He wore a green flannel shirt even though it was a warm day. He appeared disheveled and ill-kempt but oddly seemed to move with confidence and conviction. He carried an overstuffed backpack that was not fully-zipped and appeared haphazard and disorganized with miscellaneous clothing items protruding. I assumed he was a homeless person but wondered where he was headed with such apparent purpose.
He stopped at the trashcan and begin digging through the piles of discarded refuse. I thought he was looking for refundable soda cans or plastic bottles that could be exchanged for cash in California. But he seemed to pass over these items in search of something else. Not cigarette butts or newspapers or anything I would think could have value to someone less fortunate and possibly desperate.
Then he found it. With a tight smile borne of a successfully concluded search, he extracted a used Starbucks paper coffee cup. What could he possibly want with a used paper coffee cup? I continued to watch with interest and curiosity.
The man straightened his posture and with cup in hand marched into the neighborhood Starbucks store. I followed; I was going to Starbucks anyway for my morning caffeine when I first encountered the man in the plaid shirt, and now I was curious how this mysterious sequence would conclude.
I thought perhaps he was going to request a refill, which was less expensive than a new order, but I was wrong. The man sat down in a comfortable chair, put his newly acquired cup on the table in front of him, and relaxed. He made no move to order anything or engage with anyone. He sat contentedly and observed his new world around him.
I am unsure how long he remained amidst other Starbucks customers in the pleasing upscale environs, but I realized that the paper cup was his key to comfort, acceptance, and belonging. Perhaps it was his way of recalling past experiences before he was homeless; maybe he just wanted to be included in the scene the typically characterizes a Starbucks environment: comfortable seats, background music, and busy people peering into their smartphones, talking with friends, or typing hurriedly on their laptop computers looking busy and important.
I started to reflect on how everyone has desires for inclusion and recognition. Each person searches for their key to realizing these goals. Maybe the key for someone is a college education to access a better career and job; maybe it is securing a job at a well-respected company or organization, which could convey respect and professional achievement. Perhaps, the key is moving to a nice neighborhood with good schools. Or maybe the key is as simple as a used Starbucks coffee cup. Everyone needs to define what his or her key is to access what they seek, and the keys will be different for different people.
Scott MacDonald has been CEO, President, or Managing Director of several companies. His book, Saving Investa; How an ex-factory worker helped save one of Australia’s iconic companies, has won numerous awards.