My client had been an executive with an ad agency.  He had put a daughter through college, then lost his retirement nest egg in the real estate crash.  He now lives with his wife in a rental in the Valley.  Stretched beyond his means, he was having his wages garnished because of a credit card judgment entered against him a year earlier.

He came by my office to sign his bankruptcy petition.  He made the appointment, then called to say he was running 15 minutes late.  When he showed up, he was a bit out of breath.  He explained that he had just walked there, because he had given up his car.  I don’t have an office that one just walks to – it took him a half hour to trek the two miles from his previous appointment.

I asked about his life.  He works at Trader Joe’s for $11.50 an hour.  I said I was always impressed at the workers at Trader Joe’s – many are tattooed, some of them look pretty rough, but they are invariably kind and helpful, and appear to be pretty competent.

His eyes lit up.  “I just love working at Trader Joe’s,” he said.  He talked about his best friend at the store – a former marine in his 30s with tattoos up and down his arms. “I’d never have anything to do with him in any other situation, but we got along great and accomplished some pretty big jobs together,” he said.

He said he would love to keep working at Trader Joe’s because it’s so much fun.  But people are calling him now for consulting on advertising projects, at pay rates of $50 an hour and up.  He’ll do that, but he’ll always miss Trader Joe’s.

After he was done, I had no more appointments, so was going to go home.  I offered him a ride to the nearest bus stop; he gladly took it.

What does it take to be happy?  David Allen talks about a former Navy aircraft carrier captain who went to work at UPS as a delivery man, and a corporate CFO who became a duck at Disneyland.  All these people – my client, the former high-powered execs – found meaning in relatively low-level stress-free jobs.  I’m honored to know people like this, and humbled that I can help them out.

My calling isn’t nearly so stress-free, but I find great meaning in it as well.