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Cathrin Ruppert with Her Copy of The Why Cafe in German
Cathrin Ruppert with Her Copy of The Why Cafe in German

Why ask why? An interview from Germany about The Why Cafe
John P. Strelecky interviewed by Cathrin Ruppert
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Note: In Germany The Why Cafe is titled Das Cafe am Rande der Welt


When did you experience the questions at the Why Cafe? And what were your first actions afterwards? How has your life personally changed since that time?


For me personally the cafe questions have come up at different times.  The story that Mike shares about being on the beach in Costa Rica and asking himself - Why am I here?  is actually my own story.  I was 28 years old and as is described, had been multi-tasking myself into a state of complete anxiety.  I was trying to make it as a professional beach volleyball player, I was working full time, and I was going to school at night. My entire life was scheduled.  That experience in Costa Rica was when the whole paradigm shifted for me and it was the first time I asked myself - Why am I here? 


Do you fear death?  In 2002 I once again left all behind and this time took off on a trip around the world with my wife.  After having been on the road for 7.5 months, and seeing so many amazing things and experiencing such spectacular people and cultures, I woke up one morning and realized that I could die that day and I would be ok with that.  I didn't want to die, but I felt like I had fulfilled so much of what I wanted to see, that if it were to end that day, I could die with no regrets.  I knew from personal experience and my interactions with others that the true fear is not of death, but of getting to the end of our lives and realizing that we didn't really live.   That was no longer a problem for me.


Are you fulfilled?  For many years after my experience in Costa Rica where I asked myself "Why am I here?" I struggled to re-discover fulfillment.  It didn't come through wealth, through job title, through the type of car I owned...  It's strange, but I had it during my travels in Costa Rica, but it took me almost five years to realize/remember that all I had to do was go back to doing what I loved, and the fulfillment would be there.  I grew up in a modest family in terms of wealth, and I think I needed to discover for myself that money was not the fulfillment bringing entity I thought it might be.  That's not to say that money is either good or bad.  It's neither, it's just money.  Having it is nice, but what I discovered was that just having money wasn't enough to make me fulfilled. What I really wanted was freedom, and contrary to what is a cultural belief in many places, you don't need money to be free. 


In terms of my first actions after experiencing the questions, as I said, it took me about five years after asking "Why am I here?" before I made the decision to go pursue it full time.  My hope is that other people can learn from my experiences and shorten that time frame considerably.  Once you find your nirvana, there's no need to go prove that you can live in an alternate situation.  Enjoy the nirvana.


For the second question, it was an amazing epiphany to realize that I was not afraid to die.  I have since come to a state of knowing where I don't believe there is such a thing as death.  We simply move from the physical state we temporarily occupy to something else.  I think I had to live through the experiences that generated that first lack of fear in order to realize the second component.  Both are tremendously freeing.  They don't make you reckless, but instead, they take much of the stress out of everyday life.


Regarding the third question, "Are You Fulfilled?" I was fulfilled coming back from the Costa Rica experience.  Then I moved away from that in a desperate search to guarantee I would have it.  In other words, I was so intent on getting enough money so I could be free, I gave up my freedom for five years.  Eventually I realized that freedom is a state of mind, not an amount in the bank account.  If you tie it to anything but yourself, you are destined for problems.  I proved that to myself when I spent nine months backpacking the world (which is what led to the writing of The Why Café), and that time it became so ingrained that I now live it day to day, no matter what is going on.


How has my life changed since asking the three questions?  My life is completely different.  It's been a progressive change, but the anxiety, fear, stress, frustration, and all the rest of those negative emotions I lived with for most of my life don't exist anymore.  They try and make an appearance every once in a while, but I've lived on the other side of those emotions now for a long enough time, that I realize the alternatives are much more pleasant, and much more fulfilling.


Not surprisingly, as I made the mental transition, the other components of my life, outside of my own mindset, improved dramatically as well.  My relationships, wealth, free time, all grew and continue to grow in positive directions.


In the book you wrote that you searched and found your Purpose For Existing. What would you now call your PFE? And how long did it take to find and get to your PFE?


My PFE now is to continue to grow in my own understanding of the human experience, and to share what I learn in a way that helps others grow as well.  Life can be such an amazing adventure.  Or, it can be boring, painful, and tedious.   It took me awhile to realize that the choice was mine, and I think I only did realize it because others who had walked a path similar to mine were kind enough to share their insights and help me understand there were alternatives.  I wouldn't be where I am without them, so I'm just trying to do the same for others.


In terms of how long it took me to find my PFE, I'd say I received my first glimpse when I was 28, and then at 32 it went from a belief to a knowing.  My guess is that if you are open to it, your PFE continues to unveil itself throughout your life.  The core essence remains the same, but the nuances continue to evolve and expand.


Am I allowed to ask what you worked on before the Why Cafe? And have you totally quit that job?


As I mentioned, before writing The Why Café, I spent almost a year backpacking around the world with my wife on about forty dollars per day.  It was that experience that opened the door to writing the book, which has now led to two other books and a life as an author and speaker.


Prior to that I was a strategy consultant.  My job was to advise companies on how to make more money.


Interestingly enough, after spending almost four years away from that world, the third book I wrote, which I believe comes out in Germany next year, is about using the principles of PFE, and something I call the Big Five for Life, in the work environment.


I was inspired to write that book because most people spend 70% of their awake time Monday through Friday either at work, getting to work, or thinking about work.  So if they are looking to fulfill their PFE, then that 70% of time provides a large opportunity to do it. 


You are called an Inspirational Keynote Speaker. What exactly are you telling your listeners? And to whom are you speaking? Private persons like me or an organization or company?


After The Why Café came out, I started to get requests from both individuals, and people within organizations asking me to come and speak.  What started off as a little side thing I would do, sometimes to groups of as little as ten or twelve people, has grown quite a bit.  It was a little unnerving the first time I saw over a thousand people in the audience all looking at me, but the truth is, when you're asked to speak about something you live, it's very easy, regardless of whether you are speaking with one person or a thousand.


Since the book first came out, I've since been invited and have gone to share the concepts from the café with readers in Spain, Turkey, the U.K, and the Netherlands.  Early next year I'll be going to India for five weeks to speak in six different cities there.  I love to do it, although now I limit it to two to three events each month.  More than that takes me away from my family too much, and I have a little one and a half year old girl now.  For the India trip, she and my wife will be coming with me.


The types of organizations vary a lot.  Large companies have brought me in, as well as hospitals, government organizations, and universities. 


The message I share is a compilation of the concepts from my books.  I share with people that their life has the potential to be an amazing adventure.  It also has the potential to be the opposite of that.  The choice is theirs.  I explain that the average life is just 28,500 days long, and if we aren't careful, those days go by so quickly that we get to the end before we really get started on the adventure.


One of the key pieces of information I share is about fulfilling one's Big Five for Life, which is a concept I write about in my books Life Safari, and The Big Five for Life -- Leadership's Greatest Secret.  Your Big Five for Life are the five things you want to do, see, or experience in your life before you die.


I do my best to inspire people to believe- in themselves, in their dreams, and in the magic of the universe.  And I also do my best to inspire them to take action.  Because a dream without action eventually just fades away.  And that is a travesty.


I would have joined one of your speaking engagements, but it's not that easy from Germany ;-)


Perhaps my future includes a trip to Germany to do some speaking.  I hope so.  Until then, there's always Skype.




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