“How Starbucks saved my life”

This is the title of a true story written by Michael Gates Gill, a 63 year old American at the the time of his story. His past was one born with a silver spoon in his mouth. His father was an accomplished writer for The New Yorker and his mother has an ancestry that was rich and colourful.

Michael studied at an Ivy League Yale University. After Yale, he worked for the largest advertising agency in the world, J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT). He rose through the ranks to become the Creative Director before he was fired at age 53 after 35 years in service. His fall was more due to the change of owner of the company who preferred younger hire.

After JWT, Michael set up a personal consultancy firm doing much the same work in advertising. But this venture had been difficult to break through as he was competing with established names in the industry. His goodwill with former clients and connections cannot see him through. They avoided him and most times did not return his calls.

During this period of 10 years after JWT, his world fell apart. He was involved in a relationship with a woman he met at a gym and fathered a son. He is already a father of four children from his first marriage and the family was estranged from him as a result of this affair.

At age 63, he was struggling with his daily expenses and feeling guilty and incompetent. One day, he was sipping latte at Starbucks, he was asked out of the blue by Crystal, the manager at Starbucks Broadway, whether he liked a job. With that unusual encounter, Michael was launched into a career as a barista of Starbucks.

Being 63 years old, he was by far the oldest employee in Starbucks. His co-workers are decades younger and more energetic and efficient. But this fact did not deter him from learning new skills. He had to start with cleaning the toilets and store, bringing out the garbage, using the register and serving the customers, working at the bar preparing the drinks, working at opening the store, and working at closing the store.

Michael not for once felt that this job is one that is beneath his status (he lost it anyway when he left JWT), but he was however apprehensive about how others including his children will view him. He learned his various duties and did his best, even with using the cash register which was his worst area of work. He did not mind commuting 3 hours everyday because he needed to restore his self-esteem with this job. His skill at connecting with people was put to good use when he interacted and served his customers. In addition, he  conducted seminars and coffee-tasting sessions for the clienteles which was very well received.

The story taught us many things:

  • It is not too late to learn new skills. Look at the senior members of our society serving at McDonald’s Restaurants, etc.
  • Opportunities should be given to seekers of work regardless of age. Some could turn out to be gems in the establishment. Society must accept elderly folks seeking a job as they need to survive. Family must accept that too and give him/her the encouragement.
  • One must be positive and be humble at work despite of our past history, be it a high flying career or otherwise. He/She should not dwell in the past but move on with the present.
  • There must be respect and dignity in establishments and individuals must be accorded that courtesy. This is a positive way to motivate staff members.

The story has a good ending for Michael. Starbucks has changed his life and his children loved him for who he is now. He has removed the shackle of his glorious past, started to live a new life and continued to work at Starbucks.

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