Ladies Drive: John, I have a favourite first question in my interviews and it goes like this: what is the scent of your childhood?
John Strelecky: The very first scent that came to me was the scent of cut grass. I used to play for endless hours in the sandbox in my backyard, all by myself during summertime. For some reason, I could smell the cut grass all the time. I grew up with two siblings in a place just outside of Chicago, Illinois.
But you preferred to play all by yourself?
I actually don’t know why I was by myself all the time. The interesting thing about that is that when you play by yourself as a child in an environment like a sandbox, you invent things, you invent worlds. I actually think that it was a great thing, as far as helping me foster the creative skills that I have, because I would invent stories. A whole event would take place inside that sandbox. And that in essence is what storytelling is and what I do for a living.
Can you remember or recall one of these worlds you created as a kid?
When I was growing up, I was a huge fan of the Old West of the United States. I think I just was an adventurer at heart, even as a little kid.
When you look back now, what do you think this experience of being able to play, having enough time, being outside, creating your own world, what kind of doors did that open within you?
That’s an awesome question because I have a daughter and one of the things I lament for children now is that they don’t have the freedom that I had when I was a kid. I think I was in first grade, so I was six years old, and I would take my bike to go to baseball practise somewhere in town. It was like a 15 or 20-minute bike ride and I was only six! These days, where I live, you would never ever let your six- year-old take a bike anywhere by themselves. And I don’t know if it’s based on legitimate fears or if the situation is really worse than it was back in the days when I was growing up. But I feel a little bit sad for kids today that they don’t have that chance to just grow, explore and be free like I did when I was a kid.
I suppose I know why you want to protect your child. But – why is that? Have you lost trust in your fellow citizens?
I think there is just a greater awareness of the bad things that some people do to kids. As a loving parent, I want to make sure that does not happen to my kid. I have been very conscious about balancing these two realities with my daughter – wanting to her to be free with wanting her to be safe. That is why I want her to always trust her intuition. We talked about that since the time she learned to talk. I would actually ask her, ‘What is your intuition telling you, what are we going to do?’. I used to take her to school and then I would meet her and we would usually bike home together. I don’t remember any more in which grade she was, but on one wonderful day, but later sad day for me, she said, ‘Dad you don’t need to meet me at school today’. She wanted to bike home with her friends. And of course, as a parent that makes you cry a little bit inside, like they don’t need you anymore, but at the same time you are excited, because that is your goal as a parent, to raise them to be independent, confident young people. That was a joyful moment for me when she had arrived at a point where she felt comfortable doing that kind of thing on her own. It is one of my greatest wishes for kids that they have a chance to be free and to be carefree in a world where they can just be creative and explore. Because if you can explore as a kid, I think that opens it up for you to be exploratory as an adult, whether that’s in business, while travelling, or in art. It becomes a sense of it is okay to be open to things, which is a wonderful attribute.
That’s why I asked you about the ‘trust issue’. Because I felt like when you experience trust in the universe as a kid, you also have that in your heart as an adult.
You are right! You are one hundred per cent right. When you think about little kids, they have this joyous way of life when you see them. That is one of the opportunities an adult has – to go back and remember what it was like to be carefree.
If I would ask you to introduce yourself without saying who you are, without your name, that you are an author, that you are a parent, that you are a dad, where you live, which gender you are. If I would ask you to leave even your hat aside, what is left underneath all the labels and boxes? Who is John Strelecky?
I would say I’m an adventurer at heart. I live to be out there discovering and I would say at the same time that I’m always thinking. This thing never turns off (laughs). I’m not saying it’s always negative. I’m just always thinking and observing the world around me and going, ‘Oh that’s interesting.’ I’ll have these philosophical thoughts that come to my mind all the time. I think I’m an adventurer with a philosophical mind. Let’s put it that way.
Why do you do what you do? What is the underlying reason for that? Because I had a fascinating interview with professor Beau Lotto a few days ago and he asked me that during the interview. ‘Why do you do what you do? Do you want to be kind or what is the underlying motivation for what you do?’ And I loved that question and now I pass it on to you.
Interesting, I don’t think that I have been asked that question ever before in an interview. I think part of the reason why I do what I do is because I know how it feels to be alone with my thoughts thinking ‘Is there not more to life than this?’. I distinctly remember having this thought in my head ever since I was eleven. What is the point of this all? Is there meaning to life? And thinking there is nobody else out there asking that same question, so that …
…I’m the only crazy one here!
Exactly! And why am I the only one who seems to think that this is a little off? Because what I think I did is, I was able to observe the world and see that the vast majority of adults do not love the work that they do. They cover up their unhappiness with substances, whether it’s alcohol, drugs. Commercialism and consumerism are basically everywhere as an attempt to cover up the unhappy feelings. And I think even at a young age, I was able to see the insanity in that and ask myself, ‘Is this really all there is to life and why?’. And so, I think part of the reason why I do what I do is because I remember that feeling of ‘I’m alone with these thoughts’ and I don’t want people to feel like they are alone! They are not alone! Tons of other people are asking these questions themselves. If I’m able to ask these questions myself – like you do with your business sisterhood – and have a dialogue with somebody else, we can both grow through the process. And that is part of the reason why I do what I do.
But did your parents empower you to ask yourself all these questions? Or did these questions arise from within yourself?
I don’t think they would have discouraged such questions, if I would have asked them, but I don’t remember having a dinner conversation about these types of topics.
And did you ever have an epiphany about that question?
Over time, as I got older and was in my early 30s, I left everything behind and backpacked around the world for a year. This was definitely a huge transformative leap in my understanding of these three questions from the book The Café on the Edge of the World. Why are you here? That awareness that yes you can either live your life or it somehow ends up meaningless in the context of the universe. So, when we look at the stars and if you have a sense of the size and magnitude of the universe, it’s very easy to think that our lives individually have zero meaning whatsoever. We’re staggeringly small in the concept of the universe and we are only here for about 78 years on average. So, it would be very easy to think life is pointless. But the moment you do something meaningful in life, whether it’s learning something you are interested in or helping another human being, by default, you have done something meaningful and by default, you have given your personal life meaning – and therefore life is not meaningless. The second question is ‘Why am I here?’ and it comes back to in what way do I want to have a meaningful life and what does that even mean to me? Is it that I want to be an adventurer, that I want to help entrepreneurs, or that I want to help facilitate the growth of women having the chance to share as you do? Everybody’s answer is going to be different. But that first question is what stimulates the creative thought around that. And then the third question is ‘Do you fear death?’. As I said, I don’t know why, but even from a very young age I had a tremendous awareness that life is not eternal, you only get so many days and then it goes away.
Did this thinking of your own limited life span give you anxieties?
I can’t say I had anxieties to the point of being afraid. It’s more that I have an increased awareness and I still have this issue because I’m hyper aware of time passing. At the end of every day, I find myself asking, ‘Did I spend today wisely?’. If this would be my last day on the planet, would I be okay with that? You are asking great questions Stella. You are stimulating my creative thinking! I never thought about it, but maybe it was my awareness at a young age. You work in a job you can’t stand, then you retire, only to not live very long and then die. Maybe it was the fact that I understood that, which made me aware that every day is precious. So why would I waste this day? Because at the end we don’t fear dying, we fear getting to the end of our lives and realising, ‘I did not really live it the way I wanted to live it’. And that’s the great fear.
But are you afraid of your own end?
I’m not – now. I will tell you a very profound story, which was the defining moment when that fear went away completely. It was during my backpacking adventures around the world when I was in my early 30s. I had been on the road for about seven months. I was in Africa in a tent, woke up in the morning and had the overriding thought that if I was to die today, I would actually be okay with that.
A lot of spiritual teachings say you have to die before you die, meaning you need to let go of everything, even yourself. If you are okay with that, you can start to live.
Interestingly, to that point I often share an example. Most people don’t have that epiphany that you are talking about until they have a heart attack. On the way to the hospital, they think, ‘Okay, I need to change my life!’.
And the problem with that near-death experience is that you become very close to death. There’s another way to get that and that is through a near-life experience. It is when you allow yourself to touch life in its most perfect form for you. Whether that’s sitting in a symphony, whether that’s you painting something, whether that’s you being on an adventure. I remember being in Thailand and hiking through the jungle with a guide and I asked him to take me to his favourite place in the whole world. He took me to this place, it was incredible; we are overlooking this valley, we are at the heights of the clouds and we could hear the birds chattering in the trees and had this incredible jungle view. My only thought was, ‘I have touched life in its finest forms today.’ That is even more powerful than having a near-death experience and you are not close to death, on the contrary.
But do you believe me when I say, I’m not afraid to die?
I was there when my grandmother died and I had to let go of my mother ten years ago. As a kid, it was so crystal clear to me that ending this life, in this body, does not mean the end.
That’s fantastic. So how old were you as a kid when you already had that awareness on a cellular level?
Ten, eleven maybe.
Amazing. Do you think you were born with that awareness or was there a defining moment?
I cannot recall any specific moment. I always tried to see things with the eyes of a child. But like most of us, I was educated to think ‘properly’, scientifically-based, if you cannot prove it, it does not exist. I perhaps had this wisdom of the heart, but I could not explain it. Even now, when I have to explain it, it’s hard to put what I feel into words. Because words always seem to be inadequate.
Right. It just is. You just describe something that just is. That’s awesome. Was there a defining moment when you reconnected?
Too many times I took my heart and soul over the edge and there was a time where I just didn’t feel at home in my own body anymore. So, I realised that I needed to start taking care of my ‘home’. So, I think that was the moment of being aware that ‘I’m not superwoman’. That allowed me to reconnect with myself.
That’s awesome. I think sometimes as we grow in life, we get these little taps on our shoulder from the cosmic algorithm that says, ‘Just a little reminder!’. And if we don’t listen to that gentle tap, then it becomes a bit more dramatic.
It sounds like you connected with that authenticity that you intuitively had as a child and that which was covered up, as is so often the case in our cultures.
Absolutely – and you said it, so many people do stuff they don’t like, sometimes they are even married to people they don’t like!
I would say it’s that willingness to look into the world with the lens you are talking about. It’s that creative ‘what if’ that opens up some of the greatest opportunities for humanity to grow. I actually witnessed one of these in the last couple of days. I was in a museum talking about wildlife and whales in the ocean in particular. Research showed that when they looked at the brain of a humpback whale, that there were regions of the brain that are designed for empathy, compassion, and caring. Thus, they believe that the humpback whale has a far greater capacity for love, compassion and empathy than we as human beings have! That is a complete reframe of our perspective on animals. It’s just maybe that they are even better at this thing than we are.
But in order to change something, you need a willingness to build your intuitive muscle. I can’t tell you exactly how it works, but what I can do is tell you that after learning how to use that intuitive muscle over time and to trust and play with those intuitive skills, that this is by far one of the most critical assets that you have at our disposal throughout our existence.
How do you teach people to reconnect with themselves and train the intuitive muscle?
Let me give you a very specific example of how to develop your intuition. First, it’s having the awareness that intuition exists. That means taking a little bit of time to reflect on an instance where you had that intuitive sense about something. It could be in the middle of a sports experience, whether it’s golf, or tennis. Something inside you said, ‘This is the shot, this is the club to use, or this is the moment to do this.’ It could be something as simple as when you walked out of the house and your brain, your intuition said, ‘You are forgetting something!’. And you cannot remember what you are forgetting, so you sort of ignore that and then you go about what you are doing and then sure enough you are three kilometres down the road and then all of a sudden you sense, ‘Ah that’s right, I was supposed to bring this item that I had actually put on my desk and call my friend and now I’ve forgotten!’. And then you need to turn around and go all the way back home. What I learned is that when you have that intuitive thought of ‘I’m forgetting something’ and then you take a moment and you stop and pause and let that muscle work for a couple of seconds, then you will get the answer you are looking for. And this is a muscle that can be built. So maybe the first time you have the awareness that you forgot something, but you still can’t think of it, you go outside the house, you think about it some more and you start backing down the driveway and then you remember what it was. And the second time you actually get out the door, you get into the car and then you remember before you start backing down the driveway. Over time as you build this muscle, you literally will have that intuitive thought reminding you to bring this item before you even remember I’m forgetting something. The muscle can be built over time to the point where you have a seamless, beautiful interaction with your intuition and realise it’s actually a dialogue. It’s a conversation. I worked with a really fascinating neuroscientist for a couple of years on a very cool project. The idea was that if you have this partnership with your brain, with your intuition, that you can actually give your brain or even your intuition a name. You can name it anything that is reflective of the essence that it provides. Mine personally is ‘Sophocles’ for wisdom.
You mentioned before how you express gratitude and appreciation for your life, twice a day you fall in love with life. So, when I get those intuitive flashes, I will literally take a moment and thank whatever this force is that is interacting with me. Interestingly, the more times I show gratitude towards ‘Sophocles’, the better the connection gets and the more seamless it gets. This is a very tactical approach to building that intuition. So, I’m still a highly competitive, high-profile athlete. I played beach volleyball. I am no longer physically as good as I used to be when I was 28, but I will tell you my intuitive skills make me a very dangerous opponent. I will literally see how somebody ticks the volleyball, turn to go back to the service line and my intuition will be telling me where the service is going to go, even before they turn around. And this is a whole new level – and I’m just scratching the surface of what I am personally capable of. But if we can get to that point with a little bit of practise, imagine what else we can do with this. And that is something that has me really excited for the rest of my existence.
Can I ask you, why you choose to ‘intervene’ by writing your books?
Something in my intuition said, ‘Sit down and start typing.’ It was very sweet and nice how it was said, but it was also like this is what you need to be doing right now. Because when you travel internationally and you don’t speak the languages and you don’t know the cultures, and you don’t know the customs, you learn to tap into your intuition a whole lot more. That is one of the main resources you have. So, it’s awesome that I just came off of that trip because without that I don’t think I would have trusted this voice that was telling me to ‘Sit down and type’. But I did trust it and ended up sitting down and typing what was a stream of conscious typing experience for 21 days. After 21 days that became The Café on the Edge of the World, as it’s known today. And here we are now, the book being published in 43 languages, over 4 million copies sold. If I had not trusted that intuition, that voice over those 21 days, then…? Again, I had no plans of becoming an author, it’s not like that was my life’s dream. Had I not trusted that intuitive voice and trusted that this is going to lead somewhere, this book never would have happened. But I firmly believe that story floated from out there onto the paper and I just get to be the shepherd of that story. And that’s my role,partofmypurposeontheplanet,tobethe shepherd and the co-conspirator, to some degree now, but especially for the first book. I was definitely the shepherd of that story.
It’s a little bit like Neale Donald Walsch explains it in his book Conversations with God’.
Yes. And my guess is if you study writers and philosophers across history, then this is not an unusual experience. There are times when something comes through us. So, what I do when I write is, I will sit and I need a quiet space, so I will go to a park and write. In particular of all the characters in all my books, Casey from the Café is the wisest for me. She is just this fundamental rock of wisdom and cannot be shaken. I will be in the process of writing and I write something as it is flowing through me as if the character would be talking to me. I just need to allow myself to be in that connected space and that flow and with child-like love and curiosity to be engaged with it, to play with it and then the results will fall from there.
But still – I do not offer unsolicited advice. I would say there is one small caveat to that. Which is when I sometimes think something or have an intuitive flash. Then I will offer something to the other person. I did just that very recently. There was a guy who came to my house to work on a project and my intuition was just screaming at me that I needed to have a conversation with this guy. And so I walked out to the backyard after a little while and I said, ‘Listen, I know this is going to sound crazy.’ And he has no idea who I am, he does not know that I write books or anything of that stuff. So, it will sound even more crazy. But I said, ‘Look, I know this is going to sound crazy, but from the minute I met you at my door I get this sense that you have this incredible destiny in front of you. I have no idea where you are at your life, I have no idea what your big dreams are, I just want you to know that my intuition was telling me that you have an incredible destiny.’ Stella, this guy is about 2.1 metres, solid muscle. And he stands there and he looks at me – and he starts to cry.
Wow. I mean. That’s beautiful.
And we got into this amazing conversation. He said, ‘You know what I needed more than anything else today? I needed somebody who believes in me.’ So, he and I have stayed in touch and I’m helping him because he is going to be a life-changing presence in the world. He has this incredible deep voice and he is a huge thinker in what he does. He’s doing this physical labour work, but what he really wants to be doing is inspiring people, talking to people in an audience. This guy will be on a stage one day in front of television cameras and inspiring millions of people. Like 100 percent, I can see it in my head.
When you shared that story, I had goosebumps because I can really connect with what you said. It’s just fascinating, sometimes something happens ‘by accident’ and you know that it was meant to happen. There was no other way that these two people could been at the same place at the same time and have exactly this conversation.
Yes. And when you get to the age where I am, in my early 50s, and you look back over your life and you think about these things that went well for you. You realise that you did not do it alone. There were moments when somebody else had that conversation with you or gave you a piece of wisdom when you asked for it. And so, to me part of the role as I get older is, when somebody wants it, when they seek it, to be the inspirational source of guidance the same way other people were for me. To be the helper the same way others guided me. And as you said, sometimes we are asked to be the lead actor in the play, that is sort of our own existence, and sometimes we are asked to be the supporting actor in somebody’s else’s play. And having that awareness to know that in this moment, I’m not the lead actor, I’m the supporting actor and my job is to say the one line, like in the movie, that changes the lead actor’s life, so that then they can go and do that amazing thing. And I think trusting that your connections to the universe, your intuitive connections, tell you like ‘this is one of these moments’. This is very, very powerful.
I have only one last question for you. You just said, when you are at a certain age and then you look back at your life what went well, what went wrong. If your life were a piece of music, what would it be?
That is a really great question, what would mine be? I’m not sure I can name a particular song, but I can tell you the essence that I feel in your question. I think mine would be more one of these songs that is a little bit a spoken song, it’s a light-hearted kind of feeling, it’s a song that makes you feel good in your heart when you hear it. And probably everybody can sing it and you can feel good when you hear it. It’s kind of like spoken wisdom in some way but lyrically. Like musically. It’s actually funny because one of my personal big five of life is to write a song that makes it to the top 10 in the pop charts.
Sounds good. I’m looking forward to listening to that song to be honest.
I think in the next year, year and a half, that might be a project that will get a lot of my attention. But my dream is to be heading back to Europe because the fourth book of the Café will be coming out in May of 2022 and I really wanttodoabigtour.So,Ihopetoseeyouin Zurich next year?
That would be a pleasure, John. I’m sure a lot of our readers would love to be there, too. And I cannot wait welcoming you in person as our keynote speaker of the League of Leading Ladies Conference 2022 here in Switzerland! So, see you in June 22!
@johnstrelecky (Facebook, Instagram)