“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.” – Chris Gardner
In late March, the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre hosted the 2017 Global Transformation Forum (GTF), which saw global leaders and iconic figures share a platform to impart stories of their successes and triumphs, and how they overcame obstacles and challenges along the way.
Valuable insights were gained from powerhouses such as Jack Ma, Sir Richard Branson, Usain Bolt, and many other leaders who set inspiring examples for the rest of us to learn from and follow. In the years that I have been involved in the GTF, the sense of wonder at the incredible success stories on display during the two-day annual event has never diminished.
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The real deal
This year, however, I was particularly blown away by the unstoppable force that is Chris Gardner – founder of brokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co, motivational speaker, and international philanthropist.
While there might be some who are unfamiliar with the name, millions became acquainted with his phenomenal life story through the Hollywood movie The Pursuit of Happyness, in which he was played by Will Smith. The movie was so powerful that it grossed over US$300mil at the box office.
The effect Gardner has on you – when you hear him speak – is indescribable. You can literally feel the force of his convictions, the hunger in his passion, and the determination in his pursuit to make the world a better place.
Everyone who knows his story will know that his life was fraught with turbulence. For Gardner, the concept of an ‘easy ride’ was something alien to him.
After a failed marriage, his subsequent relationship abruptly ended, leaving Gardner to raise his son on his own. An unexpected twist left the father and son homeless, as the rooming house, where he was living in, didn’t allow children.
“Strong people stand up for themselves. Stronger people stand up for others. The irony is that, while sleep sometimes brings nightmares, it’s the reality of my waking hours that can cause me the greater fear.”
Homeless, but determined
All the problems that piled up on their shoulders were borne in silence. No one had any idea that they were struggling to save for a place to rent during a period of homelessness. Yet, despite encountering one setback after another, Gardner pushed on, refusing to be beaten into submission by the cards that life had dealt him.
Instead, he pushed through the pain, uncertainties and struggles. He had a dream of making it big as a stockbroker and no one – and nothing – would stand in the way of his dream.
“(The movie) is the story of my life, but it’s not about me. It’s about anybody who ever dreamed big and had someone tell them, ‘No, you can’t do it.’ You can.”
After years of hard work, perseverance and commitment, Gardner founded his brokerage firm in 1987. At the time, he was living in a small apartment that had a single piece of furniture – a wooden desk – and a start-up capital of US$10,000.
The rest, as they say, is history. As of 2017, he has an estimated net worth of over US$60mil. Yet, he still retains that same hunger, passion, drive and commitment that pushed him through all of the problems he encountered, many of which would have driven some people to simply give up, and understandably so.
“I just wanted to make a million dollars. But I couldn’t sing and I couldn’t play ball, so I said to my mother, ‘How am I going to make a million dollars?’ And she said to me, ‘Son, if you believe you can do it, you will.’”
I am not exaggerating when I say that he’s a man who gives off an aura of someone who is in charge; not of others, but of himself.
There’s a steely defiance and determination that lies behind the warm humility showed by the man who has worked himself into the ground for everything he has, and remains thankful for the blessings he has received along the way.
If there’s such a thing as the complete businessman – or the complete leader – Gardner fits the bill.
Insights into people’s crucibles
Anyone who has attended a GTF event will know just how profoundly inspiring it is to learn from those who made their way from the bottom to the top.
It’s great to hear success stories, but it’s more valuable to learn about the struggles and failures faced by these leaders. The speakers at the GTF offered these in abundance, as well as insights on how they overcame those challenges.
Success has a great power to inspire us, but it’s the trials and tribulations that give us the life lessons, upon which these successes are built.
One lesson which Gardner imparted, was similar to that shared by world 100m record holder and Olympic champion Usain Bolt – that we must yearn to become world-class.
Gardner had said that “when people ask who is the best in the world in your field, they should say you!” Bolt pushed himself through intense hard work and training to become the best in the world.
Success, in both their books, meant to work really hard, push their boundaries of tolerance and continue being relentless.
“The secret to success: find something you love to do so much, you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again.”
In listening to Gardner, there was one key takeaway that really ignited fresh inspiration in me: whatever you want to achieve, go out there and Make. It. Happen.
When some leaders give us similar advice, we can say, “It’s easy for you, you had so much support and resources to back you. You should try being where I am!”
But, when Gardner offers you this advice, you know that it comes from a man who has been in worse positions than many of us have ever known.
He started out with no money, no formal education, no contacts, no support, while bringing up a child on his own without a roof over his head. All he had was passion, a plan, and the determination to never give up, no matter what.
And, that’s the lesson his story teaches us.
We can all proclaim hardships and difficulties, and I don’t mean to diminish them at all – our problems are very much real, and it would be churlish to say otherwise.
However, no problem has the power to stop us in our tracks: we stop because often, we feel we can’t go on. And yet, there are so many examples of what can be achieved when we stop allowing our problems to rule over us but instead drive us forward with an unyielding refusal to be beaten by life. In his words:
“The world is your oyster. It’s up to you to find the pearls.”
Ignite your dream
Chris Gardner is a man who looks sharp in a crisp shirt and tailored business suit. But Chris Gardner is also a man who started out with nothing. Chances are, you are now in a better position than he was when he started chasing his dream.
You might not become a globally sought-after speaker, and you might not become a multi-millionaire. But if you give everything to your dreams, who knows what might happen?
Who says you can’t change the world with what’s inside you and create the kind of change that makes people sit up and take note?
All you have to do is decide to put yourself out there and Make. It. Happen.
Here’s a snippet of Gardner’s words of wisdom:
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Roshan is the Founder and “Kuli” of the Leaderonomics Group of companies. He believes that everyone can be a leader and "make a dent in the universe," in their own special ways. He is featured on TV, radio and numerous publications sharing the Science of Building Leaders and on leadership development. Follow him at www.roshanthiran.com