John Strelecky

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John P. Strelecky (born September 13, 1969) is a best-selling American author, and inspirational speaker. He is the creator of the Big Five for Life concept. Strelecky’s books include the fiction works, The Why Cafe,[1] Life Safari, and The Big Five for Life- Leadership’s Greatest Secret. He also co-authored the non-fiction title, How to be Rich and Happy. As of 2010, his books have been translated into 20 languages.


Strelecky was born and grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois. He attended St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Illinois and upon graduating, enrolled in Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. He completed his aviation training and spent two years working as a pilot before failing the medical exam for United Airlines due to a previously undiagnosed heart condition.

In interviews, Strelecky has called this one of the lowest points in his life. “I had been working since I was twelve years old. All the jobs no one else would do. Two and three jobs at a time during the summers. In addition to working at nights while I was in college I would take up to twenty-one credit hours per semester, because everything after fifteen was free. And after doing all the things that were supposed to be ‘right,’ it was all taken away because of something I had no control over.”

Strelecky’s low point continued when he applied and was denied admittance to the prestigious Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. In response to a note on the bottom of the denial letter, he called the school and was informed that his denial was due to a “lack of significant work experience.” Strelecky sent a letter to the admissions office advising them that “they didn’t understand the world of aviation and what it was like to have one’s life on the line moment by moment.” Six months later he was admitted to the program.

After graduating, he spent a month in Costa Rica, where he had a significant life epiphany and for the first time ever, began to question his role in life. Part of that experience is chronicled in his first book, The Why Cafe, told through one of the fictional characters.

Following his Costa Rica experience, Strelecky returned to the U.S. and spent five years as a strategy consultant to large companies, ultimately leaving that in 2002 to return to his love of travel. During that year, he and his wife backpacked around the world, covering more than three times the circumference of the earth.

Upon his return, he was inspired to write his first book, originally titled, The Why Are You Here Cafe. The success of that book led to a second, Life Safari, in which he first introduced the concept of the Big Five for Life. Then to his subsequent books, The Big Five for Life- Leadership’s Greatest Secret, and a co-authorship of his first non-fiction work, How to be Rich and Happy.

Inspiration for First Book[edit]

In 2002, Strelecky left his career as a consultant to large companies, and spent almost a year backpacking around the world. Upon his return, he re-entered the world of consulting, but found his interest in the work was gone. While sitting on a plane coming back from a client engagement, he wrote out the start of a speech to answer the question, “What would I tell someone right now is the meaning of life?” The next day he sat down at his computer and started what turned out to be a twenty-one day stream of consciousness typing experience.

In interviews Strelecky has explained, “I never thought about what I was going to type, or even read what I had typed the previous day. I just let the words flow from somewhere, through my fingers and onto the screen. It was a very surreal experience. I had no formal training as an author, no ambitions to be an author, none of that.”

At the end of the twenty-one days, Strelecky knew the experience had ended. What was on the pages turned out to be his first book, originally titled The Why Are You Here Cafe. He used his business expertise to start Aspen Light Publishing, and published the book through that company in 2003. After selling over ten thousand copies across twenty-four countries in less than a year, he was signed by a literary agent. Despite the enthusiastic response from readers, the title was rejected by seventeen publishers in the U.S. Eventually it was purchased by Perseus Book Group, and published under the title The Why Cafe, in 2005.

The book hit its first best-seller list a few months later, and continued to draw attention from readers and media around the world as publications in twenty different languages were released. In 2009, it was released in French under the title Le Why Cafe, and within three weeks was #1 on the best seller lists, outselling all books in all genres during September 2009.

In 2010, Strelecky re-acquired the rights from Perseus Book Group.


The Why Cafe[edit]

In this, his first book, Strelecky traces the story of a man searching for meaning in his life. After getting lost while heading off on a driving vacation, the man (John) arrives at a tiny little cafe in a location so remote, it sits “in the middle, of the middle, of nowhere.”

On the cafe menu are three thought provoking questions: Why are you here? Do you fear death? Are you fulfilled?

Through the stories of the people in the cafe, and the discussions he has around the questions on the menu, the man comes to a new level of understanding about life, and his place in it.

Since its release, publishers and media sources have often compared The Why Cafe to Jonathan Livingston Seagull (Richard Bach), and The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho). Strelecky has shared in interviews that he has been deeply inspired by both those authors. He credits Illusions, also by Richard Bach, as dramatically shifting his view of life, and actually used the size and look of the book as his model for the original versions of The Why Cafe.

Life Safari[edit]

After the success of The Why Cafe, Strelecky’s next work was Life Safari. Here he introduced for the first time through his books, his concept of the Big Five for Life— choosing the five things you most want to do, see, or experience in your life before you die.

In this inspiring and emotionally powerful story set amidst the mystery, beauty, and allure of Africa, Jack is a young man struggling to find happiness in his life. Although he doesn’t know why, the one image that seems to capture his soul is that of Africa. With solitary focus, he saves for two years and then embarks on a journey to find the source of the calling he has felt.

Halfway around the world, a very old, very wise African woman named Ma Ma Gombe is on a journey of her own. She is seeking a fabled destination she was told of as a child—“a place where you can see the earth be born, and then watch the world go to sleep. A place so beautiful that words cannot describe it.” It is a destination known to her only as “the birthplace of all.”

As if their paths were destined to intertwine, these two unlikely travelers meet shortly after Jack’s arrival in Africa and join together on a journey that changes both of their lives forever.

Through this story, the reader walks with them as they cross the African continent on foot. Marvels with them at the animals they encounter, the people they meet, and the adventures they experience. Like Jack, finds through the teachings of Ma Ma Gombe that piece of their soul yearning to be set free.

Strelecky has said that this book was inspired by his own experiences while traveling in Africa, and also from the Oprah Winfrey TV show episode where she delivers 50,000 Christmas presents to children in South Africa.

As he has explained in interviews, “Following the success of The Why Cafe, I went to visit my agent in New York to talk about what my next project would be. After our discussions, I made the decision to write a non-fiction book about the Big Five for Life. When I returned home, my wife had rented the best of Oprah from Netflix, and when I finished watching the show about South Africa, I walked out of my bedroom at 2:00 a.m., and knew I had to do something bigger.”

When he woke up the next morning, the ending to Life Safari came to him, and in ten days he had written the entire book.

In addition to its positive reception by adult readers, Life Safari has been incorporated into the teaching curriculum in numerous schools around the world. Most of these efforts have been with junior high and high school students, but it has been used by teachers with students as young as five and six years old.

As part of his charitable activities, Strelecky’s publishing company provides copies of Life Safari to schools, at an 85% discount.

The Big Five for Life- Leadership’s Greatest Secret[edit]

Strelecky’s third book took him back to his former business life. The book was originally published by St. Martin's Press in 2008.

It is the emotional story of Thomas Derale, a man viewed by those around him as the greatest leader in the world. His people love him, his companies make fortunes, and his clients will wait weeks to do business with him. Then suddenly, at the age of 55, Thomas learns he is dying.

Through the course of the discussions Thomas has with the people around him during his final months, the reader learns about the philosophies he lived by, the way he led, the business practices he used, and why he chose to be the person he was.

Strelecky has said his motivation for writing this book was because the vast majority of people’s lives are spent at work. So if he wanted to inspire people, the work setting was the place to do it. Over one hundred leaders from twelve countries provided input on the manuscript prior to its release.

Numerous universities and corporations have adopted this book as part of their leadership training curriculum.

In 2010, Strelecky re-acquired the rights to this book.

How to be Rich and Happy[edit]

How to be Rich and Happy is Strelecky’s first nonfiction book. He co-authored it with life coach and online blogger Tim Brownson. It was released in May 2010.

Following a life changing experience he had when he was twenty-one, Strelecky began researching what enabled some people to be Rich and Happy. He defines this as being able to do “whatever you want, whenever you want.”

In this book, he documents his findings, along with clinical research that helps explain why people act the way they do. Called by many reviewers a modern-day Think and Grow Rich (the classic by Napoleon Hill), this book is very different stylistically to Strelecky’s previous works.

Where the others are inspirational stories, this is a tell it like it is, non-fiction format.

Strelecky has said he knew the title of the book was the right one, because when people would ask what he was working on next, he would tell them a book called How to be Rich and Happy. And every person replied with something along the lines of, “That’s the book I need.”


Following the success of his books, in 2005 Strelecky began speaking and hosting seminars related to the Big Five for Life. In 2009, he began certifying life coaches and executive coaches to teach the Big Five for Life to others. There are currently coaches in the United States, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.

Film adaptations[edit]

The option for television rights to Strelecky’s first book, The Why Cafe, were originally sold to producers based in Hollywood, California. The premise for the show was a reality program with Strelecky as the host. Strelecky has since re-acquired the rights.

Charity work[edit]

Strelecky has used his books to raise funds for a number of charitable organizations including Habitat for Humanity, the Ovarian Cancer Society, Caribbean Conservation Corporation, and Water is Life International.

He recently launched a program where individuals can use his books as fundraising vehicles to fulfill their own Big Five for Life.

Strelecky and co-author Tim Brownson have pledged to give away one million copies of their book How to be Rich and Happy, to people in need. To fund this goal, 90% of the proceeds from all books purchased are applied to producing and distributing the give away copies. Within the first month of making this pledge, the authors gave away more than ten thousand dollars worth of books.


  • “There is a place inside our soul where we hold our greatest wishes. Those wishes are our Big Five for Life.”
  • “This is a beautiful playground we have been given. Sometimes it’s just hard to remember that.”
  • “I found myself wondering if there wan’t supposed to be more to life than spending ten to twelve hours per day in a cubicle, working toward a promotion which would mean spending twelve to fourteen hours per day working in an office.”
  • “Life is a great story. It’s just that some people don’t realize they are the author and they can write it however they want.”
  • “Sometimes when you least expect it, and perhaps most need it, you find yourself in a new place, with new people, and you learn new things.”


  1. ^ Owens, Darryl E. (August 3, 2006). "Archives -". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2010-12-18.