Life Lessons at Trader Joe’s

Grocery stores and the people inside don’t know how special they are to me. Honestly. My experiences at grocery stores are legendary! Okay, well, not legendary, but one encounter led to a moment of human connection and another to a novel. And those are just the moments I wrote about.

But as my family will attest to, I cannot enter and exit a grocery store without having at least one meaningful conversation. And to be quite truthful, I wouldn’t have it any other way: Despite my introverted ways, there’s something to the little, everyday conversations that crop up between strangers. Being open and honest with these people is easy, at least in my world. Plus, I almost always learn something about myself, the world around me, or the human psyche.

Today’s encounter occurred at Trader Joe’s when the cashier commented on my Ohio University mask.

“I like it,” she said.

“Two of my children go there,” I replied.

“That’s awesome.” She scanned the chicken triangles. “Athens is a great place. Wonderful community. Great school.”

“Did you go there?” I asked as I tried to find my credit card.

“I did, but I left.”

Her words made me stop. Hadn’t she just said how great Athens was? “Wait a minute,” I said. “You went there but you left? May I ask why?”

She smiled. “Oh yeah. I went there for medical school but left after my first year. It wasn’t right for me.”

We chatted a bit more about her revelation—that it wasn’t the place or even the school that was the issue but the professional journey she was on. That she’d worked so hard to get to where she was but realized it wasn’t what she wanted. That there, at Trader Joe’s, she had space to think of her future, whatever that might be. She ended with something along the lines of “I’m happy right here. And it feels good.”

I kid you not, friends, tears welled in my eyes. To be so confident at her young age! To be so self-aware! Though I’d not been that sort of woman in my midtwenties, I could appreciate what she possessed, and pride and happiness for this stranger almost overwhelmed me. And those emotions made me realize that though I can often still be fearful of change and the unknown, of what an uncertain future might bring, I have no reason to be that way. What this young woman said without saying it was: “Trust in the process.”

We wished each other well, and I hope she has a wonderful day. I know I will. The sun is shining. We have some Trader Joe’s treats in the pantry, my parents are doing fine, and I’m meeting a client in an hour. Life is moving forward in a good way.

I’m certain this young woman has no idea the impact she made on me, but I do want to send a quick thank you to the universe for having our paths cross today. And let me just be clear here: those Trader Joe’s folks are peddling far more than just groceries! Many thanks to them!

Image of Atlanta Trader Joe’s (not the one I was actually in!) by conversationswithval at


  1. Ruthann on April 22, 2022 at 1:33 pm

    Ah! So true! I often have great conversations with people at a grocery store. Introverted too, but something about that moment when of honesty… (are these pickles any good?) are just sacred moments where we are human again.

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