How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill

Life is a matter of familiarizing yourself with your values and priorities, which usually comes as a result of looking back at your individual experiences. This is the case of the life-changing experience of Michael Gates Gill, a former creative director at J. Walter Thompson Advertising. He was born into a life of never-ending privileges that allowed him to exceed in every aspect of his life, without lifting a finger. Because his goals in life had been easily achieved due to the high social class he stood in because of his father, he never had a chance to actually work hard for a place in the world. Because of his elite job, he felt he was the ruling class of the world and look down upon those of the working class. But soon enough, fate followed and resulted in a turning-point in Michael’s life. After 25-years of loyal service, he was roughly put off from his job without a single recognition in regards to his working years of success. He had then realized that karma came back at him for all the times he had mistreated the people beneath him. Unfortunately, this didn’t stop there. In just a short term following this, he got divorced, lost his estate to his wife along with the respect of his children, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Michael’s life came crashing down all so suddenly in the year of his sixties, that it felt that it was impossible to regain a steady momentum. However, an opportunity at a job at Starbuck was offered to him to get a new fresh start on his life and out of surprise, he took it. Michael began to re-orient his values of his life and gained a new understanding on the ways of respect. He wasn’t familiar with the mentality that respect and self-worth comes to those who earn it with hard work and a sense of humanity for others. This is why the theme of the memoir “How Starbucks Saved My Life” is when people choose to take risks on something new; they end up getting a higher level of understanding on the experience.

Michael Gates Gill encountered many moments in his life where he was forced to take a chance and hope for the best, on where he stood afterwards. One of these moments occurred in a rush, where he was taken by surprise and went along with the opportunity. This was the afternoon when Michael normally took a walk down to Starbucks and hoped there would be a small chance that he could recover his normal life. It was a day of repeated failures, and hopelessness was the only mood in the air. Unexpectedly, a young woman named Crystal, came up to him, as if she was the light to guide back on the road to recovery and offered him a job at Starbucks. As desperate as Michael was, he took the interview with Crystal and was able to receive the job. After a rush of emotions, he was amazed at what risk he had taken. As a member of the ruling class, looking down upon such people, he had dropped almost instantly at the thought that he would be working for this young woman. “ ‘Yes,’ I said without thinking, ‘I would like a job.’ I’d never had to seek a job before. After recommencement at Yale in 1963, I’d gotten a call from James Henry Brewster, IV, a friend of mine in Skull & Bones. ‘Gates,’ he said assertively, ‘I’m setting you up at J. Walter Thompson.’” (4) He reflects on this experience in the book to show that he was “born” into his previous job and never had to prove himself for the position. But having to take an interview for a job that wasn’t as high class as his former one, he felt out of place and didn’t know what to make of the situation. Michael began his first step into becoming a stronger person, from this experience. His past did not keep him from taking the job offer and as a result he learned a lot from his job at Starbucks. He learned that respect goes to those who treat others with the same mutual respect and dignity. His partners treated him as equals, despite their level of authority in the Starbucks business. They showed consideration for one another, which was the complete opposite at Michael’s former company, J. Walter Thompson. Michael learned that by taking this job, he has never had a better outlook on life before.

While managing to prove himself to other partners at his new job at Starbucks, Michael was presented with the task of managing the register, something he had been trying to avoid. But after taking one of the biggest risks of his life, taking the job at Starbucks, he knew he could extend it further. Michael was up to the challenge of facing more than hundreds of “guests,” delivering their Starbuck orders of the day. “ ‘Focus,’ I reminded myself, ‘Punch the right button, call out the order, make the right change, smile.’” (106) Michael was eager to do a good job on the register and stayed focused on the machine and attentive towards the customers. After overcoming his fear of operating the register, he gained an understanding of the importance on the position. Michael quotes, “Starbucks was not something people decided for or against in a casual way. It was obviously key part of their lives, an important destination for them every single day.” (135) He found himself happier to know that not only were guests loved coming to Starbucks, but also eager to greet Michael at the register and engage in conversation. It was a gift to him, to simply greet guests and serve them to his best ability. After this particular experience, Michael viewed the position of managing the register in a different perspective. This shows mainly the result of taking risks, and the impact it has on your life.

Furthermore, one of the biggest risks I feel that Michael Gates Gill took would be one that developed over a period of time. As the days passed by with Michael working his daily shifts at Starbucks, he began to find his rightful place in the world. He was no longer embarrassed to be in the working class, looking up at those who he once controlled. He began to isolate himself from those in his “previous” life, which was a great risk he had taken, running through the possibility that he might permanently lose touch with those people. The fact that he was embarrassed by the step-down in his career also contributed to the reason he stopped communicating with certain people. For instance, Michael states; “I would have the very visible public embarrassment of being Michael Gates Gill dressed as a waiter serving drinks to people who could have been my friends or clients.” (44) But after a while, he learned that by doing this, he could look more into the future and stop dwelling on the past. He was no longer ashamed of his new place in the world and the job he loved doing. He passed by people who exemplified the highest status of his former life and didn’t look twice. For example; “As I brushed passed him, I had the sensation that I was not just moving around him, but moving beyond him, as I had already moved beyond other remnants of my past, more arrogant self.” (251) Michael gained a lot of confidence and self-esteem to which he took the risk of isolating himself from people of his past.

I have found that the theme for the book, “How Starbucks Saved My Life,” by Michael Gates Gill is; when people choose to take risks on something new; they end up getting a higher level of understanding on the experience. Taking from what I have learned from the text and an overall understanding on Michael’s memoir, I would say that the reason people get a better understanding on the situation when they take a risk is because then they can probe deeper into it and try something new. If Michael Gates Gill had not made that first move and taken the job offer to Starbucks, he wouldn’t have had a chance to see life through a less fortunate view. Meanwhile, Michael began to re-orient his values in his life and gained a new understanding on the ways of respect. He wasn’t familiar with the mentality that respect and self-worth comes to those who earn it with hard work and a sense of humanity for others. Therefore, taking risks can eventually lead to life-changing experiences and they are unquestionably worth taking. “How Starbucks Saved My Life,” is the perfect auto-biography on reflecting on life’s moments and considering ways that it can be applied to the future.





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