Windows Of Opportunity

Trading Places

Summoning all his energy to make the break into another field, Light put the word out that he was using his sales experience to create a food distributorship, and W.J. Light Foods was born.

The fledgling enterprise brought new challenges. As Light's substance abuse intensified, he began relying on credit cards to finance everything from cars and mortgage payments to other credit cards, and the company's runaway debt reached $80,000. Light's foray into the food business lasted less than a year; in October 1989, he let his staff go and declared bankruptcy.

Down and out with nowhere to go but up, Light took a friend's advice and began cleaning windows to make some fast cash. He made a minimal investment in equipment and began posting fliers for his service. Receiving four calls that first day, he was off on another adventure.

Light started attending 12-step recovery meetings in 1989 but could never stay sober for more than 30 days. He knew he needed an in-house recovery program, but he couldn't find one that would take him. "People kept [turning me down] because I had no medical insurance," says Light. "I realize now that because I am a veteran, I could have gone to a VA hospital."

Two years into the window-cleaning business, Light lost hope. "I finally just said, `I give up. Alcohol, you win. I don't care.' [For the next six months,] it was almost like I had a death wish. I had to drink to stabilize the shakes. As the day wore on, I would keep drinking 'til I'd black out."

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This article was originally published in the September 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Windows Of Opportunity.

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