At 63, Michael (Mike) Gates Gill found himself jobless and diagnosed with cancer—and without any retirement savings or health insurance. “I never thought it would be me,” he said at the closing keynote presentation for the 2015 Benefits & Pension Summit.

Living in the U.S., without insurance or job prospects, he couldn’t afford to have an operation to remove his tumour. “I always spent 10% more than I made…so I had no savings,” Mike admitted.

Read: Support employees with incurable cancers

But walking into a Starbucks to have one last coffee changed his life, when the woman behind the counter asked if he wanted a job. “By saying yes to that crazy idea, my life began to turn around,” he said.

At first, learning to be a barista was like learning a foreign language. But not only did he learn how to make a mean latte, he learned some fundamental life lessons.

  1. Leap with faith rather than huddle with fear. Sometimes, when life becomes challenging, “you get in an elevator and you’re going down, but you don’t know how to get out or how to ask for help,” said Mike. Instead, he advised, boldly take any opportunities to move forward.
  2. Look with respect at every individual. While, as a New Yorker, he used to avoid eye contact, he now greets everyone with a smile. “Because it’s not just for them; it’s for me,” he added.
  3. Listen to others—and to your own heart. “It’s like an infallible GPS,” he said, which shows the path to happiness and a worthwhile life. “Give yourself the chance to live the life you love,” he counselled.

Life has definitely improved for Mike: his cancer hasn’t progressed, he’s now a renowned speaker, and he even wrote a book on his experience that will soon become a movie starring Tom Hanks. But guess what? He still works at Starbucks.

Read: Support employees affected by cancer

All the articles from the event can be found in our special section: 2015 Benefits & Pension Summit Coverage.

Copyright © 2020 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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