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What Michael Gates Gill Found at Starbucks

This is from a newsletter we get by being subscribers to Bottom Line Secrets from whom we get a hard copy newsletter, and daily additional articles in e-mail form.

What I Gained When I Lost Everything…

Michael Gates Gill

Fourteen years ago, at age 53, Michael Gates Gill was at the top of his game — he had a lovely wife, an expensive home and a $160,000-a-year job in advertising. By age 63, he was divorced, unemployed and nearly broke — then his doctor informed him that he had a slow-growing brain tumor.

In desperate need of health insurance and a regular paycheck, Gill took an entry-level job serving coffee at Starbucks for $10.50 an hour. To his amazement, he loved the work.

Four years later, Gill no longer needs the health insurance — he now is old enough to qualify for Medicare. He also has sold his life story to Hollywood (Tom Hanks is expected to portray Gill in the film), but he plans to remain at Starbucks — he enjoys the job. He has chosen “watchful waiting” as the treatment option for his brain tumor.

Bottom Line/Personal asked Gill to share what recent years have taught him about life…

Your own expectations can constrain you. In my earlier life, I defined myself by my career and social status — I was an affluent, Yale-educated ad executive. When I lost my job in advertising, I was certain that the solution to my problems lay in landing a new job in advertising or, if not that, a new client to get my own advertising consulting business on its feet.

My mental image of myself prevented me from considering opportunities that did not fit that picture. I could not see myself in a service-sector job wearing an apron and a baseball cap — even though Starbucks’ generous health insurance plan offered a solution to my most immediate problem.

It took an outside force to break me out of this box. I was in my local Starbucks when, out of the blue, a manager asked me if I needed a job — it turns out that the Starbucks I had entered was having a “Hiring Open House.”

You may not know your true priorities. I spent most of my adult life chasing bigger paychecks, loftier job titles and flashier possessions. These were my goals not because I chose them, but because I never considered that any other goals existed. My friends and family seemed to want these things, and I assumed that I wanted them, too.

When I accepted the job at Starbucks, it struck me that I probably would never again have money, titles or expensive possessions — yet one evening at Starbucks, I realized that I was as happy as I had ever been in my life. This “low-level” job gave me supportive bosses and coworkers, lots of human interaction and enough money to live a simple life. These were my real priorities, and I had never even known it. Instead, I had wasted most of my life pursuing other people’s goals.

Perhaps I could have discovered my true priorities long ago if I had listened to my heart, rather than allowing myself to get swept along in what those around me were doing.

Trust the universe. I thought of myself as a master of the universe when I was young and successful. Only later did I discover that no person is a master of the universe, and it is foolish even to aspire to be one. Trying to master the universe means struggling against the tide of events, which rarely works. When the universe pushed me out of the executive suite, I tried to take charge and reclaim the life I had had previously. I did not find happiness again until I stopped fighting the tide and started swimming with it to see where it led.

Any task can be worthwhile if it involves serving others. I had considered serving coffee an unimportant job — until I figured out that my job was not really serving coffee at all. It was serving my customers and my coworkers. I might not be curing cancer, but I am doing my best to make life a little better for anyone who steps through the Starbucks’ door. There are few feelings as wonderful as the feeling you get when you help someone feel better.

Having money only creates a desire for more money. I earned a lot in my previous career, yet I was always in debt and worried about finances. Today I no longer have a car, a big house, stylish furniture or $2,000 suits… and I do not miss my former possessions in the least. I can’t even remember why I thought they were important. Living without luxuries doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. I love my cozy apartment. I love that I can go for a walk or sit at home reading a book and not feel that I should be out at a business event or an expensive restaurant.

The best jobs are those that keep you in the moment. Much of my 26 years in advertising was wasted in meetings. Many times we had meetings to prepare for other meetings. We were living not for the moment but always in the future.

Only when I started working behind a counter did I discover the joy of work that keeps you in the here and now. There are no long-term projects in my new career. When I prepare a cup of coffee, I don’t worry about past mistakes or future challenges. I just do what I am doing right now to the best of my abilities, and I immediately see the results of what I have done. That is a wonderfully gratifying way to live.

Most people work long hours and think about their jobs even when they are home. When I worked in advertising, a boss once ordered me to fly to Detroit on Christmas while my young children were still opening their presents. I went.

I love the fact that now when I leave work for the day, I do not think about my job again until my next shift. That is what a job should be — a relatively small part of life.

True, jobs that offer lots of free time are unlikely to be very lucrative — but the free time they provide can lead to even greater financial success. I used some of my free time to write a book that will soon become a movie. If I were still a “successful” executive, I never could have found the time to write.

The only job that’s beneath you is one that you do not give your full effort to. I no longer consider it degrading to clean the toilets in a coffee shop bathroom. What would be degrading would be cleaning them poorly. Doing a task well — any task — is a source of self-respect.

It is natural to fear change, but things are rarely as bad as we fear. When we’re faced with change, we worry that we will not be able to adapt or that we will not enjoy our new situation. I was scared of taking a job at Starbucks… scared that I wouldn’t get along with coworkers half my age… scared when I was put in charge of a cash register, because I have never been very good with money.

Each time, I was scared before the change occurred — yet once it did, it was never as bad as I had feared. Sometimes we just have to take that leap into a completely unfamiliar situation and expect that we will rise to the challenge.

Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Michael Gates Gill, former creative director at J. Walter Thompson Advertising and currently an employee at a Starbucks in Bronxville, New York. He is author of How Starbucks Saved My Life (Gotham)

December 8, 2010 Posted by | Financial Issues, Health Issues, Living Conditions, Social Issues, Values, Work Related Issues | 8 Comments

Early Signs of Alzheimer’s

I found this article on health news and you can learn more by going to


Applying the word “Alzheimer’s” to someone close to you can be uncomfortable, even if the signs or symptoms have been adding up for some time. It’s much easier to gloss over strange behavior: “Oh, Mom’s just getting older.” Or to rationalize: “Well, we all forget things sometimes.”

Only a qualified physician can conclude with high certainty that a living person has Alzheimer’s disease. But the following eight symptoms are strongly associated with the disease. If you detect these signs in someone, it would be wise to seek a medical evaluation.

Alzheimer’s Symptom: Memory Lapses
1. Does the person ask repetitive questions or retell stories within minutes of the first mention?
2. Does she forget the names of recent acquaintances or younger family members, such as grandchildren?
3. Are memory lapses growing progressively worse (such as affecting information that was previously very well known)?
4. Are they happening more frequently (several times a day or within short periods of time)?
5. Is this forgetfulness unusual for the person (such as sudden memory lapses in someone who prided herself on never needing grocery lists or an address book)?

Everyone forgets some things sometimes. But the person may have Alzheimer’s disease if you notice these kinds of lapses.

Having problems with memory is the first and foremost symptom noticed. It’s a typical Alzheimer’s symptom to forget things learned recently (such as the answer to a question, an intention to do something or a new acquaintance) but to still be able to remember things from the remote past (such as events or people from childhood, sometimes with explicit detail). In time, even long-term memories will be affected. But by then other Alzheimer’s symptoms will have appeared.

Alzheimer’s Symptom: Confusion Over Words
1. Does the person have difficulty finding the “right” word when she’s speaking?
2. Does she forget or substitute words for everyday things (such as “the cooking thingamajig” for pot or “hair fixer” for comb)? Of course, it’s normal to occasionally blank on a word, especially words not often used. But it’s considered a red flag for Alzheimer’s if this happens with growing frequency and if the needed words are simple or commonplace ones.

Trouble with words can be a very frustrating experience for the speaker. She may stall during a conversation, fixating on finding a particular word. She may replace the right word with another word. This substitute could be similar enough that you could guess at her meaning (“hair dryer” instead of “hairdresser”), especially early on in the disease process. Or it could be completely different (“bank” instead of “hairdresser”) or nonsensical (“hairydoo”).

Alzheimer’s Symptom: Marked Changes in Mood or Personality
1. Is the person who’s usually assertive more subdued (or vice versa)?
2. Does she withdraw, even from family and friends, perhaps in response to problems with memory or communication?
3. Has she developed mood swings, anxiety or frustration, especially in connection with embarrassing memory lapses or noticeable communication problems?
4. Has she developed uncharacteristic fears of new or unknown environments or situations, or developed a distrust of others, whether strangers or familiar people?
5. Do you see signs of depression (including changes in sleep, appetite, mood)?

Mood shifts are a difficult sign to link decisively to Alzheimer’s disease because age and any medical condition may spark changes in someone’s mood, personality or behavior. In combination with other Alzheimer’s symptoms, however, changes such as those described above may contribute to a suspicion of the disease. A person with Alzheimer’s may also become restless and/or aggressive, but usually in later stages of the disease.

Alzheimer’s Symptom: Trouble With Abstract Thinking
1. How well does the person handle relatively simple mathematical tasks, such as balancing a checkbook?
2. Is she having trouble paying bills or keeping finances in order, tasks she previously had no problem completing?
3. Does she have trouble following along with a discussion, understanding an explanation or following instructions?
4. Abstract thinking becomes increasingly challenging for someone with Alzheimer’s, especially if the topic is complex or if the reasoning is sequential or related to cause and effect.

Alzheimer’s Symptom: Difficulty Completing Familiar Activities
1. Has the person begun to have trouble preparing meals?
2. Is she less engaged in a hobby that once absorbed her (bridge, painting, crossword puzzles)?
3. Does she stop in the middle of a project, such as baking or making a repair, and fail to complete it?
4. Has she stopped using a particular talent or skill that once gave her pleasure (sewing, singing, playing the piano)?

Activities with various different steps, however routine and familiar, can become difficult to complete for a person with Alzheimer’s. Your parent might become distracted or lose track of where she is in the process, feeling confused. Or she might just lose interest altogether and leave a project unfinished. Alzheimer’s, or some other form of dementia, is especially suspect when the difficult or abandoned activity is something the person formerly delighted in and excelled at or used to engage in frequently.

Alzheimer’s Symptom: Disorientation
1. Has the person begun to be disoriented in new or unfamiliar environments (such as a hospital or airport)?
2. Has she become disoriented in an environment she knows well?
3. Does she wander off and get lost in public (or get lost when driving or after parking)?
4. Does she lose track of the time, day, month or year? For example, after being reminded about a future doctor’s appointment over the phone, she may start getting ready for the appointment right away. Or she may have trouble keeping appointments and remembering other events or commitments. These examples of disorientation are all typical Alzheimer’s symptoms, more so in later stages of the disease but sometimes early on as well.

Alzheimer’s Symptom: Misplacing Items
1. Does the person “lose” items often?
2. Do those items turn up in unusual places (such as a wallet in the freezer)?
3. Losing track of glasses, keys and papers happens to most adults sometimes, whether due to age or just a busy lifestyle. However, it may be a symptom of Alzheimer’s if this behavior escalates and if items are sometimes stored in inappropriate or unusual places and your parent doesn’t remember having put them there.

Alzheimer’s Symptom: Poor or Impaired Judgment
1. Has the person recently made questionable decisions about money management?
2. Has she made odd choices regarding self-care (such as dressing inappropriately for the weather or neglecting to bathe)?
3. Is it hard for her to plan ahead (such as figuring out what groceries are needed or where to spend a holiday)? Difficulty with decision making can be related to other possible symptoms of Alzheimer’s, such as lapses in memory, personality changes and trouble with abstract thinking. Inappropriate choices are an especially worrisome sign, as your parent may make unsound decisions about her safety, health or finances.

Many of these Alzheimer’s symptoms go unnoticed for a long time. That’s because they’re often subtle or well concealed by the person (or a spouse), who may be understandably freaked out by the changes she’s noticing in her own behavior. Some patterns of behavior take time to make themselves obvious.

If you suspect Alzheimer’s, keep track of what you’re noticing. Ask others who know her what they think. Encourage her to see a doctor.

This article, written by senior editor Paula Spencer, originally appeared on that site. Used with permission.

December 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments