Photo: Helder Almeida
Michael Gates Gill, 63 years old, was a high-flying, six-figure-earning advertising executive. He had created huge campaigns for companies like Christian Dior and Ford and lived an even bigger life, with luxury automobiles, lavish vacations and fabulous clothes. After 26 years at J. Walter Thompson, a leading advertising agency, the then 63-year-old Gill was invited to an early breakfast and was told that he was getting the boot. He made too much money. Someone younger would work for less, he was told.
"I remember walking outside and bursting into tears," he says. "I was stunned. I knew that that part of my life was over."
But that was just the start of a terrible reversal of fortune. In a few short years, Gill, the Yale-educated son of the famed New Yorker
writer Brendan Gill, closed the consulting business he started after he was laid off, got divorced and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He had hit both the rock and the bottom and was continuing to fall.
A trip to Starbucks would irrevocably change his life. Unbeknownst to him, the coffee shop was holding a hiring fair the morning he walked in for his daily hot drink. A manager approached him and asked if he would like to apply for a job. Without thinking, he said yes.
That was five years ago. These days, when the divorced father of five is not whipping up a caramel macchiato or perfecting his latte foam, he's sweeping floors and scrubbing toilets.
"I still have trouble with some of the drinks," he admits, "but I'm a good cleaner.... I can make a toilet shine like a Ferrari."
Imagine that - from power meetings to potty cleanings and a life completely turned upside down. When life throws you a curve, how do you respond? You get the phone call from your physician that your blood tests show something disturbing - cancer. You get called into your boss's office and are given a pink slip. You come home and your spouse and all her things are gone. How do you respond when life throws you a curve?
It's natural and easy to throw up your hands in despair and give up. It's easy to get stuck in the blame game. It's easy to get sidelined by an obsessive search for answers. It's easy to cave in to shame or guilt and withdraw from life. But when the natural process of grieving the loss runs its course, what then? What attitude takes over? What actions do you take?
Michael Gill had an impressive perspective. "When I lost my job I thought my life was over," he says. "I didn't realize it was just the beginning, at 63 years old." He smiles contentedly and declares, "I may have a part-time job, but I have a full-time life."
He refused to give up. He refused to stay angry and hurt. He refused to get lost in his losses. He chose instead to become engaged in life - a new life for himself - one that he turned into a full-time life. He used his losses to turn his attention to the parts of his life he had denied or ignored in his compulsive drive to succeed. And that change in perspective gave him an empowering focus and fulfilling direction and experience.
When life throws you a curve, catch it, throw it back, and get ready for the next pitch.