Life Lessons Learn From Chris Gardner [Pursuit Of Happyness]

chris gardner

The real Chris Gardner (of “The Pursuit of Happyness” fame) is the perfect role model for anyone hoping to turn their life around. He went from being homeless to working for stock broker companies. And then he became a truly inspiring self help guru.

So how did Chris Gardner turn his life around? Let’s take a look.

But first let’s start with some key facts about Chris Gardner.


Facts About The Real Chris Gardner

How much is the real Chris Gardner worth? £165 million

What are some Chris Gardner Books? The Pursuit of Happyness & Start Where You Are

How old is Chris Gardner Jr? he was born January 28 1981, so 31

Jackie Medina & Chris Gardner: Jackie Medina is mother of Chris Gardner’s only son

Chris Gardner’s Ex Wife? Sherry Dyson. They divorced in 1986.

Favourite Chris Gardner Quote: The Cavalry aint coming.

Chris Gardner’s Childhood? One setback after another, with no contact with his father and an abusive step father. His mother was later imprisoned, she was Chris Gardner’s main role model (the quote above was originally hers)


Why is the story of the real Chris Gardner so important?

No matter whether you’re a business leader looking for motivational stories for employees, an entrepreneur in need of a spiritual uplifting, an unemployed person looking for inspiration to get back on the right track, or anyone else, Chris Gardner’s life and story is one you would do well to soak up in its fullness. You will probably learn more about life from Chris Gardner than you would from an entire master’s degree in psychology.

Played by Will Smith in the inspirational movie The Pursuit of Happiness and having been on the New York Times bestsellers list for twenty weeks with The Pursuit of Happiness (the book) the Chris Garnder story is one that has proven itself capable of capturing the hearts of millions.

For those who haven’t seen the movie—which sees Will Smith in Chris Gardner’s shoes during the year of homelessness— or read the book— which covers much more ground— Chris Gardner is famous for personifying the rags to riches story. It is for this reason that the first book in which Chris Gardner really aimed to teach life lessons, (the book which shows the real Chris Gardner) Start Where You Are, was hotly anticipated.

Start Where You Are is the book that truly revealed Chris Gardner’s secrets to success, and the genius mind of the real Chris Gardner. Start Where You Are book shows the techniques Chris Gardner used to go from the streets to stock broker companies.  Let’s take a look at some of the lessons the book offered.

Get Start Where You Are on Amazon

Lessons from The Real Chris Gardner and Start Where You Are

Start Where You Are is comprised of 44 self improvement tips or lessons that Gardner claims are the keys to his personal success. These 44 lessons are in turn grouped into six sections. Let’s take a look at the lessons the real Chris Gardner shares with us.

Chris Gardner’s First Self Improvement Lesson: Start Where You Are

The vast majority of us put far too much emphasis on tomorrow, that cancer of the mind that keeps our true lives always one step ahead of us. The real Chris Gardner didn’t have much choice but to start where he was in his own search to find happiness, and perhaps this is one aspect that set him apart. He couldn’t just sit by and watch life pass. He quite literally had to fight to survive. Out on the streets, homeless, what other choice had he? He was forced to learn on of the most important self improvement lessons of all; focus on the present moment. He had to make do with what he had, and in this he found a most valuable wisdom. It doesnt matter where you are on your path in life, all that matters is that you take a step forward.

This lesson is really the entire point of the book (indeed, where much of the rest of Start Where You Are feels forced, this lesson is vital). There is a certain poeticism to the fact that only by being at absolute rock bottom was Chris Gardner able to learn this lesson about the power of now. It is amazing how hitting rock bottom forces you to take hold of your life and how many people wait until they are at an absolute low before doing so. Hopefully, through the real Chris Gardner’s story, more people can learn to take control of their lives in the here and now rather than waiting for the inevitable to happen. This also serves as a great lesson about work. Many of us wallow away our hours waiting for a better day, but only by beginning to work on a better life can we ever truly achieve one.



Chris Gardner’s next self improvement advice is also about motivation. As he says,  “The Cavalry Aint Coming.”

Chris Gardner’s Self improvement Lesson 2 : Do it Yourself!

I’m willing to bet that at the moment you feel some comfort in the idea that eventually some aid will answer your silent call for help.

I know I myself am victim to this mistake. Even writing this I am aware of my faith in this ‘cavalry.’ But then I examine that thought.

Who the hell is this cavalry?

“People,” that’s the answer I come up with.

“What people?”

“Ummmm…. the ones who will save me.”

“Save me from what?” “This.”


And when I get to this part of my internal argument, the point at which I’m thinking that eventually someone will come to save me from something, I realised that I’m just dreaming. It’s like the idea that you’ll find a woman / man who is so exciting that they will just magic you away to fairyland. Yet any good spiritualist / self help guru will all too readily tell you that you ARE in fairyland right now, or at least you would be if you chose to see it.

And this brings us to the point Gardner is making: There is no cavalry coming because you ARE the cavalry and because if you need someone to help you then you yourself are that someone.

There is no movie star coming to save the day; you are the star in your own finding of happiness.

As Chris Gardner states, ‘You drove yourself here.’ And if you drove yourself here you can drive yourself there. Again, that is a great mentality for work, one that gives a clear impression that hard work pays off.

Essentially, the lesson here is that you are entirely responsible for your own career development  (or personal development). Work hard and it will pay off, but, equally importantly, if you expect something for nothing then you are going to be sorely disappointed. The main lesson here is control: employee or employer, we are all in control of our own realities and our own careers.


Self Improvement tip 3: Draw your line

This idea that we drive ourselves to where we are and where we later will be inspire this personal development exercise that Chris Gardner refers to as “Drawing your line.”

Gardner suggests that we take out a pen and a piece of paper and, starting from day one, draw the line of our lives; the ups and down, the peaks and troths. He suggests doing this in great detail, and this is certainly a wonderful idea.

By drawing the line of your life you immediately gain a wealth of benefits. The immediate benefit of this is that it creates the sense of a gradual and continual development of our lives, the idea that we are always moving, always heading in some direction. At times it can feel that we are just in a slump that came from nowhere and doesn’t look like leaving. We trick ourselves at these times into believing that we are a victim, that we fell into a sort of bear trap. By drawing the lines of our lives we can see how all this peaks and troths lead together.

To perform this exercise, simply look at the moments when your line changes direction. These changes of direction equate to a moment when we made some action that changed our path. By zooming in on these moments, on these actions, we gain an insight into just what it was that caused our ups and downs, which not only removes the idea of being a victim but lets us see that we chose to act in some way that changed the development of our lines, the direction of our lives and our emotions. Again, as a motivational tool this once more gives the message that we ourselves (or our employees) are completely in control of the ups and downs we experience. This then makes us far likely to work hard so we experience good times in the future.

Chris Gardner’s Self improvement Tip 4 : The Man himself

By part 3 of Start Where You Are the weaknesses of the book are evident, for much of the remainder is filled with all too common, obvious and thin ideas that our parents taught us all years ago.

In terms of lessons the only direct teachings Gardner gives are such points as ‘Work Hard’ and notes on supply and demand, which are beyond obvious and yet somehow bear repeating. The actual lessons here are far too thin to look into in detail, and these are followed shortly after by musings on ‘Spiritual Genetics’ and the presence of god, which Gardner does his best to speak of noncommittally. It’s not stuff that’s going to inspire personal development, but it’s not terrible writing either.

If this seems harsh then please bear with me. While the lessons after the third group are mundane, seemingly arbitrary—there’s very little linkage or direction of thought—the simple fact of the matter is that the real Chris Gardner’s life is the lesson in itself.

The man practically has a bachelors degree in psychology simply from being put through so much hardship. Gardner is not the best writer. There’s nothing terrible about the writing or the teachings they’re just average and in places forced, but one very crucial and wonderful factor makes Gardner’s deliverance of the mundane beautiful, and that is the fact that he is a walking embodiment of everything your mum said that you probably didn’t listen to, and the proof that she was right.

There is a charm to Chris Gardner that is magnetic and a poetry to his tale that, though it is not penned in the words of Pablo Neruda, is none the less enrapturing. Life truly did give Chris Gardner one hell of a ride and, with this history, there’s simply no way that he could speak without revealing deep truths of life. To that end, everythingGardner writes should be soaked up and cherished; he might not be the best writer or the best teacher, but damn it here is a man whose life speaks volumes.

Chris Gardner’s Self Improvement Tip 5 : The lesson is life itself

If there is one lesson to the work of the real Chris Gardner that truly resonates with this writer, it’s the fact that life teaches you the lessons as you go so long as you keep your ideas open and your dreams alive. And to a degree this is very true. One of the biggest points in self improvement and personal development is to open your eyes to life itself. Life in itself is the best teacher anyone could ever have. Books are great, and god knows as a writer I love them, but not books nor movies nor music nor any other product of man can ever speak as loudly as the truth that truly open eyes drink in every moment of life, and though there are weaknesses and structural flaws in this work, for carrying a reminder that the real beauty of life surrounds us every day and all we have to do is open our eyes to it, both the life and the work of Chris Gardner are highly recommended

Chris Gardner Additional Content

Interview Snippets

ON CBC’s The hour

George Stroumboulopoulos : You didn’t want him (Will smith)…

Chris Gardner : It’s not that I didn’t want him, I just didn’t see it. .. My daughter explained to me “Pap, if he can play Muhammad Ali, he can play you.’

George Stroumboulopoulos : How much of the movie is real?

Chris Gardner : I was on the set everyday for 17 weeks of shooting and I felt very comfortable with the depiction, the portrayal… it’s not exact; that’s why I was happy to do the book.

George Stroumboulopoulos : What was it like with you and your son?

Chris Gardner : In the film they had to make the boy 5 years old so thwe characters could have that kind of dialogued. When I was having that experience my son was 2.

George Stroumboulopoulos : What did you say to him (your son)?

Chris Gardner : The most painful thing I had to say was ‘I’ll be back.’ … I had to leave him with day-care I wasn’t happy with.

George Stroumboulopoulos : How did you keep yourself in a position where you thought “It will be okay”?

Chris Gardner : I kept remembering something by a dear friend reverend. Cecil Williams “Baby Steps Count too.. .as long as you’re going forward” and my mum used to say “Son, the cavalry aint coming.”

George Stroumboulopoulos : The business you got into, did you know anything about it?

Chris Gardner : No, but I knew I wanted to be world class at something.

George Stroumboulopoulos : What makes you happy now?

Chris Gardner : I’m healthy. As a single parents I’ve raised two children who have become fabulous people. And Im in a position to do work that reflects my values.

George Stroumboulopoulos : It must be an interesting thing for you as a father that your children are going to experience something that you didn’t have [wealth and entitlement]

Chris Gardner : We tried to give our children things we didn’t have thinking it’s going to give them better lives… sometimes we give them too much. It’s time for parents to start taking shit back.




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