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FA Center: ‘You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.’ A chance encounter with Rick Warren turns an unhappy accountant into a purpose-driven financial adviser

Within the span of a few weeks, Louis Barajas lost both his grandmother and uncle. Their deaths hit him hard.

On September 8, 1990, Barajas was balancing his grief over their recent passing with joy over his daughter’s birth earlier that day. Exhausted and emotionally drained, he stopped at a café near the hospital.

Seated alone at a table, Barajas noticed a man in his mid-30s approach. Placing his hand on Barajas’ shoulder, the man asked, “Is everything O.K.?”

For some reason, Barajas decided to spill his heart out to the stranger, who was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and khaki pants.

“My daughter was just born and she’s the love of my life,” Barajas replied. “But I just lost two loves of my life and it doesn’t seem fair.”

From that initial exchange, the pair engaged in an intense 30-minute conversation about coping with loss and living with purpose.

“I was very vulnerable,” recalled Barajas, now a certified financial planner in Irvine, Calif. “I looked sad. I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours. I think I was in shock from everything that was happening in my life.”

The stranger, Rick Warren, mentioned that he was a pastor of a small church. Thanks to his gentle questioning and attentive listening, he established quick rapport with Barajas.

At the time, Barajas worked at an accounting firm. He confided in Warren that he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his job.

“If you’re not fulfilled, maybe you have to do something bigger,” Warren told him. “Maybe you can find purpose in something bigger.”

Pastor Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif.

Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Barajas started to rethink his professional priorities. He realized that Warren was encouraging him to look beyond the safe confines of his current job to make a greater impact by doing something more meaningful. “You never see a U-Haul behind a hearse,” Warren said.

Warren’s comment struck a chord with Barajas: If you can’t take your material possessions with you after you die, then why focus on acquiring more of them?

In that moment, Barajas knew he needed to find purpose in his work — and not continue on his current path. He left the café with a newfound determination to reset his career. He decided that he wanted to assist people with modest income to make smart financial decisions.

As a result, Barajas launched his own financial planning practice. Three decades later, he couples his business as an adviser with teaching and writing about financial planning. He’s the author of five books on entrepreneurship and personal finance, including “Small Business, Big Life.”

Warren went on to widespread fame after the publication in 2002 of “The Purpose Driven Life,” which became an international bestseller. Barajas wasn’t surprised: He had heard Warren share some of the same wisdom in their conversation and found it memorable.

Years after their chance encounter, Barajas visited Warren’s Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif. — which had grown into an evangelical megachurch — and the pastor baptized him. While Warren didn’t remember the details of their heart-to-heart talk, Barajas says Warren enjoyed catching up with him and hearing about how the conversation had altered the course of Barajas’s career.

“His words in that café resonated with me so much,” Barajas said. “This guy changed my life.”

More: ‘I promised myself I’d never be that broke again.’ This financial adviser’s family inherited $1.4 million and quickly lost it all.

Also read: Losing her father on 9/11 led this woman to help people manage their money and gain financial security

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