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From Homeless to Wall Street: The story of Famous Salesman Chris Gardner

The real story behind The Pursuit of Happyness

In the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith plays the real-life story of Chris Gardner - a struggling salesman who overcomes homelessness to become a successful stockbroker. Chris’s story has inspired millions of people around the world, as it shows the possibility of going from nothing to multi-millionaire. Let’s dive into it.

The Beginnings

Christopher Paul Gardner was born on February 9, 1954 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He grew up poor, raised primarily by his mother Bettye Jean Gardner. His childhood was rough to say the least… His stepfather was known to be physically abusive and his mother went to prison, twice. Despite the bad environment, Gardner credits his mother as a source of his success. She encouraged him by saying "You can only depend on yourself. The cavalry ain't coming."

After high school, Gardner joined the U.S. Navy and then landed himself a job as a medical equipment salesman. In the early 1980s he moved to San Francisco with his girlfriend Jackie and their young son, Christopher Jr. When they first got there, Gardner struggled to make ends meet while selling bone density scanners, which created trouble in his relationship with Jackie due to financial stress.

A Life-Changing Encounter

One moment changed the entire course of Gardner's life. While working as a salesman, he encountered a well-dressed man who drove a flashy red Ferrari. Gardner took a risk and asked him what he did for a living. The man turned out to be a stockbroker named Bob Bridges who agreed to take Gardner under his wing and teach him the ropes of the brokerage business.

Chris was determined to be successful in the brokerage business and landed an interview for an internship at Dean Witter Reynolds brokerage firm in 1981. At the time, Gardner had no college degree and was up against highly qualified candidates (most of them had MBAs and experience). Chris stood out with his perseverance and landed one of the 20 intern spots that year.

Homelessness and Hardship

Just as Gardner started his internship, his life took a turn for the word. Jackie walked out on him and their son, leaving him as a single Dad. Around the same time, Gardner was arrested and thrown in jail for 10 days due to $1200 in unpaid parking tickets. By the time he was released, he had lost his apartment and just about everything he owned.

It was a rough time for Gardner to say the least… Now a single father with a young child, Gardner was homeless while working his unpaid internship at the brokerage. Chris and his son slept wherever they could - parks, soup kitchens, the office after hours, and even a public transit station bathroom. Gardner would wake up early to get his son to daycare, then put in long days at the office. At the end of the day, he’d race to pick up his son, just before the shelter curfew every night.

Despite the unimaginable hard time, Gardner never gave up. He once said, "The future was uncertain, absolutely, and there were many hurdles, twists, and turns to come, but as long as I kept moving forward, one foot in front of the other, the voices of fear and shame, the messages from those who wanted me to believe that I wasn't good enough, would be stilled."

A New Beginning

After six months, Gardner was one of the few interns offered a full-time position at The Dean Witter Reynolds brokerage. His determination and strong work ethic had finally paid off. With a stable income, he was finally able to rent an apartment and take himself and his son out of homelessness.

Gardner quickly rose the ranks, becoming a top earner at Bear Stearns & Co. In 1987, he founded his own brokerage firm, Gardner Rich & Co, in Chicago. Eventually, Chris sold a minority stake in the company for many millions.

Paying It Forward

Despite his financial success, Gardner never forgot his roots or the people who helped him during his darkest days. He has been a longtime volunteer at Glide Memorial Church, the San Francisco charity that gave him and his son shelter when they were homeless.

In 2006, Gardner published his autobiography The Pursuit of Happyness, which became a New York Times and Washington Post #1 bestseller. That same year, the film was released starring Will Smith, and the movie grossed over $300 million worldwide, and earned Will Smith an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

Gardner has also become a sought-after motivational speaker, sharing his powerful messages about overcoming obstacles, breaking cycles of poverty, and achieving your full potential.