“There is no plan B for passion,” Chris Gardner writes in his new book, Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in the Pursuit of Happyness (Amistad; $26.99). It’s more than a slogan or positive affirmation. For Gardner it’s been the driving force by which he has defied the social imprint set by an absentee father and an abusive, alcoholic step-father and lifted himself out of homelessness. “I knew I was going to be world-class at something,” he often says. Gardner discovered that his calling was in the world of finance. After perfecting his skills at two major financial services firms, first at Dean Witter Reynolds in a low-paying training program, and then at Bear Stearns, Gardner used $10,000 to launch his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich L.L.C., and operated out of his home in Chicago. Today, some 22 years later, he’s a smash success. Combined revenues for his ventures, including book sales and speaking engagements, are expected to exceed $10 million for 2009.
As he continues to expand his business empire with his latest project—the development of a private equity fund in South Africa—Gardner has allocated time to encourage professionals to focus less on the economic downturn and more on where and how they can fashion opportunities. He urges individuals to become “your own stimulus package. If you’re not willing to take a risk on yourself, what will you take a risk on?” Whether you’re a displaced corporate executive or a struggling entrepreneur, Gardner shares his thoughts on how you can take control of your destiny, stay the course, and write your own happy ending.
One of the things I will never forget is what it felt like to be on a subway in New York City [late last year]. I’m going from Wall Street to midtown at 1 p.m. Normally, the train would be empty, but on this day it was full—jam-packed. I’m thinking, “Wow, this is unusual.” A guy recognizes me. “Hey, are you Chris Gardner?” “Yeah.” The conversation starts and it turns out that I’m on the train with the first wave of 55,000 folks to get laid off from Citigroup.
I looked around and everybody had little white boxes with their coffee mugs, pictures of their families, and house plants, and now they’ve got to go home and tell the wife or husband and the landlord they don’t have a job. As I realized who was on the train I started to talk a little bit louder to this guy and said, “You’ve lost your job but you have not lost your skills, talents, or expertise. Skills, talents, and expertise are transferable.” So even if you’re not going to find a job, let’s try and find an opportunity where you can transfer your skills. Knowledge is portable. Everything you learned on your job, when you walk out the door you take with you.