How Starbucks Saved My Life

Nursing Book Club

How Starbucks Saved My Life

From upper crust to bathroom cleaner, a former ad executive relearns life through a filtered lens.

By Michael Gates Gill
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Reviewed By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN

Starbucks Nursing Book ReviewWhat does a book about Starbucks have to do with nursing? Not much, you might say; but you would be wrong. As I read this book, which only takes an evening and reads like a novel, lots of similarities came to mind, not all of them about coffee. Michael Gill learned mostly about himself during the year he chronicles working at Starbucks, and his lessons are very translatable to all of us.

At one time in his life, Mr. Gill was the epitome of success. He was raised in the ultra-sophisticated environment of literary New York, living in posh apartments and going to private schools. In his own career as a senior advertising executive, he traveled widely, rubbing shoulders with the upper crust, including, quite literally, the Queen of England.

Then everything came crashing down around him. Without warning, he was fired. It turns out, neither past performance, experience nor contacts meant anything. Mr. Gill was expendable because of age. To add to the maelstrom, his own poor choices left him without his family or future job prospects. Most tragically, he hadn’t a shred of self-worth. How he came to be hired by the world’s largest coffee house chain, the chain associated with verve, competence and customer satisfaction, is instructive — but not as much as what he learned his first year on the job.

It was within the world of Starbucks that Michael Gill began really to see other people who were not as “smart” or “educated” as he. He saw how people overcame obstacles that would have defeated him and saw how hard “simple” jobs can be. Just showing up on time, when you have no car and need to live in an affordable (but distant) neighborhood, took substantial effort; but Mr. Gill only learned this by having to do it himself. I found myself thinking of the kitchen and housekeeping staffs of large hospitals, the aides that are repeatedly late, or nurses whose need to leave on time is palpable. Their lives are ruled by the bus.

Mr. Gill didn’t change much — except his attitude. But that made all the difference. Instead of contributing to a cutthroat workplace, he began to participate in an environment where appreciation of customers and fellow employees became paramount. He came to take pride in his accomplishments, even becoming the store’s best bathroom cleaner. His past snobbishness had accomplished nothing except to defeat other people.

The individual store in this book has much in common with an individual nursing unit or clinic. In each case, if everyone doesn’t pull together, much can be lost: customers, patients and employees. Some managers have great gifts, bringing out the best in everyone. Some employees are the same. They pull their weight, help others and always look out for the general good.

Others don’t. They create a hostile environment in which no one thrives. Mr. Gill shows how people of completely different backgrounds, abilities and motivations can come together and create something worthwhile. Instead of reading a textbook on management or group dynamics, read this memoir from the real world — and maybe change how or where you work.

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