Homeless man turned Millionaire offers the best advice

I spend 60 hours a week on my business but I don’t work for a minute. Work is hard. But what I do—writing, speaking, researching, learning, and sharing information— is pure joy. It’s what I was called to do. But often what we’re called to do and what we choose to do are different. As an undergraduate student at UCLA I chose to study for the law school entrance exam because it was the accepted path for a political science major. I could have gone to a top law school, but I didn’t love the law. I loved reading inspiring speeches in a publication called Vital Speeches of the Day. I loved watching great broadcast journalists like Peter Jennings. I would analyze how he spoke—the inflections, volume, and pacing. I chose to pursue my calling and enrolled in journalism school. I spent the next twelve years as a broadcast journalist before leaving the industry to leverage my skills in other ways.

“What’s the best advice you ever got?” At the end of a recent podcast interview, the host asked me, “What’s the best advice you ever got?” Before I tell you what I said allow me to rewind to 2007 when I had another career decision to make: hold on to a large, steady paycheck as the vice president of a global PR firm or commit full-time to my growing writing and public speaking business. At the time I was doing some freelance writing and I interviewed the real-life Chris Gardner, the man who actor Will Smith portrayed in the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness (‘happyness’ is purposely misspelled in the title. You’ll have to read the book or watch the movie to find out why). Gardner told me the true story of how he spent nights in the bathroom of a subway station along with his 2-year-old son. In the daytime Gardner would put on his one suit, drop off his kid at daycare and take unpaid classes to become a stockbroker. You can guess how the story ends. Gardner rose to the top of his firm and became a multi-millionaire.

The secret to happiness, in life and in business. I knew the Oakland, California subway station Gardner had slept in because I passed it each day on my train trip into San Francisco. I had plenty of time to contemplate the advice he gave, words that changed the course of my career. “How did you find the strength, the spirit, to keep going?” I asked Gardner. “Carmine, here’s the secret to success: find something you love to do so much, you can’t wait for the sun to rise to do it all over again.”

Each day when I rode past the station I would think about those words. It forced me to question my choices and the daily trips into the city, which I dreaded. I wasn’t waiting for the sun to shine; I was waiting for it to go down so I could head home. I quit the PR firm, trading the stability of a salary for the instability of a start-up. Last week I was invited to BookExpo America, a prestigious book industry conference in New York, to sign copies of my sixth book. Gardner’s advice had changed my life and my business.

The most inspiring leaders are those who don’t work at a job but pursue a calling. In doing so they inspire the rest of us to be our best selves and to match our skills with our passions. They give us confidence to pursue our dreams. Sometimes those dreams might lead an employee to find another job position in the same company or, in some cases, to leave the company altogether. And that’s okay. If an employee leaves your company and can say that your leadership inspired them to find their true calling, you will be rewarded in far more ways than you can imagine. If anything, you’re more likely to attract the people who really want to be on the bus instead of those who are daydreaming about finding another ride. I’ve also noticed that people who choose to remain with inspiring leaders admire those leaders for caring about their staff personally and professionally. Employees are more likely to stay with inspiring leaders (provided they are in the right roles) and more likely to speak highly of them. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” True leaders satisfy our ‘chief want.’

Chris Gardner inspired me to think differently about my own career choices. When I started my business there were many nights when I couldn’t sleep because I didn’t know how we were going to pay the bills. Today I can’t sleep for a different reason—I keep looking out the window and waiting for the sun to rise to do it all over again.

Carmine Gallo is the communications coach for the world’s most admired brands. He is a popular keynote speaker and author of several books, including the international bestsellers The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. His new book, The Apple Experience: Secrets to Building Insanely Great Customer Loyalty is the first book to reveal the secrets behind the stunning success of the Apple Retail Store. Follow Carmine on Facebook or Twitter.

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