I had achieved by sixty-four what most people accomplish by twenty-four: A Starbucks story

Michael Gates Gill lost it all, his top echelon career in one of the top advertising agencies in the world, his home, his wife, his money, his everything that he was . . . until one day he found himself sitting in a Starbucks in his Brooks Brothers suit, confounded by the turns his life had taken — he was supposed to be on top, he’d been groomed for it! — when almost jokingly a young black woman named Crystal, less than half his age, asked if he wanted a job, there, at Starbucks.

He said yes.

Here he is, Christmas approaching, bereft of family and friends, leaving the upper Manhattan Starbucks store he now works at, a one-and-a-half hour commute one way from his tiny apartment:

Going out the door of my store after another successful Coffee Tasting, I was met with a gust of cold December air. The weather had changed dramatically in the last few days. I pulled down my wool hat and pulled on my wool gloves.

As I walked toward the subway, the lights seemed brighter in the city. Maybe it was a trick of the dropping temperature. They seemed to twinkle magically in the arctic air.  

I started walking, then literally stopped with a shock of revelation: “I am happier than I have ever been,” I said out loud.  

Fortunately, in New York City, many people speak loudly to themselves, and nobody notices. 

I took off a glove I had just put on. 

I put my hand on my heart. 

I could feel a kind of gentle, inner happiness I had never felt before. 

What was going on? 

I was almost scared; still afraid to admit to myself how happy I was now . . .  with a  job as a barista at Starbucks. This was not the high-status job or affluent life my parents, my family, and my friends had expected of me.  

Did this mean that my whole former life — all sixty-four years of it — had been a joke? 

No. I shook my head, still planted in the spot, arguing with myself. I had loved many things. I still loved my children. But I had to admit, for the first time and with a brutal honesty, that I had hated large swatches of my former, high-status life, full of so much meaningless activity. 

I took a turn around the corner, and back up Broadway. I wanted to walk for a while. I had to think. I didn’t want to go underground too fast tonight. The lights were too bright. 

What was I thinking? 

I hated to think that my whole life had been a lie. 

But I had to admit that I felt great relief in the different life I had now . . . even my little apartment. I felt proud of being able to live and support myself . . . . Still . . . it did not make sense. I had achieved at sixty-four what most people accomplished by twenty-four. Why was I so happy? 

I felt my heart again.  

The gentle love and peace and happiness I felt now I had never experienced before. 

Maybe the mistakes I had made — causing so much damage — had also helped me to break out of my comfortable cocoon . . . to get out to a world so much more full of life and light. 

I didn’t know. I couldn’t really think it through. 

But I knew what I felt in my heart. 

Crystal had said: “Follow your heart.” 

My heart was full of a happiness I had never known before.

From How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else, by Michael Gates Gill.


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