You don’t know who you are sitting next to….

I was fortunate to be one of the keynote speakers for the national conference of the American Assoc. of Grant Professionals last week. Founding President Gail Vertz and their leadership celebrated their 10th anniversary. I spoke about urgency and passion–what else 🙂 Sat next to the other keynoter Paula Van Ness, president of the Starlight/Starbright Foundation. They do amazing work with kids with serious illnesses, and their families–to help them cope, find support and comfort, and to improve their overall quality of life. Paula told me they are helping 180,000 kids a month! They have just started 19 new chapters across the US in the last year.  I am so glad I met Paula. She is a great source of inspiration for all of us. 

I have learned that if you take the time you will meet the most remarkable people that are sitting right next to you. Someone told me that there is a three foot rule to networking–you network with everyone within three feet of you! 


Seriously, my life has been changed by the people I sat next to. 


A Schtik of Chutzpah

One of the crazy ideas I had swirling in my head in 1981 was a Yiddish Page-A-Day calendar. A daily reminder of the funny and interesting Yiddish words that embedded themselves into everyday English. I read that Yiddish is the 4th or 5th most influential language on American English. I dated a few Jewish girls in college and after. I became fascinated with Yiddish. The mothers of these girls loved me, the fathers, not so much. I would ask questions at meals or during the high holidays. "So this is a knish and not a kishka." I was told my pronunciation was very good. I read The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten. I would actually correct people on the use of the word shlep or shpilkas or tell others that that the word glitch came from Yiddish. Once I told a headhunter I was bi-lingual in Yiddish! Anyway, I hooked up with my buddy Mitch Berman, after all he was Jewish and I thought it would be fun to work on the calendar with him and also give me street cred! We did research and came up with the requisite 365 words and phrases. We developed Kosher Kat as our erstwhile feline funnyman and yiddish host. Over a period of a few years, we approached the 9 top calendar calendars with full color mock-ups of the calendar–twice! They all turned us down. We lost our gaysterishkayt (enthusiasm) after so much time, money and effort–it was not fun anymore. Fast forward to 1991, I am invited to keynote the Andrews conference at  Notre Dame University. I was to talk about community service after the opening dinner. I am seated next to this lovely but stoic mid-western woman named Kathleen. I tried to schmooz with her but she seemed disinterested, I have that effect on some people! Anyway, she was not amused by my feeble attempts at conversation! The emcee began the program and I knew I was up soon. He introduced my seat mate as Kathleen Andrews. Apparently she and her husband James sponsored the conference! He went on to say that Kathleen Andrews was the President and CEO of Andrews and McMeel (she is now Vice Chairman). I probably was the only one in the room who knew that Andrews and McMeel was the largest calendar company! (They turned us down twice too.) I rose to speak and I looked at Kathleen with renewed interest. 🙂 After my spiel. I could not help myself; I pitched her on the Kosher Kat calendar.  It was so funny to watch her face when I was describing the great array of Yiddish words like cockamamie and boo-boo, and she was thinking is this Asian guy Jewish or is Yiddish an Asian language? She was very confused. I quipped I was Jewpanese! She did not get it. 🙁 Nevertheless, she loved the idea and signed a contract on a napkin! The calendar was produced and sold out in 1993. Mitch and I became published authors and appeared on some news shows as part of our campaign to stop Yiddish illiteracy! We enjoyed our 15 minutes!

Love Plane?

On January 2nd 1984 , I was n line at the LAX United Airline terminal to get my boarding pass to fly to  Hawaii. I had just left the Rose Bowl game where the UCLA Bruins had trounced the Illinois Illini. I was going to join my parents on one of our many vacations to the islands. I looked up at the long snaky line ahead of me, a diverse array of tourists, families and business people were shifting about. Then I noticed a very pretty woman with a shock of brown hair, she looked back directly at me, or so I thought. I mean I really thought we had an optic moment of connection. Later I learned, she was just looking at the clock behind me. 🙂 It looked like she was with her Dad or some guy anyway. Another fleeting fantasy of an unattached man. I was an up and coming businessman, or so I thought. I was stricken with the Preppy look. Khakis, topsiders, and yes, a sweater over my shoulders and even tennis rackets. I boarded the plane looking for row 21 seat J. I started laughing when I realized I was seated next to my new optical friend, the young lady from the line. We acknowledged each other and then I went silent, trying to think of the right ice breaker–actually I was tongue-tied and intimidated by her beauty. The steward greeted us and asked if we were traveling together. I spouted, "We are together but not together." My seatmate smiled at me as I died a thousand deaths. Did I really just say that?!! Much later on the silence was broken by her and to make a real long story shorter–I learned she was from Hawaii and somehow got her phone number. We went out a couple of times and then dated across the Pacific. While I was not very smooth or even funny, I married the woman in seat 21 H. Sarah and I have been married for 23 years! 

I have hundreds of stories. I know you have them too. Getting to know the person I sit next to has always yielded friendships, connections, and now three kids! Practice the 3-foot rule and you will live life with no regrets!

Thanks for reading. John


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