Just two weeks ago, entrepreneur Chris Gardner was here in Indianapolis, sharing the podium with Tony Dungy and other inspiring presenters at the Exact Target Connections ’08 email marketing conference. And, while I was needed at my Indiana bankruptcy law offices and couldn’t get away to hear him this time, as a bankruptcy lawyer in Indiana for so many years, I know Gardner’s got the message every person who has ever faced bankruptcy needs to hear and take to heart. In one of my earlier bankruptcy blogs, Talk About Success After Bankruptcy, I told the story of actor Will Smith who went from bankruptcy to global stardom. Well, the character that Will Smith portrayed in “Pursuit of Happyness” is Chris Gardner.

A little quick background: As a child and teenager. Gardner grew up with just about every negative influence life has to offer, including alcoholism domestic abuse, child abuse, and illiteracy. The movie tells the story of how Gardner, a homeless man raising a toddler on his own, passed the stockbrokers’ exam and became a trainee at Dean Witter Reynolds, going on to establish the Chicago brokerage firm of Gardner Rich & Co.. Now Chris is CEO of Christopher Gardner International Holdings, with offices in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, and he’s a noted philanthropist, speaker, and author.

Gardner’s message is about overcoming obstacles and breaking cycles, and that’s what makes it so very fitting for people making a fresh start after bankruptcy. I often reflect that, when we face challenges, we can choose to take one of three paths: We can avoid the issue, we can throw blame around or get bogged down in self blame, or we can start focusing on the “OK, so now what?” Over the past almost twenty-five years of helping literally tens of thousands of people through the challenges of bankruptcy and foreclosure, I’ve learned over and over again the lesson that Chris Gardner not only teaches, but personifies: No matter how difficult the situation, people can always change their lives.