Everyone likes a good "rags to riches" story. After all, if some dude can go from living in a cardboard box to being the CEO of a major corporation, we can do it too!
Unfortunately, it doesn't take a lot of digging into most of these stories to find out they've been, well, inflated a bit. And sometimes, they're complete bullshit.
#6. Bill Gates
The Rags to Riches Story:
Bill was a college dropout who finessed his way into the upper echelons of IBM to sell his operating system. Now he sleeps on a bed made of solid gold. According to the media, Bill Gates is the Rocky Balboa of the business world. They've compared him to other college dropouts; from Kanye West to some guy who runs the IT Department at Bradley College. Gates proved that if you're smart and willing to work hard, you can build an empire! And you don't even have to go to college! Yay!
Why it's a Load of Crap:
First of all, the college Gates left was Harvard, not the community college that most of the people who cite his story are thinking of leaving. He entered Harvard by scoring 1590 out of 1600 on his SAT--the man was, and still is, a genetically mutated genius. But one with the type of parents who could afford Harvard.
Luxury office, giant window. Just your average college dropout.
In fact, Gates's parents have a lot to do with his success, and even why he was able to drop out of school. At a very young age, Bill was staying up all night experimenting with computer programming. Keep in mind, this was the late 60s and early 70s, so having access to a computer was like having access to a helicopter. He gained incredible amounts of experience because his upper class parents were able to enroll him in an exclusive prep school that had a computer available. This was only possible because Bill's father was a prominent attorney, and his mother's side of the family wasn't exactly poor either.
Later, Gates left college because it didn't provide the training in computer programming that he needed for the software business he was running on the side. It wasn't that Gates couldn't keep up at Harvard; Harvard couldn't keep up with Gates. Again, this is the kind of risk you can take when you have well-to-do parents who can get you right back into school if things don't work out. If the dude scraping by on student loans and corn dogs tries the same thing, he's probably going to wind up bussing tables at Chili's the rest of his life.
Of course here is where Gates used his genius and creativity to invent the modern operating system...
Oh, wait, no. It turns out he bought the program that would later become MS-DOS from another programmer, for a one-time fee of $50,000. He then took it to IBM and other PC manufacturers and made a pile of money big enough to ski down it.
Now, we're not saying Bill Gates isn't a smart guy or that he didn't work hard. By all accounts he puts in more hours working than most people put into being awake. But, an "Upper Middle Class Guy With an Extraordinarily Fortunate Background to Riches" story is a completely different deal than a "Rags to Riches." The dude wasn't exactly an orphan begging for scraps. And it's not like he was turning tricks as a male whore to put his start-up capital together, the way Steve Jobs did .
#5. Debbi Fields (Founder of Mrs. Fields Cookies)
The Rags to Riches Story:
According to the "About Us" section of MrsFields.com:
"Debbi Fields, a young mother with no business experience, opened her first cookie store in Palo Alto, California in 1977. They told her she was crazy. No business could survive just selling cookies. Humble beginnings launched Mrs. Fields into a worldwide celebrity."
If you're willing to ignore people who call you crazy, you too could be the nemesis of diabetics everywhere.
Why It's a Load Of Crap:
It's true Debbi Fields had no business experience. But you know what helps when you're a 20-year-old bravely entering the world of business with nothing but savvy and a cookie recipe? Being married to Randy Fields, a man who was both a decade older than her and owned a successful investment firm.
Mr. Fields, CEO.
The capital they raised to get started came via Randy's contacts. Yes, the cookies were good enough to attract customers; we would never try to disparage the power of a really good cookie. But the real success came when Randy and the company's IT Manager developed software that efficiently handled supply chain management. This kept costs low while still charging outrageous prices for the cookies.
Debbi had the financial backing of a business maverick, and sold a product everyone loved. So why did everyone call her crazy when she opened her first store? The picture gets a lot clearer when you read the bio on her personal web page. Debbie gives credit to herself, her innovations and her determination.
Did you know she invented cookies?
She also places herself in the same company as three of the world's greatest history-changing innovators: Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell. Apparently, keeping America's cookie jars full ranks up there with changing they the world talks, travels and learns. We're stunned she hasn't had her image carved on Mount Rushmore.
The Rags to Riches Story:
Jewel lived in a van!
Jewel lived in a van!!
Jewel lived in a van!!!!!!
This line is shouted in every single story ever written about Jewel. And just in case that doesn't melt your frozen heart, the van story is almost always followed up with the fact that her family was so poor growing up that they didn't have running water.
Why it's a Load of Crap:
First, the stuff about her childhood. Her family didn't go without running water because they were poor. Jewel's father elected to drop out of society to live of the land, and settled in Alaska to do so. They were hippies, not hobos. Jewel's upbringing was unconventional, sure, but at least she didn't grow up in homeless shelters like true badasses such as KRS One, Tupac Shakur and ... Shania Twain.
"How will I take long, luxurious showers without water?"
Later, Jewel followed in her father's footsteps, choosing to quit work and live in a van to keep costs down and focus on her music. Ballsy? Sure, but all musicians live in their car for a while. Legally, you're not allowed to call yourself a musician unless you've got some sort of transient-living under your belt.
Again, we're not just talking about hard asses like Kurt Cobain, whose biography includes a spell camping out under a bridge. Creed lead "singer" Scott Stapp and Matchbox 20 front"man" Rob Thomas lived in their cars while pursuing the dream.
Don't take our word for it, take it from those celebrated rock and roll historians, Boston:
Well, we were just another band out of Boston
On the road to try to make ends meet
Playing all the bars, sleeping in our cars
And we practiced right on out in the street
Sleeping in a car is rock and roll! And she had a van; hell, that's a freaking mansion in the struggling musician world.
The inside of Jewel's van.
So common is the van in rock and roll, that there is a website dedicated to giving the van dwellers of rock an occasional couch to sleep on (at BetterThanTheVan.com).
So why don't we hear about Scott Stapp, Rob Thomas and Shania Twain's hard ass upbringings as much as Jewel's? Well, it would seem that Jewel's tale of unprecedented hardship might be part of a calculated PR strategy. For instance, if you're tired of the van story, her online bios will have you know that she also "washed her hair in public restrooms, subsisted on carrots and peanut butter, fell in with street gangs, dated older men and even shoplifted." Come on guys. This isn't high school, it's rock and roll. If you're going to be the bad girl, you're going to have to give us something a little worse than "dating older men," and a little less hilariously far-fetched than "gang involvement." Stevie Nix's PR team should have some suggestions.