Part 1: Smashing Cans

by Tony Roetzel



Puzzle (Summer Blog Theme)

Growing up I had this idea that the world was puzzle and that every individual was a piece. Each person was unique in their own way but worked together to build a greater whole. I never understood how people found their fit, I simply assumed it’s one of those things that just happened. Well here I am, 23 years old and still looking for that fit. This is my story.  



Part 1: Smashing cans

Dew glistened grass, crisp morning air, and the chirping of birds was my office. I’d be up in the summer at 5 AM as a 12 year old, going door to door collecting aluminum cans around the neighborhood before the recycling truck made its rounds. I have been working in one form or another since I was 12. When I was in 7th grade, I wanted nothing more than to have a cell phone. I begged my parents until they said, “Yes!” The only way I was going to get that Razor was to earn it, and be able to pay for it myself. Well, no one hires 12 year olds, so I had to figure out a way to make money without being employed somewhere. That’s what led me to starting my first business and consequently my first job. Mornings were spent collecting cans, and afternoons were spent in the garage smashing them and stacking black drawstring trash bags full in the corner.


Eventually, the mound of trash bags would start to consume the garage like a giant black fungus. That’s when I would stuff every bag I could fit into my mom’s minivan and she would drive me to the local recycling center where I would sell them by the pound. I usually did this once a month. I remember the recycling center being a poorly lit and unsettlingly loud place with a smelly bearded man behind an old wood beige desk. He would sit there quietly watching a digital scale tick as the cans I had brought were weighed out. He’d look at me and every time and say, “Is that it?” I’d nod and he’d reach in his desk and bring out around $60 cash, smile and say “It was a pleasure kid.”


The sense of accomplishment I felt walking out of that dingy sanitary center was exhilarating. I’d done it. I’d started something, worked hard at it, and it paid off! Smashing cans for that summer made me realize three important things about myself and the working world as a whole:


  1. Don’t take no for an answer. Create your own opportunity.

There was not a single company in the Minnesota suburbs looking to hire a 12 year old skater boy. In order to raise the money I needed, I had to create an opportunity to earn that money. Instead of giving up when no one gave me a chance to work, I decided to build my own chance to work. That was what lit the spark of entrepreneurship inside of me that still burns today.


  1.  Ambition needs focus.

At that age, I lacked the focus to match my ambition. It wasn’t a smooth start at first. It took weeks of ringing on doorbells and perfecting my pitch in order to find enough people to agree to set aside their cans for me. After collecting all the cans I would be in the hot garage for hours smashing can after can. With no other obligations, it was easy to slack off and do something else. I quickly realized that if I wasn’t going to work for it then no one was. Things didn’t just happen. I needed to focus on what I wanted in order to get the outcome I desired.


  1. It feels good to earn it.

Though I’m sure I pissed and moaned when my parents told me that the only way I could have cell phone was if I earned the money myself to pay for it, I’m glad that they gave me the opportunity to do it. The sense of accomplishment after putting in time and effort is one of the most rewarding feelings I’ve had. I learned it’s good to know that you earned what you have. It helps build value and appreciation for the things in life.


It’s been 10 years since the summer of my first job. The lessons I learned from it still stick with me. Those lessons are the foundation for how I got where I am today. This summer, I am going to go through the jobs and experiences that I have had and talk about what I have learned from each. I hope you enjoyed part one, there are more stories to come!