The Pursuit of Happyness

Yesterday we went to see the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, based on Christopher Gardner’s book of the same name.
I didn’t know anything about the movie before viewing it or know anything about Gardner until the end of the movie, including that it was based on his life story.
Today, I found this interview with Gardner:

Washington Technology [WT]: When you were one of the working homeless in San Francisco, did you have hope that you would get out of the situation?
Gardner: We were homeless, we were not hopeless. There’s a world of difference…
WT: To what do you attribute your rise to the top?
Gardner: My mother…I chose to embrace the “spiritual genetics” of my mom. We all understand genetics. You get your eyes from your dad, your mom’s nose, there’s nothing you can do about that. But your spiritual genetics you can choose, pick, embrace and commit to. That’s what I did.
Though my mom had too many of her own dreams denied, deferred and destroyed, she instilled in me that I could have dreams. And not just have dreams but had a responsibility to make them reality…
…But I made a commitment to be world class at something.
WT: What important lessons have you’ve learned from your life experience?
Gardner: Man, I’m still learning. One is: The cavalry ain’t coming. You’ve got to do this yourself…Another very important lesson is that baby steps count, too. As long as you are going forward. You add them all up, and one day you look back and you’ll be surprised at where you might get to.
WT: What advice would you give people who are just starting out or who are trying to get ahead under difficult circumstances like those you experienced?
Gardner: Do something that you love. Whatever you’re going to do is going to be tough enough. Find something that gets you so excited that the sun can’t come up early enough in the morning because you want to go do your thing.
And you have to be bold because there will be folks who will say ‘you can’t’ or ‘you shouldn’t’ or ‘why’? There is a certain boldness to saying ‘Well, I really don’t want to be a high-powered corporate lawyer. I’m really passionate about painting.’
One thing I do say to folks — and I don’t put myself out here as somebody who has all the answers — but I do state the obvious when I say that no matter how much money is involved or no matter how easy it is for you to do, if you’re not happy, you are nothing more than a slave to your talent and money. So be happy.
…You have to be committed, and you have to find something that you are passionate about.
And forget about money. I’ve learned that money is the least significant aspect of wealth. Do something that makes you happy and makes you feel good about yourself. Do something that makes you feel your work is significant and meaningful. If you just want to make money, that’s a whole different trip. I can’t help you with that.
WT: How does it feel having a film being made about your life experience?
Gardner: I’ll tell you when I wake up. I now know the definition of surreal. On the first day of filming, I didn’t know where they were filming. They took me to 555 California St., the Bank of America world headquarters building. At times when I was homeless, I used to sleep in that building. Nobody knew. I never told that to the writers and never discussed it with the producers.
Another day filming. We’re going to film in Golden Gate Park. We’re filming in a place where I used to take my son to teach him how to fly a kite. We had nothing else to do, no other form of entertainment, no money. I told no one that…
WT: What do you hope that people take away from your book and the film?
Gardner: The film is going to focus on one year of my life. That year being the toughest, darkest, scariest year of my life. Living with a baby tied on my back, trying to work. It can be done. But you have to make it happen. And no matter what, you have to cling to it like it’s life itself, if that’s what you really want to do.
WT: Do you think that people who make it to the top have an obligation to mentor others?
Gardner: I do it [but], not out of a sense of obligation. I went to some very successful business people when I was trying to open the doors of my company, and none of them would give me the time of day. I made a promise to myself and to God. I said, ‘God, if you ever let me get to a certain level, I am not going to be like that.’
Just like anybody else, you’ve only got so many hours in a day, but as far as being available and accessible and have these relationships developing, I did something a number of years ago. I got involved with a program in Chicago that was designed to help young people get internships in the financial services business and learn the business at the exchanges, insurance companies, banks, money management firms, brokers.
The coolest thing in the world is walking up the street in Chicago, New York or San Francisco and having someone say ‘Hey, you might not remember me, but thank you for helping me get in the business.’
WT: So that was a way for you to give back something?
Gardner: You know how mountains get moved? Everyone who can move a couple [of mountains], move a couple. Those who can move rocks, move rocks. Those who can move boulders, move boulders. That’s how mountains get moved. If every one of us did everything we could, I believe we would be in a different world.

For more on Thomas Jefferson’s ideas about the pursuit of happiness and the American Founding, go here and here.

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Troy G.
Troy G.
17 years ago

“Baby steps count too.” In our culture we don’t have the time or the desire for baby steps – we want it now! Having someone shine a flashlight on life’s realities however is refreshing and comforting. For 2007 I pray that I can continue with baby steps and once in a while take a big step as well.

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