Pungent dust. That’s what the strange thing tasted like. I only realized it was there as I was swallowing. So I didn’t make much of it. Though after a while, it became clear to me that I had made a mistake. It’s like the pungent dust stung my throat all the way down. I could almost feel the burn straight down to my stomach. I guess that’s what you get for eating old yogurt out of the trash can: Some sketchy mold.
But things were dicey back then. That’s what you get for dropping out of college at 19. Of course, I had no money. No plan. No connections. And I didn’t know what I was doing. All I knew was I had outstayed my welcome on the beaten path. So I took the leap. Only problem was I didn’t know where I was landing.
That’s exactly what brought me to the dumpster. Thanks to a series of my own bad decisions, I ended up with almost no money one day in mid 2019. Food was the last priority at that point, since I had to place a hefty deposit down on an apartment lease. Plus other adult life setup things. Which meant I had nothing left to eat with.
I have a vivid memory of the Wednesday evening I walked into the communal kitchen of the shared flat. I remember cracking the fridge open. Searching for my supplies to cook with. Finding a quarter container of wilting spinach. And feeling slightly annoyed. I wasn’t expecting to have to go out to get groceries, that evening.
Couldn’t tell you why, but as I put on my coat, I checked my bank account. Maybe I just wanted to reassure myself that I was alright. But sadly, I disappointed myself. The account had 9 cents in it. Checking the list of transactions, I realized I had spent everything on cabs and rent deposits. Plus, I couldn’t borrow any money from my roommates, either. It was just my first week there. I didn’t even know them. They barely spoke English.
So I went back to that kitchen table. Stood there, staring at the sad container of spinach. And it started to dawn on me that I was in real trouble. All the decisions that led me to that moment flashed before my eyes. But I had no time to ponder. I needed food. Suddenly, I was seized by a thought that changed me forever. “What about the trash?” I thought.
I know you’re all reading this thinking, “That’s preposterous. I’d never do such a thing.” But think about it: No food, no money, and a growing sense of anxious hunger. What else was I supposed to do? Besides, I told myself I’d only do it once in a while. So I hesitantly rummaged around at the lip of the large trash bag and pulled out a tub of yogurt. By the way it was rolling, it was probably still partially filled. Bingo.
And that’s when I got a taste of the pungent dust cluster. Which turned out to be fungus. I know this because I found more of it as I was going through the tub later. When I put the tub back in the trash, realizing I couldn’t eat it, that’s when I broke. Tears pattered on the black plastic trash bag at my feet. I was disgusted by what I had become. By what I was doing. And most of all, by the fact that I had no choice.
To this day, I abhor lukewarm yogurt. Because that’s the temperature of refrigerated items in the trashcan. Not quite warm, but cold enough to indicate it was once refrigerated. There’s nothing worse. Nothing transports me back quite the same way.
Anyway, what does this have to do with entrepreneurship? Well, I now have the power to stop this from happening to other people. Being at the helm of my own company, I can make a real difference in the life of kids like me who join the team. Compensating them fairly. Providing them with the right opportunities. Making sure they don’t have to find food in the garbage.
I have the power to affect the lives of the people I’m responsible for. And that’s no trivial thing. I know firsthand how bad it can get. Which is why I’ve always thought owning a business isn’t so much about your own freedom. It’s about the freedom you create for others. That’s the most rewarding part.