Monday, March 29, 2010

How Starbucks Saved My Life

Life is full of ironies.

With a book of such a title in hand, I sipped my coffee in Dome, constantly told myself that I dislike Starbucks coffee. But as I flipped the pages, I was greatly lifted by the inspiring story of Michael Gates Gill and his life at Starbucks.

The full title of the book is "How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else". In it, Michael tells how his life was transformed after he found a job at Starbucks.

Before Starbucks, Michael was a successful executive with a leading advertising agency (J. Walter Thompson). In fact, his life has been well taken care of since the beginning. As the son of a famous writer for The New Yorker (Brendan Gill), he grew up in a 25-room mansion and went to Yale University. An enviable job at the agency was literally dished to him the moment he stepped out of school. From there he was on his way up until he was fired, unceremoniously, 26 years later.

The abrupt dismissal was followed by a series of events, sending Michael into a downward spiral: He got divorced and left his big house to his family. He was almost broke in his 60s. He had an affair and found himself a father of his fifth child. He struggled to stay financially sound by taking odd consultancy jobs. As if all those were not enough, he was told that he had a tumor in his brain.

He was having the rudest kind of 'retirement', sort of.

As he spent one of his lowest moments at a Starbucks joint, the store manager (Crystal) 'came up from nowhere' and offered him a job as a 'Partner'. (Staff at Starbucks stores are known as 'Partners').

Michael accepted the job offer.

From a high-flying, six-figure-earning advertising executive, Michael found himself paid $10 an hour, learning how to scrub toilets, handle cash registers and brew coffee. He also found himself working with 'Partners' decades younger and lots more energetic.

It was not easy. Michael would burst into tears at the thought of his fate. He pondered how his lustrous life had turned so sorry. Little did he realize that his life was about to change as he learned his life lessons while working at Starbucks.

Michael learns the true value of hard work and why is it important to respect one another. In short, he learns to be happy, happier than he ever before when he owned so much more.

Michael kept a journal about his life at Starbucks which later turned into a New York Times bestseller. Many people are inspired by "How Starbucks Saved My Life" and want to know more from Michael. Now, he distilled his life into 15 useful lessons in his second book, "How to Save Your Own Life: 15 Lessons on Finding Hope in Unexpected Places". He believes that readers can learn key lessons from his life and they too could weather their own downturns.

The actor Tom Hanks has plans to produce and star in the film version and Gus Van Sant ('Good Will Hunting' and 'Milk') has agreed to direct. I would love to watch that: My favorite guy starring in an inspiring movie - What more can I ask for?

This book reaffirms what I have always believed: We find happiness from within and it is always there. It is our choice, to have it or not. We merely have to choose the obvious.

Finally, you do not have to be a coffee lover to read this book. It is a book for everyone.

Verdict: I still do not like coffee at Starbucks but I love this book.

Hear Michael talks about his books on YouTube:
How Starbucks Saved My Life (Vid)
How To Save Your Own Life (Vid)

"Happiness often sneaks in
through a door you didn't know you left open."
~John Barrymore~

See earlier posts on 'Happiness':
Happiness is a Choice
Happiness Quotient
Picture Blog #4 : Still Complaining?
Happiness: My "Q&A"

See an earlier post on 'Coffee'
Caffeinism? Nay!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Kid In Town: Universal Studios Singapore

Universal Studios Singapore (USS) opens on 18 Mar 10.

This is the first in South East Asia and second in Asia
(after Japan). To begin with, there are not that many in the world. Besides Singapore and Japan, the other Universal Studios Theme Parks are in Hollywood and Orlando (Florida).

Universal Pictures was founded in 1912 and it has one of the oldest and most famous movie studios in Hollywood. Back in the early years of silent movies, tours were conducted within the studios where filming was underway. The tour-around gradually grew into a theme-park -
Universal Studios Hollywood.

In 1990, the second theme park, Universal Orlando Resort was opened in Florida. In 2001, the first outside USA, Universal Studios Japan was opened in Osaka, Japan.

The lastest theme park in Singapore is located within Resorts World Sentosa on the Sentosa Island. There are altogether seven themed zones with more than 20 attractions. Many of these attractions are original to USS. Key attractions include the worlds tallest (42m) dueling roller coaster based on TV show Battlestar Galactica and Transformers attraction (will premiere later in 2011).

Many of the attractions in the seven themed zones are premieres (new or specially designed for USS). See the theme park map to for a visual guide:

1. Hollywood

2. New York
  • Lights! Camera! Action! Hosted by Steven Spielberg (Premiere) - Movie production special effects.
  • Stage 28 (Premiere) - Behind the scene film productions and props.

USS - Battlestar Galactica

3. Sci-Fi City
  • Battlestar Galactica: CYLON (Premiere) - This blue-track roller-coaster rides on a suspended track where cars hang from the bottom of the wheel.
  • Battlestar Galactica: HUMAN (Premiere) - This red-track roller-coaster, on a sit down track, promises more G-force.
  • Transformers (Premiere) - Opening in 2011
  • Accelerator (Premiere) - A spinning ride.

4. Ancient Egypt
USS - WaterWorld

5. The Lost World
  • Canopy Flyer - A ride on flying Pteranodons to catch a bird's eye view of the park.
  • Jurassic Park Rapids Adventure (Premiere) - A thrill ride on white water. Expect to get wet.
  • Waterworld - Live stunt shows.
  • Amber Rock Climb (Premiere) - Rock climbing added with the thrill of the Lost World. Expect to pay an additional payment of S$10 per climb.
  • Dino-Soarin' (Premiere) - Ride on Pteranodons into the sky and plunge down.

6. Far Far Away
USS - Madagascar

7. Madagascar

There are about 30 restaurants and food carts together with 20 retail stores and carts located around USS. HERSHEY®'S Chocolate Store is found just outside the entrance and the Universal Studios flagship store is near the entrance in the 'Hollywood' zone.

I had a chance to tour USS before its official opening. The 20-hectare park is compact but comprehensive. As it was before the official opening, I was unable to experience the real crowd. However, just like any other theme parks, be prepared to queue, especially for those popular rides.

It was relatively cool when I visited but I can imagine the sweltering heat on days when the weather is less kind. In tropical Singapore, the hot and humid climate can be unbearable. USS has this taken care of by installing an eco-friendly cooler system within the park. Do not expect a fully air-conditioned USS but the eco-coolers help to lessen the discomfort.

Looking at the range of attractions and the entrance fees (Weekday/Weekend Adult Pass of S$66/S$72), I would think that the park is competitively positioned against similar attractions else where. However, since its opening, some visitors have thought that the tickets are expensive.

The park opens from 9am to 6pm. Some visitors complained that a nine-hour duration is too short. Until USS decides to extend its opening hours, plan your visit and start your fun day from the morning.

USS can only expect keener competition in the coming years. Dubai is now constructing Universal Studios Dubailand which is to be completed by 2012. Nearer to Singapore, South Korea is planning another theme park, Universal Studios South Korea which is to be completed by 2014.

As of now, it is too early to predict the success of USS. Together with the casino within the Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore obviously hopes to draw plane loads of tourists from all over the world. The general reception has been positive so far and with more attractions coming up within Resorts World Sentosa and other parts of Sentosa Island, things could get better.

I wish USS all the best.

"Laughter is an instant vacation."
~Milton Berle~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, March 15, 2010

Passion or Obsession?

"Follow your passion, and success will follow you." (Arthur Buddhold)

Well said.

I am tempted to go on saying: "In life, you must have a passion in whatever you do...." I decided not to insult your intelligence. We all know having a passion is a good thing.

I thought so too until I began to ask myself: "Where is the line between passion and obsession?"

As I pondered over the question, I assumed that as passion grew in intensity, it would eventually reach obsession. When obsession began to consume our lives, we would become dysfunctional.


I wondered if we should then take things easy and pour some icy water on our passion? It does not sound right and yet I continued to question how to be passionate without becoming obsessive.

I was going nowhere.

To begin with, I was wrong to think that when we intensify our passion, it grows into an obsession. Passion and obsession are two different creatures, I now realize.

How's that so?

I shall keep my explanation simple and leave you some room to think about a few pointers.


When we are passionate about something, we

  • choose to pursue it
  • set a realistic goal
  • make plans to achieve our goal
  • believe that we have a potential to do better
  • celebrate our achievements along the way
  • review our goals and make new plans to scale a greater height
  • feel rewarded, positive and outward
  • feel inspired and proud of ourselves
  • love to share our passion and learn from others


On the other hand, when we are obsessive about something, we

  • found ourselves being thrown into a situation and we want to escape
  • set a goal, usually unrealistically
  • are unsure about how we can achieve our goal
  • subconsciously know that we cannot achieve the target but vow to 'die' for it
  • blame ourselves (or others) each time we miss the target
  • drift and push ourselves harder and harder but aimlessly
  • feel disgruntled, negative and reclusive
  • have a weak sense of identity and are often being narcissistic
  • do not think that anything or anyone else matter any more

On the surface, the behaviors between a passionate person and one who is obsessive may be indistinguishable. Both look like they are full of drives and spend much time on what they are doing.

If you examine closer, a passionate person pursue something which he aims to obtain. On the other hand, an obsessive person attempts to escape from a situation which he cannot cope with.

Ironical it may sound, an obsessive person is very focused. He aims at something simple and direct which is not necessarily meaningful. For example, an online gamer may be obsessed to break his high score and he thinks of nothing else but that.

Obsessive people are often irrational. He may set out to win his rival in everything to the point that the 'competition' becomes ridiculous. Imagine a person who is so obsessed with 'winning' all his neighbors even on things such as the number of toasters in the house and the type of vegetables they eat.

In this way, an obsessive person is very different from someone who is passionate as the latter is primarily interested to grow himself. In doing so, he is open to new ideas and keen to find out how new challenges might look like. A passionate learner does not set narrow targets such as "I must read five books a day." Rather, he sets out to learn more about a subject such as gardening or martial art.

Last week, it was reported in the news that "a South Korean couple who were addicted to the Internet let their three-month-old baby starve to death while raising a virtual daughter online." (See news article by BBC)

In this incident, the couple were unable to cope with life and decided to escape into the virtual world. In their new 'sanctuary', they could not see anything else, including their baby.

This story is sad but illustrative of what obsessive people are capable of doing. They are focused but the expense of other things and their behaviors are often destructive.

Not all obsessions are as destructive but the milder ones are never helpful either. Spend sometime to examine yourself and look out for possible traits of obsession in you. You wouldn't want them to grow into anything epic. (If there is something worse than obsession, it would probably be insanity.)

Paul Carvel has put it rather humorously when he said "Passion is a positive obsession. Obsession is a negative passion.". Nonetheless, the saying clearly explains that one is good and the other is not.

Learn to recognize your obsession while growing yourself with your passion.

You might also like to read this an article on "Passion Versus Obsession" by John Hagel.

"Renew your passions daily."
~Terri Guillemets~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, March 8, 2010

What's There to Learn?

By Vanilla

Do we ever stop learning?

I wrote about lifelong learning awhile ago and received echos from like-minded readers. In those articles, I make a general assumption that we always have something to learn, except that we may not be able to cope with the load due to say, 'lack of time' (a phrase that makes me cringe).

No doubt, there are really lots of stuff to learn out there, big and small and I have yet to come across one who would disagree with me. T
he only question left is HOW to go about learning them. In "Lifelong Learning - My Way", I suggested various ways to make lifelong learning easier and more sustainable, in an attempt to answer the 'HOW' question.

By Vanilla

What if there is nothing to learn?

Do not dismiss my question yet. Let me put you in a situation and elaborate:

You were at a one-hour talk and listening to a speech , one of those very uninspiring types. You gave the speaker your full attention but it did not last beyond the 'introduction'. You tried harder. This time you managed to go pass the first item on the agenda. You struggled to stay on but you decided to be honest with yourself. You admitted that you were not going to learn anything from what he was about to say next. You turned off your 'learning switch' and spaced out, checking your watch occasionally.

Needless to say, you spent an hour in there and gained almost nothing. You left at the end of the talk grumbling "What a waste of my time!".

Sounds familiar to you? Similar situations can take place during meetings or lectures too.

Most people choose to 'waste' the time away and few 'brave' ones would walk out of the situation and proceed to do something else.
In other words, they would choose between:

1. Stay on and learn nothing

2. Get out and do something else

Yes, I do believe that we always have choices but wasting our time learning nothing should not be one of them.
Given the same situation, I would have framed my choices this way:

1. Get out and do something else

2. Stay on and LEARN something different

1. Get out and do something else

I could get myself out of that place and do something more meaningful for the next one hour. This option is always there but the price tag may vary depending on the situation.

As much as we would like to think that all of us are born free, we are not! From a young age, we are subject to house rules. In schools there are school rules. At work places, they impose company policies and out there, we are expected to follow social norms. On top of that, there are statutory laws governing all of us.

In short, it is not easy to do whatever we want, whenever we want, without paying a price for it.

I will go for this option only if I think I can afford the price and that the price is worth paying for.

By Vanilla

2. Stay on and LEARN something different

Being rational, I often choose to stay on (somehow, the price is seldom worth paying for).

I believe that there is always something I can learn in any given situation. In this case, since I have concluded that the speaker could not give me something worthwhile, I could always redesign my learning.

Now, repeat after me: "All of us are the sole designer of our own lifelong learning.

By Vanilla

Just shift your focus and you can see that there are other possible alternatives:

a. Presentation style

Why is the speaker so uninspiring? Listen to his tone and watch his body language. Note the mistakes he has made. Learn not to do the same when it is your turn to give a speech.

b. Presentation slides

Why are the slides so unattractive? Note the language, font types, colors, graphics (usually it is the lack of), wordiness, flow and number of slides. Ask yourself this question throughout his presentation "How could I have done it differently?"

c. Audience response

Look around: Why is everyone looking so absent? What are they doing? Are there some people who are looking engaged? What could have attracted them to do so? (please observe discreetly)

d. Logistics

Is the place making you feel comfortable? What is right and wrong about the venue? Is the stage looking presentable? Are there things on the stage which constantly distract you? is the sound system working well? Would you have made the same arrangement?

By Vanilla

Each of the above learning pointers would have given you much to think about. While you may not have learned much (or anything) from the speaker, you would not have wasted that precious one hour of your life.

Lifelong learning is a non-stop process. Do not allow anything or anyone to get in your learning path.

Finally, there is nothing to learn from this article...if you think so.

"I am learning all the time.
The tombstone will be my diploma."
~Eartha Kitt~

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, March 1, 2010

Happiness is a Choice

We can be happy, if we make it our choice.

Many people fail to see it that way. To them, human emotions are the products of things around them. Since they have almost no control over what might come on, they therefore have little or no control over their happiness.


Whether you think they are right or wrong, you are right. Let me explain.

By Vanilla

Where does unhappiness come from?

When the going is not so good, we often blame some people or things which we think are responsible for our state of emotion.

Imagine this scene: A project teammate missed an important deadline and as a result, your team was not successful in getting a business deal. What would have been your reaction?

Many people would start to blame or criticize someone aloud or in their hearts:

  • That stupid* project leader should have monitored the deadlines more closely;
  • That jerk* should not have left things till the last minute;
  • The client was so unreasonable* and refused* to grant a time extension;
  • The winning team was just plain lucky*.
The list goes on.... and note the choice of unhelpful words. (*).

How many times have you, given a similar situation, examined YOURSELF FIRST in one way or another? Most people rarely do that. This is, to me, the start of our unhappiness.

We focus our attention on things in the past and things which we have no control over. After spending much energy on them, we feel exhausted but the outcome remains unchanged. Naturally, we feel frustrated and that we have been treated unfairly. In the process, our spoken words and body language towards others would have damaged the relationship which we took pain to build up. At some point, we may also feel guilty about our own behavior.

There you go, we collect a bunch of negative emotions and in short, we feel unhappy.

It really does not need to be this way.

Some clues to no blues

Let's take the same scene again and this is what you could have done. Instead of blaming and criticizing others, you can channel your energy to something doable. In this way, you would not end up feeling sorry for anything, anyone and most importantly, yourself. Be amazed at the difference it will make.

Ask instead,

  • The project leader did not monitor the deadlines close enough and as a team member, could I have helped him improve that?
  • That team member missed the deadline and could I have seen that coming?
  • The client did not agree to a deadline extension and if I were at the negotiating table, could I have put the deal across differently?
  • The winning team put up some new ideas. What can I learn from them?
Do you notice the way you talk to yourself in the examples above? Each of them comprises of two parts: (1) state and examine the facts (2) reflect them on YOURSELF.

In none of these examples you have put your energy on what you have no control over. Having asked those questions, you can come up with some ideas and formulate some possible solutions. From this point onwards, you have learned something new and ready to use your new wisdom on your next task.

With a simple shift of focus, you would end up feeling more informed and wiser but not at the expense of anyone. That translates to some positive outcome and a sense of achievement which naturally leads to a happier YOU.

By Vanilla

Let's face it, no matter what you do, you cannot undo history. Past events are, at best, points of reference for you to move forward from. They are not something which should appear on your "To-Do List". Rather, they give you ideas on what you could put on your "To Learn List".
(See "To Learn List" in "Lifelong Learning - My Way")

Make it a habit to change the way you view an outcome. Learn to ask the simple "2-part" questions:

1) what happened?
2) what can I learn from it?

I assure you that you will be too busy learning and leave little or no time to feel the blues.

Remember: Happiness is a CHOICE and 'happy behavior' is a HABIT. Make that choice and acquire that habit.

Have a happy day!

"A man is happy so long as he chooses to be happy."

~Alexander Solzhenitsyn~

You might also like to read:

Happiness Quotient

Stumble Upon Toolbar