(photos taken by Travis Levius)
We’ve all heard triumphant “rags-to -riches” success stories in our lifetime- but have we witnessed a riches-to-rags story…and still consider it a triumph?
It may be difficult to believe, but author and Starbucks barista Michael Gates Gill challenges millions of people about what a great, inspiring life looks like. Best-seller “How Starbucks Saved My Life” is an autobiography by Gill who was raised in the highest social circles on Earth- meeting Jackie Onassis, Queen Elizabeth, and Ernest Hemingway, going to Yale, and landing a six-figure ad agency job immediately after graduation. He was living the high life in New York City and made no apologies for it…then situations rocked his entire life.
He was fired from his prestigious job because of his older age, went through a divorce due to his adultery, and ran his own consulting company only to see it crash and burn. This “born rich” man became unemployed for 10 years, and during this time discovered he had a brain tumor.
Through desperation he sought out an open position at Starbucks Coffee near Harlem, serving customers, cleaning bathrooms, and handling the register- not exactly the glamorous life he’s experienced since birth. Being around rich, white people all his life was challenged when the staff and management consists of young black and Latino people, including his recruiter, Crystal. It is learning from her and experiencing his job at Starbucks that made him a better, humble man and learned to appreciate everyone from every walk of life. He is happier than ever and works there to this day.
I had a brief interview with him after promoting his new, second book, “How to Save Your Own Life: 15 Lessons on Finding Hope in Unexpected Places.” His life story proves that inspiration can truly come from unexpected places!
How did you overcome those years of hardship before you landed the Starbucks job? What got you through?
My daughter Annie said to keep a journal. Because every night before I go to bed I think it’s good to just write down- but not paragraphs- just a sentence or two on how you feel and what’s happening. That was very helpful to me. And then also have to “Let Go and Let God” like the chapter in my new book says. I think that’s the best advice if you’re going through hard times. Instead of saying “I can’t handle this/I can’t do this,” say “I’ll just do the best I can. I’m gonna give it up to God, let go and let God, and let Him take over.”
One lesson listed in new book: Look with Respect to Every Individual
This homeless guy came in and I just cleaned the bathroom and I just step in front and say “the bathroom’s out of order.” But Crystal was watching over me, and she came over, and I could see she was upset, but she didn’t express it loudly but she said “Never do that again.” I said “what?” Crystal replied:
“The last thing that gentleman needed today was to be disrespected by you…just as I treat you with respect, I expect you to respect everyone that comes in our store. You don’t get to judge people anymore. Everyone that comes in our store gets to sit as long as they want, and use all the facilities.”
Here I was seeing him as a homeless guy instead of as an individual with the same needs everyone has.
In the simplest words, what is life about to you? What should it be about?
Serving others. Just serve somebody. A cup of coffee in my case (laughs). It doesn’t have to be profound. I think we get mixed up with thinking we gotta make life some abstract thing, when it can just be helping someone in some simple way. When bad things happen you begin to say “Oh my God, look at me, I got this, I got that.” But even in Starbucks, for example, when you’re serving others [coffee] you can’t even think about whether you have a brain tumor or not.
“My advice to sum up a happy life would be to give yourself time to listen to your own heart, and then move forward to find someway that you could serve someone, it doesn’t matter who, everyday, but someone in someway.”
What advice would you give to people who want the wealthy lifestyle but still want to stay true to themselves?
In every religion in every part of the world say “The simple life is the best life.” In the Bible it says the treasures is where your heart is and external treasure will rust. I know many of the richest people in the world, and the more money you have, the more stuff you have, and the more you think about money the more you think about stuff. It’s not like they go to bed happy. It’s sad that they’re possessed by their possessions. If you look at Buddha or the story of Jesus…every single religious figure would say, “it can’t be…external stuff that measures your success or even happiness.” It doesn’t mean that it’s not going to happen, but if they occur they should occur SECOND. For example, I met with a minister of a church, and I’m still this big advertising guy, and he said “Take no thought for tomorrow,” and that really got me angry. Take no thought for tomorrow when I have a campaign to deal with, and supporting my family, I’ve got work to do…if I couldn’t work hard my family could be in debt and I could get fired… I called him the next day, “You know, this doesn’t make sense,” and then he said “First, think about GOD…and then all those things will be added unto you.” So the key is not to seek those things in and of themselves…there’s nothing evil about a good house, or indoor plumbing, or all this stuff that’s nice to have, but you’ve got to first think about God, check with your own heart, and do something today…tomorrow in love.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21–
The “Saved My Life” book will become a movie starring film star Tom Hanks. You can view his CNN feature by clicking HERE.