Chris Gardner, in pursuit of the American dream, went from rags to riches, chronicling his story in the autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness, which became a best-seller and a movie.
His career began modestly with a stint in the U.S. Navy followed by a job as a medical supply salesman.
Then came a pivotal moment. In a parking lot, a man driving a red Ferrari was looking for a space. Gardner wanted to be that guy and took the necessary steps:
Step 1: Ask questions. Gardner offered his parking spot for answers to two questions: What do you do? How do you do that? The man was a stockbroker making $80,000 a month.
Step 2: Take risks. Gardner began applying for training programs at brokerages, even though he’d have to quit his job and live on next to nothing. He landed a training slot but his luck turned sour when the man who offered it was fired. Gardner was released and his wife left him.
Step 3: Weather setbacks. Gardner managed to hang onto his son, a toddler, “because I made up my mind as a young kid that when I had children they were going to know who their father is and that he isn’t going anywhere.”
Finally landing a trainee spot at Dean Witter Reynolds, Gardner’s tiny stipend placed him among the ranks of the working poor. Homeless, every night he had to find food, child care for the next day and a place for his son and him to sleep.
Step 4: Work harder. Gardner passed his licensing exam on the first try and eventually became a top producer at Bear Stearns. In 1987, he took another risk, leaving to establish his own company, Gardner Rich, an institutional brokerage.
Step 5: Give back. He has expanded his charitable work to include job training and placement, education, domestic violence and homelessness.
— Adapted from The Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardner, Amistad/Harper Collins, www.chrisgardnermedia.com.