The Foremost Secret of Joseph and Mandela’s Success

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The Foremost Secret of Joseph and Mandela’s Success

“During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die”

How did he make it? This is the man who said of George W Bush, “A fool who wants to plunge the world into a holocaust” He is the man who was imprisoned for over a quarter of a century. To put it in perspective, when he was imprisoned, the fourth President of the Republic of Kenya had just been born. When Mandela was released from Prison Uhuru Kenyatta was ready to start his own family, having finished formal schooling.

Mandela went ahead to become the first African leader of South Africa since the world begun. How did he pull it off? How do we finally make changes of things that are so ingrained in our thinking and psyche that they are a foregone conclusion, with nobody bothering to tackle them?

Think of it this way: It is a foregone conclusion that the United States of America is the undisputed only superpower of the world. Can your thinking today consider the USA as a non-entity, a nation that no longer dictates security, trade, commerce and industry in the whole wide world? It is unthinkable, right?

That is the same thing that Joseph’s brothers were thinking when he told them that one day, they will bow before him. To make sure that it doesn’t happen, they hatched a plan to kill him. Joseph was only saved by one witty brother who decided on a compromise to sell him to slavery other than kill him. I still shudder to think what would have happened of that future Prime Minster of the civilized world at that time, if the caravans of the slave traders had not passed by at the opportune time. I tell you, some things might seem happenstance, but such things are at times divinely ordained.

So anyway, how did Joseph make it? If you have read his story, you will know that it is a story of grace to grass and back to grace and then to glory. But how did he make that full metamorphosis? The story starts with Joseph being the favorite son to an old man Jacob who was named “Israel”. Jacob spoils his child and riles the envy of his brothers. To add salt to injury, Joseph himself has “Prophetic” dreams more than once that firmly indicate that he would be superior to all his brothers.

Their anger and envy against him knew no bounds and it has been recorded in history that after throwing him in a pit, his brothers sat down to eat. Think about that for a minute. If that was bad, then think about selling your own brother as a slave, and telling your father that your brother was devoured by a wild animal. You see the pain that your father goes through daily grieving, but you don’t come clean. You wish your acts away.

In Egypt, Joseph is sold by the slave traders to one of the high government official. Jewish historians tell us that Joseph was so good looking that at times he would be paraded naked for women to gaze at. Can you stop for a minute and think about that? Let us try to put ourselves in his shoes. What was going on in his mind at that time? I am willing to bet that when he remembered his dreams, he must have laughed cynically at the absurdity of it all. My question would be: were those dreams valid at that time?

He gets accused of trying to rape the government official’s wife and is violently thrown in prison. Look at him again. What must he have been thinking of the dreams he had? It seems to me like he was moving from one low to another.

My message is to all those that have had a dream at some point in time. You have a knowing or an instinct that you were meant for greatness. However, every single detail in your surrounding indicates that you will never amount to anything. If anything, your self-image is so battered, beaten and worn down that you look down on yourself, like Joseph standing naked being gazed at by strangers in a foreign land…or like Nelson Mandela cut off from his people and working in a quarry for years on end. Chances are that you have convinced yourself to forget all about the dream. In fact, thoughts about that dream you had seen to be so expensive and the dream itself seems so lofty that it is now a burden.

You look at yourself like you are a failure. You are questioning the very need for being alive. Like one Prophet said in the Book of Lamentations (probably this is the only book that makes sense to you now), “I forget what prosperity is”. Mentally and psychologically, you have adjusted to pain, suffering, lack, and a dour life. What happened to the dream? Was it valid? Was it worth it?

What do you think was going on in Nelson Mandela’s mind each day he was being oppressed by the prison warders on Robben Island? He had said that the idea of a free society was what he was prepared to die…and here he was cutting stones in a quarry in harsh conditions.

Friends, there is only one secret that both Joseph and Mandela had. However, prior to unleashing this secret (which is no secret at all, but a very profound truth), I need to beef it up with some pillars:

  • Conviction: Vision and purpose are inherent here. Both men had dreams. Both never at any one point recanted those dreams. There is no record of either men regretting why they did have the vision in the first place. So if you are going through and you had some form of conviction even if it was 20 or 30 years ago, you are in good company.
  • Detachment: These two guys if you read their stories, you do not find them living in a wishful world. They embraced the brutal facts of their situation and tackled it as it came. Although they had passion, conviction and dreams, they never stopped for a minute to face their realities in view of their dreams. Learn to let go of what you think is supposed to happen.
  • Day at a time: Jim Collins has a perfect explanation for this. He tells of a story of soldiers captured behind enemy lines. He says that those who never used to make it were the most hopeful and the most optimistic. Why? Because they used to say things such as, “We shall be out of here by Christmas”…and thus they would ignore the very day that they were living. When Christmas came and their situation did not change, it dealt a major psychological blow to them and they suffered what Mercia Weider calls “Apoptosis” as I shall explain shortly. Joseph and Mandela must have employed the day at a time principle.
  • Productive Anyway: Joseph always came out the best no matter where you threw him. Mandela would never be silenced even in prison. They were enterprising enough to always find something to do. Mandela wrote most of his book, “Long Walk to Freedom” while in prison, under very difficult circumstances. Joseph made a decision to excel in anything he put his hands on. In fact the two men never diminished their gifts and talents because they were in prison. Instead, they let them shine and used them to ride the tide.

The Secret

I do not know what dream you have dreamt. I do not know what conviction you have had. Probably if you are reading this and the dream died or the conviction is no longer there, you are resonating with the powerful stories of these men. Probably you have backslidden and you once were a force to reckon with. Perhaps you had dreams to have a blissful marriage and home life. Perhaps you had conviction of where and how you would raise your children. Maybe all those dreams are gone (or so it seems for you). My call today is to tell you to do one thing: Just live on one more day. One more month. One more year.

That, my friend, was the secret that Joseph and Mandela employed. They chose to live. One more day, each day. Mandela run in place in his cell while in prison, and chose to further his studies. He chose to live, to find something that he could do in the meantime. Joseph was exemplary that he was appointed head of affairs while in prison.

To a casual observer, living might seem like the cheapest advice ever to give a soul. Yet to understand this advice, consider Egypt without Joseph. Consider South Africa without Nelson Mandela. What if these two souls had decided to give up and die?

There is a medical term called Apoptosis. It simply means this:

“When your brain believes you’ve outgrown your usefulness (which can happen at any age – we see it most often when people retire, get laid off, experience an empty nest), when people or companies stop having vision, the brain sends a message to the body that it’s no longer needed. And people and companies start to self-destruct”.

—Marcia Wieder, CEO, Dream University


I have a sneaky feeling dear visionary that although the vision you had tarries, although it has taken decades, it shall come of age and it shall come good. You see, you are not the only activator of this grand vision. You have help in places unbeknown to you at the moment. Somehow, this dream is yours alone to bring to fruition, and you should not worry about competition.

I therefore have this ask of you: Please stay alive. One. More. Day.