For those who saw the 2006 American biographical drama The Pursuit of Happyness, who can ever forget that gut-wrenching scene when the struggling but unrelenting Chris Gardner, (played by Will Smith), is relegated to sleeping on the soiled bathroom floor of a public restroom in an Oakland, Calif., subway station. Bracing the bathroom door with an immovable foot and impenetrable fortitude to protect himself and his young son from the dangers and the humiliation looming around them, was not only a pivotal moment in cinema history, Gardener says it was a defining moment in his personal life story. In what might have been the breaking point for a lesser man, Gardner deepened his resolve to extricate himself and his young charge from a lifetime of marginal living and the impending tragedies that accompany that condition.
“Living in that bathroom in the train station in Oakland, California,” sighs The Pursuit of Happyness author, “living in that bathroom. … My son was only 14-months-old, and having to look in that mirror and say, ‘How [are] you going to live the rest of your life? What do you need to do? Some hard choices need to be made right here right now. Some commitments need to be made right here, right now,” the self-made millionaire recalls somberly. One of the fruits of that benchmark decision is an opulent four-bathroom 15,000-square-foot apartment in Chicago’s prestigious Trump Towers where the founder and CEO of the stock brokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co., says he’s sometimes gets lost in going from one room to the next.
Gardner’s remarkable rise from destitution and his intimate, personal experiences with poverty and desperation, make him a uniquely credible source of inspiration for African Americans, whether they’re endeavoring to establish stable, sustainable lives or aspiring to own and operate their own companies. His message is clear and unchanging — throw off your limitations and break through to realize your full potential.
“So many folks are having some challenges that they never dreamed would happen to them. We have seen the creation of a whole new class of homelessness in this nation. Something that I call the ‘white collar homeless.’ These are people who went to school, worked hard played by the rules, and guess what — the world changed. … A lot of folks thought rough was just a skin condition,” Gardner adds for some measure of comic relief.
In Gardner’s book, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be, the confident and introspective capitalist offers five essential keys to business success. “We call it the ‘C5 Complex.’ You have to be clear, concise, consistent, compelling and committed. That’s it.” he says matter-of-factly. “You have to be committed to something you are passionate about. It can’t just be about money. It’s bigger than that, it’s about creating the life that you want. … It’s time to come home baby, to what’s really important to you,” advises Gardner. “Ain’t but one step [to success] — passion. You have to find that thing that turns you on so much that you can’t wait for the sun to come up in the morning because you want to go do your thing … and ain’t nobody gotta dig it but you.”
Gardner, who is an enthusiastic advocate of self-examination and self-disclosure, counsels that the road to successful living is paved with sacrifice, and to that end, others in the pursuit of their dreams must make the effort to find a balance between work and relationships. “The highest price of success is the sacrifice of relationships, but when you can find the balance between the two, that’s where your joy and peace are,” concludes Gardner. –roz edward