Books I’ve Read: How Starbucks Saved My Life

I worked at a Starget ( a Starbucks inside a Target) for a little under a year. It was stressful. We ran out of coffee, and quite frequently. Our espresso machine was down for a whole week once. And there was often only one person scheduled for Saturdays from open until early afternoon– the time frame when EVERYONE decides to do their shopping. This was all after changing management and definitely influenced my decision to go back to Cedar Point for my second year. But it wasn’t all bad. A lot of the people, especially those early in my employment, were really wonderful. And this was what I thought about while reading How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill.

This is the story of a very well-to-do older gentleman who falls from the graces of high society. Mr. Gill was a big shot in advertising until he had too many years on him, and was fired from a high-ranking, high-paying advertising job which he got right after graduating from an ivy league school that he didn’t have to worry about paying for because his father was a big time newspaper executive. He was part of the 1%, and suddenly he wasn’t. As you can imagine, he lost everything: his job, then his money, then his family. And then he found true happiness when he was offered a job at Starbucks by complete chance– by a person he would never have thought would be his savior, namely a young black woman (the narrator is an old white man). And he gained friends and experiences that made him happier at 64 than he had ever been in his previous lifestyle.

How Starbucks Saved My Life is kind of sappy, though I appreciate the coming-up story. I enjoyed following the thoughts and actions of a son of privilege as he navigates life outside of his bubble, from his spiral into poverty to his extramarital affair and child, from his failed attempts at holding on to his spot in the upper echelon to his embarrassment at his family and former friends seeing him struggling. It may seem like I was laughing at him, but I was fascinated by his observations and the connections he made from is old life into his new. The fears he experienced were relatable for those who grew up with struggle, too. Fear of not being good enough, people not liking him, important peers and relatives being disappointed, being too old to do a job, and so on and so forth. His insecurities were universal, which made this easier to read.

My biggest complaint about this book is that the lows weren’t low enough– rather, they weren’t portrayed that way. This man, Michael Gates Gills, is almost too positive throughout his whole self-redefinition. He almost brushes over the whole divorce with his wife, he focuses on how bad his previous employment at a ginormous advertising firm is rather that how perfect it was which makes his firing less heartbreaking, and he uses such weak words to describe the discomfort of his children seeing him at Starbucks or his former friends watching him take trash out in his apron and hat. He’s so positive that it’s hard to feel bad for him. It just keeps going up.

It’s not a bad book overall. I think it’s interesting, and a good look into privilege and how it can frame the world, and also the hardships that come along with it (of course it’s not all rainbows and butterflies). I also find Starbucks to be a wonderful company, even if they are kind of expensive and there are ways they could do better, especially about their waste *cough cough*.

Would I recommend this book? For a light read, it is a good one to pick up.


Books I’ve Read: You Are A Badass

I have been in a funk recently. Okay, probably for a while now. School, work, relationships, money, FOMO (that’s fear of missing out for those out of the loop), and so many other stressors have really impacted my mental state and my self-confidence. There’s been a lot of crying, anger, sadness, and stagnation.

I finally reached out to a counselor, and talking through some of the things I’ve been feeling has been helpful. But I’m definitely more of an introvert, and much more into helping myself where I can. So lately, I’ve been supplementing those sessions with various self-help methods– exercising and eating better, reading countless books and articles, attempting meditation and yoga, and exploring several spiritual paths (with little success, unfortunately).

I really feel like self-help gets a bad rap. Which is so confusing, because so does going to therapy or taking medication. There’s this stigma about mental health and stress, and EVERYONE has some sort of mental health issues at some point, yet we act like no one should. I’m convinced that even the most zen Buddhist monk has some stress at some point after they decide on that path. They just found a way to help themselves handle it. We here in the West are not good at that part, even though we’re great at creating the stress.

I decided to ignore all the judgment around self-help books and picked up You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. And I loved it. It’s a little out there, but it’s very real. It doesn’t read like the books that likely gave self-help the stigma in the first place. Yes, she uses profanity. But she does it in such a way that it sounds like your enlightened friend walking you through a break-up or getting laid off or amping you up for a job you really want but are absolutely terrified of going for. Stress can come from positive events too.

So what does she talk about? There are three big themes throughout the book.

She starts with the phrase “raising your frequency.” The first thing I thought when I read that was that I was getting self-help from a hippie yogi– not totally inaccurate. But this mystical phrase is merely a way of saying that positive people attract other positive people and things, whereas negative people attract negative.  A low-frequency person is just going through the motions, blaming the universe or others for the negativity in their life, and not doing what they want or what makes them happy. A high-frequency person is doing things to better themselves, engaging in activities that they enjoy and interacting with positive people, and understanding that life really is all about what you make it, that the only thing working against you is you. To feel better about yourself and get what you want out of life, you have to raise your frequency.

The second big theme is trusting The Universe. Again, some esoteric mysterious mumbo-jumbo– but it isn’t. What she’s advocating is pretty common in many religions, whether it be Buddhism, Wiccan, or Christianity. The Universe can refer to any number of things depending on your belief system. For instance, in the Christian system, this is the same thing as handing it over to God, praying over it and waiting for him to give you a sign or make it happen. Sincero advocates getting in touch with The Universe through meditation or prayer, really just sitting quietly and opening ourselves up to words from God or hints from our subconscious or whatever it is that we experience when we empty our minds of to-do lists and bank account figures and social media drama. This allows us to more easily surrender to forces that we cannot control. When we try to control every little detail, it becomes counter-productive to getting what we want.  It’s subscription to the belief that The Universe/God/your deity or driving force helps those who helps themselves. Take steps to reach your goal, but trust that there are things out of you control and that by doing what you have to, what you want will manifest itself.

The third and most prevalent theme is simply love yourself. Perhaps the most self-helpish phrase in the book, but ridiculously important. You can’t have a high frequency if you tear yourself down. You can’t do what’s necessary to let The Universe know you want something if you’re constantly thinking of all the reasons why you aren’t capable or deserving of a better job, a quality partner, a new car. We are not perfect, but dwelling on our flaws is such a disservice. We have so much power, and all we have to do is open up our eyes to how awesome we are to start using some of it. Let’s be honest. We are all pretty badass.

I reflect on many of the points Sincero discusses on a daily basis. I’ve started “meditating,” really just lying in bed at night or sitting if I feel so inclined, and focusing either on nothingness or on a specific goal. I fall asleep so much more easily, and I feel more focused the next day. I’ve reached out to people who are so much better than me at the whole “trusting The Universe” thing, and people who are very positive and doing their part to help themselves; it’s easy to see exactly how The Universe has helped them. It’s helped me to take steps toward letting go of control on things I really have no control over in the first place. I’ve got a long way to go, but I love what I got out of this book.

Do I recommend this book? Most definitely.

Happy Birthday to Me

Today is my 20th birthday. I celebrate this day with such names as Dr. Seuss and John Irving. Jon Bon Jovi, as well, but I’m more concerned with the writers. I don’t feel very different, not older or wiser or more like an adult. But I feel much as I have over the past few months, like I need to push forward with more fervor than I have as of late. Somewhere along the line, I lost something– my mojo, my verve, my spirit, my confidence. Whatever it was, I need to get it back. Feeling stuck isn’t for me.

Maybe I lost it my senior year of high school, when I was at the top of all the organizations I cared about, but everyone else stopped caring so I was essentially useless. Sitting in AP classes where no one wanted to act like honors students was insulting. Conducting musical ensembles where I was told flat out that I wasn’t respected was painful. Striving to maintain a tradition of high standards was exhausting and almost in vain because I was among only a handful to want to do it. Insult and injury were only intensified when my efforts were overlooked and went unrewarded– not that I did it for the recognition, I did it because I cared, but a bit of reward in the form of scholarships or just a senior spotlight in the yearbook would have been nice.

I didn’t just give up, though I did slow down a bit after that. Things weren’t quite as up to par as they had been throughout my years in Bedford. College was a transition that was difficult to make after a year of, “Well, no one else tried at all, so you only have to try a little bit to do better.” That wasn’t good. So I struggled to get back into a high-achiever state of mind. I’m finally getting it back, but not without even more difficulty pushing me back further.
Leaving the bowling alley this past August, a job that I knew well and had really come to love, struck a blow that’s left quite a mark. I know that job didn’t slip away from me because I was a terrible employee. There were entirely different reasons. But somehow, it still makes me feel like I don’t know how to do anything any more. I feel inadequate at the two near-mindless jobs I work on campus. Making smoothies for four hours a week and calling alumni for donations eleven hours a week is nothing compared to managing the desk at a small bowling center, where the desk person is also a custodian and a mechanic and an event host and a food server and a master of ceremonies and the person to take care of whatever else needs to be done that they’re capable of. Maybe I just like the challenge of multitasking. I did juggle a lot in high school that I’m not now– work and school as well as marching band and drama and National Honor Society and the literary magazine and and choir and even a social life. Now, I go to classes, and I go to work. That’s about it. So maybe I need to start doing everything again.

A combination of factors has also got me more and more concerned about money. Student loans, trying to save up for a car, and breaking even after monthly bills is nerve-wracking. And it leaves little room to put away money for something bigger, like an apartment after graduation. Knowing also, particularly after having to give a ten minute speech on it, that my intended career choice as a writer is not going to turn me into a millionaire overnight makes me even more anxious to find a good paying job in order to supplement whatever income I might get as a writer and make up for months where writing work just isn’t there.

I think on this day, the 20th anniversary of my birth, I really need to start over. I need to find a job that I love, where I can work a few more hours and get paid a little more. I need to get back in touch with my passions– start playing the trumpet and singing again, find a way to get back on stage, and really focus on my writing. I need to start knocking the academics out of the park again. I need to find something to fill my down time, because I have way to much of it, and I’m not used to that. I’m used to constantly going, constantly being engaged. So that’s what I’m going to do.

Happy birthday to me.