Start Where You Are: The Chris Gardner Story

While the name Chris Gardner may not ring any bells right off the bat, you might be more familiar with his story from the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, which starred Will Smith. The film is based on Gardner’s own memoir of the same name, which detailed Gardner’s struggle to find stable employment as he battled homelessness, all the while taking on the responsibility of raising his young son.

Where it All Started

While the movie focused on Gardner’s struggles during his brief period of homelessness before he found his way to success. Gardner’s story begins in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on February 9, 1954. From the moment he was born, Gardner bounced around several foster homes. Once in a while, he would stay with his mother in between placements. He was placed in foster on two occasions.  The first was due to false imprisonment on welfare fraud charges made by Gardner’s stepfather, and the second was caused by his mother’s attempt to set his stepfather on fire.

His biological father was absent from his childhood, meaning his stepfather was the closest paternal relationship he had before being in foster care. And unfortunately, growing up in the “system” wasn’t any better than living with his mother and stepfather.  He witnessed alcoholism, sexual and domestic abuse while dealing with the harsh realities of poverty at a very young age.

Gardner had continued to grow up in broken households until he graduated high school. At this point, he decided to serve his country by joining the United States Navy. He was stationed in North Carolina as a medical corpsman. There he connected with a doctor who provided him with a job opportunity as an assistant helping with clinical lab research in San Francisco. This is where he also met his first wife.

His relationship with his wife seemed steady, but his marriage quickly crumbled as he decided to not pursue a medical career. Although he was still legally married, he met a dental student and had his first son with her. This prompted him to seek out a job opportunity that would allow him to provide for his new family.

His search brought him to a stockbroker who ignited his passion for finance and business. It seemed as though his luck had turned around when he found himself accepted into a nearby trading program for a major stock brokerage firm.

However, upon arriving for his first day, he learned that the manager who had hired him had been fired, which ultimately meant there wasn’t a position available for Gardner. He also started racking up debt from parking tickets, upwards of $1,200, which he was unable to pay. Because of that, Gardner spent some time in jail for a short period of time.

After being released, Gardner returned to his apartment to find that it had been cleared out and that his son’s mother had taken his child. Poor and unemployed, Gardner picked up another stock brokerage trading program to join, even though it only paid him $300 a month.

Gardner was able to become a full-time employee and eventually accepted custody of his son after the child’s mother reappeared after running off with their child.  However, his living situation didn’t allow children and his small income was not enough for the two to live off of, forcing both Gardner and his son into homelessness.

Gardner soon realized that the only way out of this situation was to become as determined as possible. So he continued his search for a job in finance that was a challenge and that he was passionate about. He was eventually hired at a higher-paying firm, becoming one of the highest earners before leaving to start his own brokerage firm. Gardner now has everything he ever wanted today and is currently seeking to help others find fulfillment and success in their own lives.


The Lesson from Gardner's Story

We can all learn a lot from Gardner when it comes to our own lives. No matter your situation, you can always create a better tomorrow by evaluating where you are today and figuring out how you can get to where you want to be. Through hard work and determination, nothing will be able to stop you from reaching your goals.

This message is exactly what Gardner is trying to convey in his new book, Start Where You Are. This novel is inspired by a recent experience when he boarded an abnormally filled train that wasn’t typically clustered with riders. He noted that everyone was dressed very professionally. But what was even more peculiar were the objects these well-dressed transit riders were holding: boxes of personal belongings that seemingly cluttered their cubicles. Gardner came to one conclusion: these once working professionals were just laid off.

One of the workers on the train had recognized Garnder. He approached him and told him about the situation. It was soon discovered by Gardner that he was riding with the first wave of the 50,000 individuals who had been laid off by Citibank.

In response, Gardner assured him that while he lost his job, he had not lost all of the valuable experience that he had gathered along the way. He went on to talk about the importance of transferring your skills and finding something that you absolutely love to do. So much so, that you would be willing to do it regardless of the pay or the sacrifice that went into making it happen.

Garnder’s story is a hallmark of overcoming adversity.  You might be asking yourself, how was he able to do that? He persevered. He was constantly creating a new chapter for himself in the pursuit of his own happiness.

Cover Image Credit: Ebony Magazine