduced Gardner to the world of finance. Chris became so inspired that he too resolved to become a stock broker. The man helped Chris secure appointments with five stock brokerage firms that offered training programs, and Gardner accepted a position as intern at one of them. It was about this time that his wife took everything, leaving him homeless with a pre-school son, causing Gardner’s life to go from bad to worse.

As with any new venture it takes time and sweat equity to learn and gain momentum. He would arrive at the office early each day with a self-imposed goal of making 200 cold calls, and was almost always the last to leave. During this time he and his son lived on a bunk bed at a mission in the basement of a San Francisco church, but his determination and self-reliance was rewarded in 1982 when he passed his stock broker licensing exam on the first attempt, which I (Doug) can personally attest is difficult. He immediately became a full employee at his firm and began to earn a six-figure income from year one.

Within five years he fulfilled two of his dreams when he bought a Ferrari from legendary basketball player, Michael Jordan, and founded his own brokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co., in Chicago. Twenty years later, in 2006, he sold his firm in a multi-million dollar deal and established Christopher Gardner International Holdings, with offices in New York, Chicago as well as in San Francisco.

That same year Gardner wrote his autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness. By the end of that same year a motion picture, by the same name, had been produced. In the film’s title, “happiness” is misspelled as “happyness”, and comes from a sign Gardner saw outside the daycare facility his son attended during his internship, when he was bumping along the bottom.

Chris GardnerOn the right side of the page is a recent photo of Chris Gardner, aged 60 and still an active motivational speaker, author, and philanthropist. I would recommend that every salesperson reading this blog post rent The Pursuit of Happyness, and watch it very closely, as Will Smith does an excellent job portraying Gardner.

If you are a sales manager or business owner, I would go so far as recommend that you rent this movie and show it to your entire sales team during your next sales meeting. It’s that good, and is certainly worth the 90 minutes it takes to view.

Gardner typifies the attitude that is necessary to transform ones life from zero to hero, and his toughness and persistence is worth emulating, regardless of your profession.  

Won’t you speak your mind below and comment about this topic and/or the movie?

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