When Chris Gardner walked onto the stage before thousands of people at the World Business Forum (WBF) in Sydney last month, the first thing he did was raise his hands in the air and say, “Now, before any of you ask, no, Will Smith is not coming.”
Laughter erupted and the scene was set for one of the most engrossing, heartfelt presentations of the forum. For those who are unaware, Hollywood actor Will Smith plays Gardner in the film The Pursuit of Happyness, which was based on Gardner’s New York Times bestselling book of the same name. The book spent twenty weeks on the bestselling list and has been translated into more than forty languages. And something many people don’t know is that Gardner was an associate producer on the film. It’s the very tear-jerkingly real account of some of Gardner’s time spent homeless with his young son by his side, and how he rose through the difficult times to not only become one of America’s top stockbrokers but also a self-made millionaire. It’s also the story of a single father’s pledge to ensure that he was always there for his son, and that he would be strong enough, no matter how difficult things became, to create a good life for them both.
Gardner is an exceptional speaker, and throughout his hour-long presentation, a pin dropping would have easily been heard, such was the rapport he had with the audience. People laughed and many wiped tears from their eyes as he told his story, offering lessons on resilience and hope — things we all need to survive not just in the tough world of business but in life.
Chris also spoke of some of the incredible people he has had the pleasure of meeting since his life took a new direction — such as Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, Barack Obama, Maya Angelou, and Pope Benedict — and that all of them had the same trait: humility.
Out of all the people in the world whom he has known, however, it was the beauty, caring nature, strength, and wisdom of his mother that he credits for getting him to where he is now, because of her unwavering belief in him and her simple yet powerful words:
Never let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. You can do anything you set your mind to.”
And that, in the book, in the film, and in his presentation, is Chris’ overarching message: “You can do anything.”
After the WBF presentation, Chris spared half an hour of his time to meet Michelle Hespe, Editor in Chief of The CEO Magazine, and have a fireside chat.
One thing was immediately obvious — on the stage or off it, Chris’ charisma, charm, and intellect are not only apparent but emanate from him like the warmth and strength of a bear hug. He literally lights up the room and makes everyone smile.
First, he spoke passionately about always going for plan A in your life. He says there is no point in having a plan B, because if it was a good enough plan, it would be plan A. He also spoke at length about his quest to help the homeless, as the number of people across the world without a place to call home is growing by the second. Even with a few words, the passion he has for the cause due to his own experience and what he has seen is enough to make anyone stop, listen, and understand the gravity of the global situation.
Chris is, in his own words, on a mission to create “more Chris Gardners”. He wants others to believe in themselves and for that belief to help them to rise above adversity and create a good environment for themselves and their loved ones. The message could not come from a better man. After all, he is living proof that no matter how bad life might seem, belief in yourself, and hope, can change everything.