Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Conversation With Chris Gardner: Start Where You Are

When we caught up with Chris Gardner, owner and chief executive of an institutional investment firm, he was in New York City promoting his new book, 'Start Where You Are: Life Lessons in Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.'
He took time from his busy schedule to discuss the book, in which he shares his singular advice on how to survive in the face of formidable obstacles. He also talks about his plans for the future and gives tips on how to survive an economic downturn. Don't expect Gardner to wax elegiac about the economy. In fact, he sees it as an opportunity and urges readers to do the same.

'Start Where You Are' is a great follow-up to your memoir, 'Pursuit of Happyness,' which was a very inspirational story about survival. How do they differ?
In this book, we include stories, not just of lessons I've learned in my own personal pursuit of happiness. I was able to include stories of people who inspired me. That might be anyone from my mama all the way to Nelson Mandela. So it's not just my voice, but also the voices of other people I've heard from around the world. 'The Pursuit of Happyness' has been published in 16 languages. So I did, indeed, hear from folk all around the world. Some of the stories others shared with me regarding their own personal pursuit I was able to include in this book.

The blessing I've gotten from people all over the world comes in the form of a thank you. People have shared with me that because they saw me do what I did, they can do what they have to. They've got no more excuses. That is the most important and humbling thing I've learned in this entire experience.

Interesting timing for the book. What was the impetus?
A big part of what led me to write 'Start Where You Are' were the questions from people around the world who read 'Pursuit of Happyness' and asked, "Why didn't you quit?" "What made you keep going forward?" "Were you afraid?" What I've done is tell a series of stories of survival, not just mine, but those of others.

Is this economic turmoil hard for you to watch?
It is painful to watch, but the other side of it is that if there was ever anyone who was built not just to thrive but to survive in this environment, it's me. This is my world. Other folks are saying the sky is falling. I'm saying, no. These are pennies from heaven.

This could be an opportunity for a lot of us to ask ourselves some very big questions, several of which I talk about in the book, including, beyond money what is really important to me? What do I care I about? Do my children know me? What am I not willing to compromise and negotiate on? Those are very big questions, and this could be the time to answer them.

Just like this market went down, it's going to go up. The question is when this economy does turn, who are you going to turn out to be? Are you going to be the same person you were before the music stopped or the bubble burst? Or will you take this time to grow, assess and empower yourself?

What is the best advice you have to give to people experiencing hardship?
Be mindful of whatever skills, talents and expertise you do have. Those skills are transferable to other jobs. This could be a beautiful time to say, "What do I really want to do?" The key is being bold enough to go and make it happen. That boldness comes from passion and commitment.

What about age? Some people have been laid off in their mid-40s and 50s. They feel they can't compete with the Twitterati or younger generation. What should they do?
We do have an alternative. We could just die (he says jokingly to drive home his point). If you are too old to dream, if you are too old to do that one thing that you once said, "This is what I wanted to do my whole life," the alternative is to die. If that is not an acceptable alternative, I suggest you get busy. Forget about the numbers. It's very, very limiting, and it's totally unnecessary. It's very convenient to say, "I'm too old to go back to school. I'm too old to do the one thing I said I've always wanted to learn." A lot of folk will agree with you, but there are a lot of folk who will say, "This is my life. I don't know how much time I have left, but this is what I'm going to do."

Are you taking up writing full time?
Oh, God no. Girl, I still have my day job. Don't ever quit your day job. Don't start believing any of this stuff. I still have my day job, because I'm still in love with what it is I'm doing. Writing full time is not for me, but there may be one or two more ideas in development.

The next one will be a continuation of the 'Pursuit of Happyness,' a second part of the memoir. After you've been published in 16 languages, I think you better do it again. There are opportunities for a sequel to the film.

Will Will Smith play you again in the film?

Let me say this. After 55 years, I've been playing me pretty good. I may play myself! I told Will I will play myself for half the money.


1 comment:

Schuyler Marquez said...

Hi there,
Your email/contact form is broken. Is there an email address where we can reach you?

Schuyler Marquez
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings