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Inspired by Travis Leach

inspireAs the quest for perspective evolves into one of the topics I seem to come back on this blog, I wanted to share an excerpt from a book I’m reading — The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg (great read, btw).  In his section about “The Habits of Successful Organizations,” Duhigg shares the story of Travis Leach, a now 25-year-old manager at Starbucks whose life changed after he went through Starbucks’ professional development classes.  Here’s an excerpt from the book:

“The first time Travis Leach saw his father overdose, he was nine years old.  His family had just moved into a small apartment at the end of an alleyway, the latest in a seemingly endless series of relocations that had most recently caused them to abandon their previous home in the middle of the night, throwing everything they owned into black garbage bags after receiving an eviction notice….On the morning of the overdose, Travis and his brother were playing in the living room on top of blankets they laid out on the floor each night for sleeping.  Travis’s father was getting ready to make pancakes when he stepped into the bathroom.  He was carrying the tube sock that contained his needle, spoon, lighter, and cotton swabs.  A few moments later, he came out, opened the refrigerator to get the eggs, and crashed to the floor.  When the kids ran around the corner, their father was convulsing, his face turned blue….

When Travis turned sixteen, he dropped out of high school….He got jobs at McDonald’s and Hollywood Video, but when customers were rude, he would lose control….Sometimes he’d get so upset that he would start crying in the middle of a shift.  He was often late, or he’d take a day off for no reason….When the line at his register would get too long and the manager would shout at him, Travis’s hands would start shaking and he’d feel like he couldn’t catch his breath.  He wondered if this is what his parents felt like, so defenseless against life, when they started using drugs.

One day, a regular customer at Hollywood Video who’d gotten to know Travis a little bit suggested he think about working at Starbucks.  ‘We’re opening a new store on Fort Washington, and I’m going to be an assistant manager,’ the man said.  ‘You should apply.’ A month later, Travis was a barista on the morning shift.

That was six years ago.  Today, at twenty-five, Travis is the manager of two Starbucks where he oversees forty employees and is responsible for revenues exceeding $2 million per year.  His salary is $44,000 and he has a 401(k) and no debt.  He’s never late to work.  He does not get upset on the job….’Starbucks is the most important thing that has ever happened to me,’ he said.  ‘I owe everything to this company.'” (The Power of Habit, pp. 128-130)

Maybe it was an emotional day or maybe it’s because ever since becoming a parent, I get overwhelmed when I think about the situations some kids grow up in, or maybe because it’s a beautiful success story, but Travis’s story moved me.  Here are a few thoughts it inspired:

  • Perspective: People are born into insane situations and find ways to persevere and start fresh and do amazing things.  When it feels like life is tough, or we’re not sure what to do to move forward, thinking about stories like Travis’s add perspective.  If a kid who phoned in his dad’s crack overdose at age 9 can create a life he’s proud of, anyone can.
  • Life Impacts Work and Work Impacts Life: Increasingly, I don’t believe in balance on a day-to-day basis, but I do believe in it when we consider a full lifetime.  The reality is that we don’t have work life and life…it’s all one life.  And our interests and experiences and challenges and successes in our personal spheres impact our work…and our work structure, content, community and support system impact our lives.
  • Employers Have a Huge Opportunity:  Companies can change lives by creating environments in which people can grow + thrive…just like Starbucks did for Travis.  If this happens, those people can go out into the world and change lives themselves.  Health begets health.  Healthy communities give way to healthy communities.
  • There’s More Than Meets the Eye: Everyone we meet has a story.  Each story might not be as dramatic as Travis’s, but each story matters.  And taking the time to genuinely learn people’s stories — at work, at the coffeeshop, at the hair salon, getting your oil changed, buying your groceries — can build bridges between people and helps us more deeply understand the human experience.

I sincerely believe that the more we learn about people overcoming incredible odds to find joy and success (however they define it), the harder we’ll work to get, be, and stay well.  What do you think?  Did reading about Travis make you think differently about your life, your intentions, and actions, and your opportunities?  Who has inspired you lately?

P.S. If you like the themes of perspective and perseverance, check out the story about Robert Brady I posted on my Facebook wall this week.

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