There was a time in my life when I was in a very poor cash position. I went to relatives and friends and asked for help, and they all assisted me. I told all of them that I would repay their loans and in a couple of years I did. A few people forgave the loan but most did not, but I was happy to pay them back now that my financial situation had improved. It is no fun to be heavily in debt, and I identified easily with the emotional stress of Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness, an inspirational film about a man with very bad financial luck who manages to turn his life around because of sheer hard work and unswerving commitment to a goal.
The story begins in 1981 in San Francisco where salesman Chris Gardner purchases a large number of portable bone-density scanners to sell to doctors. But there is a problem. The machines are very expensive and do not reveal much more than standard x-ray machines. The result: few machines are sold and Chris goes into deep debt. The financial stress causes a rift between Chris and his wife. Eventually, as their economic situation deteriorates more and more, his wife Linda wants out of the marriage. Chris insists on keeping their 5-year old son with him in spite of his wife’s pleas. The fact that Chris’s own father walked out on him is a memory tape that haunts Chris, and he does not want to follow in his father’s footsteps when it comes to his own son.
In the course of trying to sell his scanners, he by chance meets Jay Twistle, a manager for the stock brokerage firm of Dean Witter Reynolds. Fascinated by the glamour of the job of stock broker, he applies for an internship at the company. In a serendipitous cab ride that he shares with Twistle, Chris impresses him with his facility for solving a Rubik’s Cube puzzle and Twistle accepts Chris for the internship.
As Chris tries his best to turn the internship into a real job with pay, he encounters a surfeit of impediments. Police arrest him for unpaid parking tickets. His bank account is garnished by the IRS for unpaid income tax. He is evicted from his home because of overdue rent, forcing him and his son to sleep in the subway for a short time and then to live in a facility for the homeless.
Because of these pressures, Chris is forced to utilize every available free moment to make phone contacts and set up sales calls for stock purchases. He even defies protocol by seeking out high value customers even though he is an intern. Moreover, he does not want to reveal his disadvantaged situation to anyone at the firm for fear it will jeopardize his chances for the coveted paid position at Dean Witter.
King Solomon in his classic Proverbs tells us that “seven times the righteous will fall, yet they will rise again.” It is a message of hope in the face of adversity, to stay focused even when things fall apart. We all have friends who, when faced with possible failure in reaching their professional goals, give up hope. For example, I know of many young, promising teachers who leave education because of their initial difficulties in the field. I also know some who weather the storm and leave meaningful legacies in their respective institutions.
Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness comprehends the value of perseverance in the face of adversity. His story inspires us to be steadfast even in the face of enormous obstacles.