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If You Want Something, Go Get It

By Ruben Navarrette

SAN DIEGO -- A multimillionaire businessman once explained to me the secret to his success. A lot of it, he said, was about setting yourself apart by being willing to stomach the sort of ordeals that others won't.

"I do things that make other people nauseous,'' he said, explaining that he had often gambled his entire net worth on business deals that paid off.

His point was that while a lot of people dream about being rich and famous because they think it will provide them a life of comfort, what they don't know is that the relative few who realize the dream are those who are willing to put up with life's discomforts on the road to success.

That bit of insight was ricocheting around in my head as I watched the splendid new film, "The Pursuit of Happyness.'' The movie showcases Will Smith and tells the inspirational story of Chris Gardner, who went from homeless single dad to millionaire stockbroker -- but only after enduring tremendous hardship.

Much of the buzz around the film has centered on the fact that it's a great father-son movie. And that it is. It's the kind of story that doesn't get told often enough, about the lengths to which a father will go to meet his responsibilities to his child.

Gardner worked nights and weekends selling medical equipment so that he could spend his days plowing through a highly competitive but unpaid internship at a prestigious brokerage firm. And even when things got really tough, and both father and son wound up on the street and forced to spend nights in a public restroom, Gardner never gave up on his aspirations of attaining a better life for himself and his son.

However, the beauty of this film is not what it tells us about fatherhood but about fulfilling one's potential. That message is summed up in a powerful scene where Gardner catches himself discouraging his son from dreams of a career in professional basketball. Realizing that he sounds much like the people who have discouraged him throughout his life, Gardner pauses and does an about-face.

"Don't ever let someone tell you that you can't do something,'' he tells his son. "Not even me.''

For Gardner, ambitions are sacred and worth defending.

"You got a dream,'' he says, "you gotta protect it. People can't do something, so they wanna tell you that you can't do it. You want something, go get it. Period.''

Amen. Imagine what kind of country we'd be living in if all Americans thought that way. As it stands, too many of us don't. Too many of us cling to excuses, dwell on the negative, look for scapegoats and think in terms of what we can't accomplish rather than what we can. Sometimes they find those scapegoats in this country, in the form of immigrants -- both legal and illegal. At other times, they gaze across the oceans and quiver in the face of what they consider sinister forces such as globalization.

According to polls, most Americans no longer believe in the American Dream. Perhaps that's because so many of us are absolutely terrified of competition, no matter where it comes from. Many Americans talk openly about the need to seal our border, to put a moratorium on legal immigration and to impose tariffs on foreign goods to give our own products a leg up in the marketplace. Add in the class envy and the eat-the-rich nonsense being pushed by populist snake oil salesmen in politics and the media and you get a sense for one of the most dangerous threats to our society -- the possibility that a lot of Americans will just feel so outmatched by forces larger than themselves that they'll give up, not just on their dreams but on their lives.

It's hard to imagine someone such as Chris Gardner wallowing in defeat or giving up or blaming others for his failures, and that is one reason why he has accomplished so much, while millions of Americans are still having trouble getting off the starting blocks.

You see, Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, got it exactly right. It's the pursuit of happiness. No matter what country you were born in, you're entitled to nothing. And no matter what you desire, no one is going to serve it up to you on a platter. It's like Gardner said, if you want something, you have to go get it. Period.

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