Running into a Former Co-Worker and Being Surprised

by TTMK on July 22, 2013 · 11 comments

Have you ever lost touch with a former coworker or acquaintance, only to see them randomly years later? I’m sure most of us have had something like this happen, where we have run into someone after many years in a totally different context.

I recently had this happen, where I saw a former coworker after about 10 years.  I never worked directly with her in the same exact department, but I worked with some of the same people she dealt with in her role, so our paths crossed often enough to at least know each other by name and have a few conversations.

Anyway, at the time she was in a role that was a good one, and not one that just anybody could get.  I’m guessing it was a position that was somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 annually in terms of compensation, give or take some.  Let’s say $80,000 to $120,000, just to provide a broad range.  Again, that’s an estimate and it was about 10 years ago.  You get the idea – it was a good job.

Fast forward to very recently.  I was buying groceries recently, and I saw an open checkout line.  So, I walked up, and said hello to the cashier.  Lo and behold, it was that lady I worked with a decade ago.

Now, I don’t want this to sound bad (and I apologize if it comes off wrong), but this is a job that I couldn’t have imagined the woman in.  Again, not that there is something wrong with her current job, but she was in a really good position in Corporate America with a salary that was likely pretty good.  Beyond that, she is someone who made a favorable impression as being nice.

How does one go from a well-paying, plum job to a cashier job at a grocery store?  Both are an honest day’s work, but the former would be harder to get and a preferred job between the two.

It was really odd as she asked me if I wanted my sparkling water bottles in a bag or not.  I felt bad, and wondered what the situation was.  But, I didn’t ask anything, being too shocked.  Rather, I told her I recognized her and then re-introduced myself, and she immediately acknowledged and rattled off where and when we worked for the same company.

The experience was kind of jarring, actually. Quite an eye-opener, and it goes to show how life can change quickly for people.  I felt bad for her, and then thought how close many of could be to such a situation, no matter how unfathomable it might seem at the moment.  Just one or two life turns, and there you are.

Should I have asked more questions? Reached out to offer help?  Of course, you don’t want to insult someone’s dignity in any way either. It ended up that there was a lady in line behind me, so I just said “nice seeing you again” or something like that as I walked out.  It all happened so fast.

My Questions for You

Have you ever been really surprised when running into someone after many years?

In this case, how would you have handled something like what I experienced?


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

SavvyFinancialLatina July 22, 2013 at 2:48 pm

I have met a lot of people that lost their very good paying jobs, and had to take lower paying jobs. One person in particular was very recentful and took her a while to get over it. Not sure is she has yet. This is a reminder to have savings, investments, and develop opportunities outside that bring in cash. You never know when things will go south in corporate america.


TTMK July 22, 2013 at 6:30 pm

That’s a tough situation, but one that many, many people have faced or will.


Edward Antrobus July 22, 2013 at 8:19 pm

I’ve actually had the opposite experience. I’ve run into people from high school who wished off through school and barely graduated but are now in successful positions.


TTMK July 22, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I have seen this happen too. Sometimes people have talent but it doesn’t show when younger because they aren’t serious. When older, people have a tendency to pull it together.


jim July 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm

How old was she? My first assumption was that she had burned out doing the whole “corporate” thing, was fed up with the inevitable politics, was doing just fine and probably loved her (relatively speaking) mindless job. I know my wife, a lawyer, dreams of being a walmart greeter or costco checker-outer – ha! I just wouldn’t assume she was embarrassed about her position or that she was unhappy. Me, personally, I would have just said hi and enjoyed the interaction.


funancials July 22, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I agree with Jim. Never assume….

My high school Principal retired and then began working at a grocery store. He didn’t need the money. He just enjoyed being around people and wanted to keep his sanity.

Maybe she had a child. Maybe she got tired of 60 hour work weeks. Maybe she quit and wanted some extra spending money. You never know…


TTMK July 22, 2013 at 9:53 pm

That’s true. You never know…maybe she doesn’t need the money. Who knows? My first thoughts were that something didn’t add up, and it just seemed so out of place for someone who had such a good job.


jim July 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm

You are assuming that what you think of as a great job is her great job. I just wouldn’t do that. My wife has had her fill of lawyers and politics and would welcome with open arms a job that merely required her to be friendly. In fact, it would be a welcomed reprieve.


TTMK July 22, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I basically made small talk and left. Who knows what got the lady to this job, it makes one wonder – and simply hope for the best.


Matt Becker July 23, 2013 at 3:20 pm

I definitely don’t think you offer help or really do anything other than make pleasant small talk. Like others have said, you don’t know any of the backstory for why her situation has changed. With that said, assuming that it actually was a negative move for her, it’s a good lesson for all of us to have backup plans in place for when things don’t go well. Assuming things will always work out is not a plan and will leave you without choices when you need them most.


Lena @ WhatMommyDoes July 27, 2013 at 11:38 pm

I’m with some of the others – you’re assuming she wouldn’t want to be a cashier. But after years of doing boring CPA work, I’d gladly welcome doing anything more fun. I’ve considering teaching craft classes at Michaels and even selling cars at Carmax. I can see myself liking all kinds of jobs, as long as the employer was nice and I was having fun!


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