Friday, January 05, 2007
Life Lessons from the Pursuit of Happyness
Last week my friend Sherry “kidnapped” me to see the movie the Pursuit of Happyness (misspelling intentional—see the movie to find out why). I had no idea what to expect. I only knew that it was a true story about a single father who went from homelessness to having his dream job and that this guy is now a self-made millionaire. Honestly, I didn’t care what the movie was about; I jumped at the opportunity to get out for a rare spontaneous break from the same old thing. I certainly didn’t go expecting to learn anything about life. I mean, who goes to movies to learn, especially during Christmas break? But besides weaving an amazing success story, Chris Gardner’s experience sent me away with a few things to apply when my own life seems to be teetering on the brink.
Aim high. At the beginning of the movie Chris Gardner is struggling to support his son and wife by selling Bone Density Scanners to doctors. All he manages to do is get them stolen by left-over hippies who mistake the scanners for time machines. When he decides to apply for an internship that could lead to a job as a stock broker his wife almost literally laughs in his face. Then she leaves. Nice. Chris goes for it anyway. After a lifetime of settling for second best, he shoots higher than seems possible.
Too often I settle for less than I really want. Why? Fear of failing mostly. Watching Chris’s new life unfold inspired me to stop and ask myself, what if I did have the guts to . . . ?
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something . . . not even yourself. Chris gives his son these instructions after discouraging him with an off-handed comment during a father/son basketball game. Throughout the movie he models his own advice, as he goes for his goal, regardless of how unrealistic it seems or how hopeless his circumstances look.
I’m too often guilty of listening to the “you can’t” voices, especially those in my own head. My prayer now is that I’ll shut them off—that the only one I’ll allow to say, “This isn’t for you” is God.
Focus on others. Chris had a living, breathing reason to keep going when life fell apart around him—his son. Instead of wallowing in pity he focusing on his little boy’s needs—for example, turning their first homeless night into an imaginary dinosaur adventure.
It’s easy to get caught up in the “Poor me” act when life is tough. So how can I focus instead on meeting the needs of my family, encouraging my friends, or ministering to those who need help or an extra touch? The view of life turns from dismal to hopeful when the lens is zoomed in on someone besides me.
Work hard. While finishing his unpaid internship, Christ devoted weekends to his “day job.” He eliminated time wasters, studied at night, and cared for his son alone. Not once do we see him asking for a handout or special treatment, or complaining about his overflowing plate of responsibility. He was willing to do anything to make life better. His work ethic makes the end result that more satisfying to witness.
I’ll admit I’m not one to shy away from hard work. I’m more apt to burn out from overload than be accused of lazing around expecting to have life handed to me on a pretty serving tray. But there are times when I get sick of being the responsible one, when enough is enough and I just want to veg out for a day. Make that a month. The final scene of the Pursuit of Happyness renewed my appreciation for the rewards of honest, persistent work.
Never give up Chris could have easily taken a long look at his situation and said, “That’s it. I’m tired of wasting my time only to be disappointed, again and again. This is just too hard. I quit.” His wonderful internship held no guarantees. Some days the cruelties of life knocked him down at every turn. Yet he kept getting up in the morning, taking deep breaths, and moving forward. And eventually he got his much-needed reprieve.
It’s embarrassing to think back on the many times I said, “God, I quit. This is too hard.” And I haven’t even faced homelessness and destitution! Remembering the times when my perseverance eventually led to answered prayer keeps me going usually, but not enough to stop my whining before it starts. I left the theater thinking, “Okay, God, if Chris could stick it out, so can I.”
What are you facing right now that seems too big to handle? In what areas would you like to aim a little higher? What kind of toll are the “you can’t” messages taking on your spirit and sense of worth? Ask God, right now, to fill you with the drive to live as Chris did, as you and your Father embark on your own personal pursuit of happiness.