I was always persistent. No matter how trying things became somewhere deep down I knew I can’t quit.
My career as a webpreneur had its ups and downs, just like yours has. I, too, was occasionally plagued by self-doubt. But I never despaired.
I knew that I, like everyone else, was capable of greatness! I knew that I could emerge, from whatever problems were bugging me, even stronger than before. I knew that my true calling was to help others achieve their business and personal goals.
I knew that I could live an amazing life - just like you can!
And even though I’m still not quite there I believe that eventually, I will be.
This inspiring story about Chris Gardner’s life proves that everyone can do it. You just have to be armed with patience and steely determination. Chris Gardner hit rock bottom on multiple occasions but the story of his life was made into a blockbuster movie.
We all have that potential within us – Chris’ life wasn’t privileged from an early age and he wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He made something of himself. And who knows; somewhere down the line Hollywood directors just might be going to an all-out war to get a chance to tell your story!
Who Would Have Thought He Was Destined for Greatness
Chris Gardner was born in Milwaukee in 1954. His mother Bettye Jean was a school teacher but accepted just about any job she could find in order to put food on the table for her children. Even though she eventually remarried, young Chris never had a father figure in his life.
‘I ain’t your daddy!’ – four words Gardner remembers hearing often from his mother’s second husband. He was a mean drunk who abused his family and wasn’t above pointing a shotgun at his children.
His mother was a strong woman but was stuck in the clutches of an abusive alcoholic who had them all terrified for their lives. Chris learned early on that no one will help him if he doesn’t help himself.
‘You can only depend on yourself, Chris’, - Bettye would say. ‘The cavalry ain’t coming’.
Somewhere around the age of five Chris and his sisters were moved into foster care and from there to homes of various relatives on their mother’s side. They had absolutely no idea what was going on. It was years later that Chris learned that his mother was in prison on a charge of attempted murder. She was convicted of starting a house fire with intent to kill her abusive husband.
‘I can honestly say that I only regret that she didn’t succeed.’ Those are Chris’ own words.
Making Something of Yourself
He blamed his step-father for ruining his mother’s life and took a vow early on, swearing that he will grow up to be a completely different man.
He made a mental list:
Learn to read
Never abuse women
Be there for your children
Make something of yourself
Chris was inspired by one of his uncles, Henry, and decided to go into Navy. He managed to finish his secondary training there and met a decorated San Francisco heart surgeon who offered him a position as a lab assistant in San Francisco. He moved there and married his first wife, Sherry Dyson, who encouraged him to become a doctor.
However, Chris didn’t see himself as a doctor and the character differences between him and Sherry started to take their toll on their marriage. Chris met a woman named Jackie and become romantically involved with her. After only 4 months Jackie was pregnant and Chris left Shelly.
He quit his job as a lab assistant because he could make more money as a medical equipment salesman. He didn’t have too many options as he had to support a live-in girlfriend and a small child.
He was busting his balls to earn around $16,000 per year! He knew he could do better. He had to do better!
You Have to Hit Rock-Bottom before You Can Rise Back Up
One day, on his way from a sales call he ran into a businessman entering his red Ferrari on the parking lot.
He was curious and asked him to questions:
What do you do?
How do you do it?
As luck would have it, the man was an investment broker named Bob Bridges and he gave Chris an introduction to the world of finance. Bob also introduced him to several hiring managers in brokerage companies and he was eventually accepted into a training program at E.F. Hutton.
Lady Luck finally smiled down on Chris Gardner! About time, right?
Unfortunately, his past life experiences couldn’t have prepared him for the rock bottom he was just about to hit. His relationship with Jackie was falling apart and she decided to move with Chris Jr. to East Coast. That training program spot Chris barely managed to secure fell through when the stockbroker who hired him got fired the first day Chris was on the job. To top it all off he was arrested and thrown into jail because of outstanding parking tickets he couldn’t pay and which accumulated while he was frantically running from an interview to an interview.
He managed to secure another trainee position soon after at Dean Witter Reynolds. He arrived for his interview in dirty trousers and a crumpled up shirt. He could have lied but he opted for the truth. He said his wife left him and took his son and that he was just released from police custody. The interviewer was impressed with his honesty and hired him on the spot.
However, his position came without a salary and Chris had to make due with 300-400 dollars a month that he could make selling medical equipment in his spare time. Right around that time Jackie returned and left their son in Chris’ care. The rooming house he was living in didn’t allow children and soon Chris and his baby son found themselves without a roof over their heads.
Broke, homeless, and hungry Chris managed to hold on to his trainee position.
Despite the fact that he’s never been lower in his life, he was determined to make it – for his son – he made that promise a long time ago, when he was a boy himself. The two of them spent their nights anywhere where they could find relative safety – his office after hours, motels, train stations, and even in a locked public restroom at a BART station.
Today, Chris says that nights spent in that public restroom were some of the darkest in his life. Darkest, but most enlightening as well.
He made plans there. While his son was sleeping on a dirty, soiled floor, Chris thought hard on what he was going to do to get them out of that mess; how he was going to distinguish himself at work tomorrow, find a shelter for more than just one night, and never have to worry about feeding his soon again.
No one at work knew about his personal struggles and they couldn’t start to guess them by looking at that young vibrant man who always came first to work and was the last to go. Eventually, Chris managed to get a full-time employment with Bear Stearns & Company. He found a home for Chris Jr. and they were finally off the streets.
Home, At Last
1987, after years of working for different brokerage and investment firms, Chris Gardner founded Gardner Rich & Co. Start-up capital of $10,000 was all he needed to grow the company and earn millions in revenue in subsequent years.
Although he started his journey with money being his primary motivator, Chris now says that he would never have gotten this far if he didn’t love his work and what it enabled him to do. Today, he’s a respected community leader, successful businessman, and an inspiration to tens of thousands of homeless people who are trying to get their lives in order.
In 2004, Chris Gardner traveled to South Africa to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the end of the apartheid. There he met with Nelson Mandela to discuss investments and creating hundreds of jobs for the impoverished.
Chris, who isn’t big on crying and didn’t cry during the toughest moments of his life, says he shed a few tears when he met Mandela because he welcomed him with: ‘Welcome home, son’.
‘I’ve waited 41 years to hear those words’.
Lessons to Be Learned
I just love this story! Powerful, warm, inspiring – dark at times but perfectly showcases the power of human spirit and determination!
Other than being a universally warm and human tale, the story of Chris Gardner’s life contains several valuable lessons for all of us.
The importance of your core values
What impresses me the most is the fact that Chris Gardner owes everything he accomplished to a simple promise that he made to himself as a little boy. Those few words he uttered shaped his way of thinking and the choices he made in life.
To be successful, you have to do the same thing – you have to find your passion and something your heart won’t object to doing. If you do it only for the money you’ll never be sufficiently motivated to go that extra mile.
Getting excited about what you do
This flows from alignment with your core values. When you do something that resonates with who you are it takes all you can muster to wait until morning to start working.
Chris Gardner was motivated by money initially but his true motivations lay deeper. He knew that he could help others once he had money.
Today, he’s on the board of the National Fatherhood Initiative, he helps homeless shelters around the country (with donations and by working in the kitchens occasionally), and he’s employing unprivileged and the minorities, giving chances to people no one else would think to look twice at.
Being the best version of yourself
This means constantly giving 110 % in everything you do. This isn’t hard when you love your work and when you’re lucky to work on something you feel is your calling. When we’re completely committed we don’t think about going home early or sabotaging ourselves.
Chris’ mother instilled in him a commitment to succeed and to be the best he can be. She was a woman that was destined for teaching and it’s truly a shame that her life got derailed – she could have served as an inspiration to countless other children.
Give back to the community
Remember those who helped you when you were down on your luck and thank them when you make something of yourself. What goes around comes around, always. Spread goodness to reap goodness.
Chris Gardner and his young son were sometimes fed by prostitutes – or, as Gardner likes to put it more charmingly, the ladies of the night. They would give his son $5 bills and, at times, that was all the money they had to get something to eat. That’s why Gardner is very active in the San Francisco Tenderloin district – the same district he and his son wondered at nights during their own pursuit of happiness
‘I was Chris Gardner, father of a son who deserved better than what my daddy could do for me, son of Bettye Jean Gardner who said that if I wanted to win I could win.’ — Chris Gardner. Father, son, and an inspiration