Never Give Up: The Lesson I Learned From My Bankrupt Father That Made Me A Multi-Millionaire

by Gurbaksh Chahal

It was October 27, 1997. I remember it as if it was yesterday. My family’s dream home was already half built. It was to be our escape from the small, cramped house in the projects that I shared with my parents, my paternal grandmother and three siblings.

Then the stock market crashed.

The NYSE plummeted 550 points and trading was halted early. My father was devastated. He had bought stock on margin — a lot of stock — and lost everything. Worse, he was going to lose money he didn’t even have.

At the dinner table that night, he broke the news that the dream move to a new house in the suburbs was not going to happen.

He feared that the market was going to continue its downward spiral and announced that, first thing in the morning, as soon as the market opened, he would sell everything. “We will end up with nothing, but at least we won’t be in debt,” he told us.

Sure enough, that’s what he did. And then the Dow climbed 324 points within half an hour. If he had just waited an hour, he would have recouped most of his losses, enabling the move into the new home to go ahead. Now, that couldn’t happen. Everything would be lost, including the down payment.

He had never been an overtly emotional man, but my father broke down sobbing when this happened. I had never before seen him even shed a tear and here he was, sobbing in front of the whole family. He seemed defeated and I was terrified for him.

Just a few days later, though, a remarkable transformation occurred. With no explanation whatsoever, my father snapped out of his depression and declared to us all, “One way or another, we are going to move into that new house.”

I was powerfully affected by the dramatic change in his attitude. That resilience and determination would forever be ingrained in my thinking and instrumental to the way I conduct myself personally and professionally.

The lesson was clear: Never give up.

Dad rallied the entire family into action. He sold Mom’s car and began chauffeuring her to and from work. He volunteered for overtime hours at the post office where he worked.

Mom did double shifts as a registered nurse at the local hospital. My two sisters got part-time jobs and my brother picked up a cheap used bike and landed a newspaper delivery route. We clipped coupons for everything. We even sold the TV. Sacrifices and belt-tightening became a way of life.

As immigrants from India, my parents had experienced hardship before in pursuit of the American dream. Nothing was going to stop us now. Not even a stock market crash that had virtually wiped us out. Nothing.

So, “never give up” was a lesson drilled into me from this early experience. I witnessed firsthand the fact that that moving forward in the face of adversity is one of the hardest things in life. 

You may make mistakes and get hurt, but you can’t afford to wallow in self-pity. It’s a lesson that’s particularly important in business because you will undoubtedly get knocked down. That’s when you have to determine not to be counted out and to get up, and keep fighting.

Does this story have a happy ending? You bet.

Tough as things were, my father pulled himself together and inspired us to follow his lead not to give up. He constantly reassured us that we were going to be all right.

Sure enough, we raised enough money, sold the house in the projects, moved out and up in the world. My dad had managed to keep his word to his family. Our new home wasn’t a palace by any stretch of the imagination, but it had three small bedrooms and was a huge improvement from the projects.

A year or so later, I began buying and selling refurbished printers as a way to make money, but I knew that the future was in the Internet and I was especially fascinated by performance-based advertising. So, at the age of 16, in the bedroom I shared with my older brother, I launched my first real business.

Soon after, my father once again stepped up to the plate. Even though he valued education above almost everything else, he allowed me to quit school once he saw I was determined not to give up on my goal of becoming a successful entrepreneur. The fact that I already had a bank balance exceeding $100,000 in funds didn’t do my case any harm.

Nevertheless, my dad insisted that if I didn’t make it within a year, I would have to go back to school. I knew in my heart of hearts that it wouldn’t happen. I wasn’t going to achieve my parents’ dream of me becoming a doctor — I was going to do even better, financially.

As the years went by, I was hit by every setback imaginable. Everything that young entrepreneurs can expect: deals that went wrong, partnerships that soured, opportunistic lawsuits, and leeches and vultures all around.

But I continued to relentlessly follow my father’s example. I could take the downfalls. I could get knocked down. But I would always get back up on my feet again. I had boundless energy and enthusiasm and, most importantly, I believed in myself.

Fast forward to 2007 and the day I sold my second Internet business, BlueLithium, to Yahoo! for $300 million.

My father joined us for the celebrations. It gave me the opportunity to tell him, “You know why this wonderful thing has happened to our family?

Because of you. Even when you were at your lowest, you picked yourself up and kept fighting. You taught me that one must never give up.”

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