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Latte leads to new life

Created date

February 3rd, 2009

By Elizabeth Janney

Leaving the workforce can be like letting go of your identity. Leaving it involuntarily is like having your identity ripped out from under you.

That s what happened to Michael Gates Gill, and it turned out to be the best worst thing that could have ever happened.

When one door closes

After 25 years of working for a major advertising company, Gill was let go because a younger person could do his job for less.

"With my sparse white hair, I was an embarrassment to the kind of lean, mean, hard-charging, young company [the new owner] wanted to run," Gill writes in his bestselling book, How Starbucks Saved My Life.

With five kids to support and not much financial wiggle room, Gill tried to use his connections to secure a consulting job. No luck.

"What I was experiencing was a reality for millions of aging Americans today who could not support themselves and were no longer wanted by the major corporations in our country," he writes. "In this state of numbed anxiety, ambivalence, and forced humility, I opened the door to the Starbucks store."

Another door opens

Sipping lattes in Starbucks was a way for Gill to maintain a semblance of his former life. But one day, a manager asked if he would like to apply for a job, giving him more of a boost than any espresso drink ever could.

With nothing left to lose, he filled out the application and went on to become one of the company s employees.

"It s like life is a trip, and you re constantly collecting stuff along the way," Gill says. "Pretty soon you ve got bags of stuff. At a point, you say, I have affection for this stuff, but I m going to leave it behind and go back to zero."

"Back at zero" leaving behind his old identity and values Gill learned how to work in a different way. From cleaning toilets to counting change, he adapted; willingness and an open mind were all it took.

Eye openers

From his position behind the counter, Gill drank in the nuances of his Starbucks customers, learning about their lives.

"I recommend not being a judge or jury but just being a witness it s an exhilarating place to be," he says.

But he is more than a witness. No longer looking to society for what he can get out of it, Gill finds his satisfaction in providing service for others. With this mentality, he has his heart open to experience life at its purest. He sees value in everything and adds to the joy of all around him.

With a book in his back pocket (or apron) and a movie deal starring Tom Hanks on the horizon, it may seem that success is what has made Gill so happy. But his journey is what has made the difference.

"The advantage of age is that you feel love is the most important thing," he says. "No grandchild cares about your career. They care about who you are with them, that you are loving and present with them in the moment." Gill encourages passion, stating that after all, "We re not made to be lukewarm to things."

It is certain that Gill, who is still working at Starbucks, is on fire and the flames spread to whomever he meets. "Put down your guard," he suggests. After all, his world didn t change until he was open to accepting the possibilities. "My life is proof that you can discover life after 60."

Elizabeth.Janney@erickson.com

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