Originally posted at Smorgasblurb. I love a good rags-to-riches story. Sam “Walmart” Walton sold magazines and milked cows in small-town Oklahoma before building the world’s biggest company. Howard Schultz forged his place in American folklore by brewing the coffee shop movement after a hand-to-mouth childhood in Brooklyn’s worst neighborhood. They each made the leap from obscurity to prominence. Mired in adversity, they clawed their way to triumph. But it is a grand charade to suggest that riches alone are better than rags. Success is a fickle concept. We treat it like a GPS destination. Kick the car in gear, turn right at the T, and pull into the driveway after the rusty garage. Follow this route and you will surely arrive. But success looks nothing like a script. And it can be deceiving. He had everything a man could want or imagine, I muse. But with success, you can’t know it when you see it. “I’ve gone from village to palace,” exclaimed Ashok Khade. Born in a mud hut without much food, Ashok’s childhood was like a very long walk up a very steep hill. As part of the “untouchables” caste, the lowest of Indian classes, his future was destined to look like his father’s—a grueling life spent cleaning sewers or sweeping streets. But Ashok’s story unfolds just like Sam Walton’s. He studied hard, worked tirelessly and bootstrapped his oil business into a $100M Indian powerhouse. Ashok arrived. He traded in his rickshaw for a beamer. The oil tycoon now stays at 5-star hotels, adorns his mother with opulent gold jewelry and makes deals with sheiks from Abu Dhabi. The journalist pronounced Ashok’s concluding verdict: “The untouchable boy had become golden, thanks to the newest god in the Indian pantheon: money.” From a mud shack to the presidential suite, Ashok followed the roadmap to success. And he arrived. He now revels in his wealth, indulging in the finest of luxuries, hoarding his wealth and “living the dream.” But, Ashok has simply gold-plated the chains of poverty. Ashok should listen to the sage advice of his forbearer. John Rockefeller, also a peasant-turned-oilman, bemoaned, “I have made many millions, but they have brought me no happiness.” At the peak of his success, Rockefeller topped the charts as the wealthiest person in the world. He had no equal. If success were a map, he would be the mapmaker. But, Rockefeller mourned what we are afraid to admit: Success has nothing to do with prosperity. You can indulge in every luxury and still hate waking up in the morning. Yet we keep peddling the empty promise that a life of prosperity will soothe the wounds of the heart. It won’t. Rockefeller knew it, and it shouldn’t surprise Ashok that his newfound riches are like whitewashed tombs. There is a rags-to-riches story I love more than the rest, however. It is a story of a poor shepherd boy abandoned by his brothers and sold into the hands of a royal Egyptian family. Thrown in jail for years, the poor farmhand persevered and wrote his rags-to-riches story, advancing from the fields to the royal suite.
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command. – Genesis 41:41-43From sheering sheep to gracing the throne of the modern world, it was in ancient Egypt where we see rags-to-riches in its purest form. Joseph knew he was not blessed simply to surround himself with frond-waving servants and Egyptian delicacies. He was blessed to bless. “And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.” (vs. 57) It was from this position of power and wealth that Joseph rescued the whole world on the brink of collapse. From poverty to generosity: A true rags-to-riches story.