Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lose Your Job, Find Your Calling?

Anyone who is searching for a calling in life would learn a lot by talking to Michael Gates Gill, author of the bestseller “How Starbucks Saved My Life.” I had the immense pleasure of spending more than an hour with Michael in New York City recently. At 72, he is almost childlike in his enthusiasm for the work he does – which might surprise a lot of people, since he left the lofty heights of corporate America to work as a barista at Starbucks. 
 When he was in his 50s, Michael was a well-paid advertising executive, living the high life in Manhattan, and raising a beautiful family. But that life was shattered when Michael got a pink slip from his agency. Shortly thereafter, his marriage fell apart and he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He spent a decade trying to regain his professional footing, but discovered that he couldn’t compete with the newly minted MBAs flooding the job market. Ad agencies wanted young faces and fresh ideas. Michael couldn’t get back into the game. Eventually, he fell into despair and desperation. How would he support himself? How would he get health insurance to cover his medical needs?
Sitting pensively in a Starbucks in upper Manhattan one day, Michael was mistaken for a job applicant. He thought to himself, “why not?” He applied and was hired as a barista. Thus began a journey of professional awakening that might astonish you.
Humbled by his circumstances, Michael threw himself into his Starbucks job. He took pride in keeping the restroom immaculately clean. He got to know the customers personally and befriended them. He swallowed his fear of the cash register and learned the skill of cashiering. He discovered, to his surprise, than he was happier than he had ever been in his corporate career.
Michael was also awestruck by the qualities and dedication of his coworkers – people he would previously have ignored if he passed them on the street. And he discovered that the business of serving coffee was a business of love – providing something that warms people and helps sustain life. He found a dimension of meaning and importance in his work at Starbucks that he had never experienced on the fast-track of corporate self-absorption.
What I loved most about my visit with Michael were his reflections that don’t appear in the book. In recent years, Michael has developed a deepened sense of spirituality about his professional journey. During the time of his career crisis, he didn’t think much about God. Reflecting back now, however, he attributes the twists and turns of his journey to the hand of God. Even though he weathered a devastating professional crisis, he is now full of gratitude, because those setbacks taught him how to relish life and find lasting satisfaction.
There is much we can learn from Michael’s journey. What will your career setbacks mean to you? Could it be that getting laid off is actually a blessing – a merciful re-tracking of your life to a destination better suited to your happiness?
Ultimately, Michael doesn’t think that serving coffee is his calling in life. He does still works at Starbuck and loves his job. But what has given him the most joy is telling his story through writing and public speaking. That is Michael’s calling. And he never would have arrived here without that pink slip that felt like a career-destroyer at the time.
P.S. I heartily recommend “How Starbucks Saved My Life.” Tom Hanks has bought the option to make a movie of the book, so watch for it in theaters as well! You can find the book here.

1 comment:

  1. I have a post-it stuck to my printer, comfortably within view from my computer chair, that contains a quote from Mother Teresa. It begins, "We must not drift away from humble works, because these are the works nobody will do." Perhaps I've used that quote before, but it's a game-changer for me. It's not that the myriad "meaningless" things we do every day are somehow inherently divine; to me it's that in the doing of these simple things we are brought up short with our (and others') humanity, and that is where meaning always begins.

    In "You've Got Mail" the heroine (I can never remember characters' names) is monologuing on the worth of her work when the bad guy whatshisname says, "It's not personal." She says, "What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn't personal to you. But it was personal to me. It's *personal* to a lot of people. And what's so wrong with being personal, anyway?"

    Meaning is personal. If the corporate world could get that, imagine what is possible.