After a long weekend where I taught, spoke and hung out with 63 amazing women from all over the country (more on that later), I found myself and two traveling companions (plus a bonus one already at the airport) in the TSA line at the Austin, Texas airport. My two friends had diverted to the other lane so it was just me, my belongings in two gray plastic tubs, and a conveyor that was not moving. Barefoot, I stood waiting and casually looked around.

Austin, Texas is kind of our Mecca. The place where IF:Gathering was born; the home airport of fave author Jen Hatmaker and co.; venue for SXSW; headquarters for Noonday Collection; new home of Minnesota gal pal Maggie; and latest location for our 2nd Splendid Retreat: Splendid in the Hills. 

As I looked around, I landed on a familiar face. By “looked around” I mean turned my head to the left and spotted him two feet from me, waiting in the TSA screening line just like everyone else. Taller than I’d expected, he was wearing jeans and a black half-zip sweatshirt just like a normal person.

Since I’m almost evenly split between introvert and extrovert, here was the conversation playing in my head:

Introvert Jana: “Oh my God. Don’t say a word!”

Extrovert Jana: “Oh my God! You cannot pass this up!

Introvert Jana: “You’ll make a fool of yourself.”

Extrovert Jana: “It’s finals! Think of the students!”

Extrovert Jana won. I sucked in a breath and turned to my left. My bare feet squeaked on the tile floor as my right index finger made its way to his shoulder.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Went my finger.

A graying head with a kind face turned to me, but didn’t smile.

In a cringing, apologetic semi-whisper I said, “Are you John Mackey?”

John Mackey said, “Yes.”

Whilst trying to control my nervous verbal vomit that tends to erupt in situations like this, I extended my hand. He shook my hand and I proceeded to give him the double hand shake while saying, “It’s an honor to meet you! My students use your case study every semester in Organizational Behavior.”

Ok, it’s not his case study, it’s an extended case in the back of our textbook on his company. You see, John Mackey is the founder of Whole Foods and this was a super big deal to me, the lifelong business nerd that I am. His view of capitalism is interesting, his view of business is that it’s not evil and he contends that entrepreneurship is a heroic pursuit. He’s passionate about people finding their passion, not just a job. In their book, Conscious Capitalism, Mackey and his co-author, Rajendra Sisodia, contend that finding one’s calling, “offers us value and satisfaction beyond the paycheck.  It relates to something we are passionate about, something the world really needs.  We feel most alive, most ourselves, when we are doing that work.  Ultimately this is what we need to strive for, as team members and employers: that as many people as possible are engaged in work that feels like a calling.”¹ He’s a proponent of decentralization and systems theory and has worked to support local growers and entrepreneurs by welcoming small businesses into their local Whole Foods.

He’s known for promoting capitalism with a cause, refusing to take a salary the rest of his life, and being very blunt. He was quietly intimidating.

Basically, he’s a business rock star and I’m his #fangirl. Since he probably doesn’t have groupies, I’m guessing he’s not used to people tapping him on the shoulder in the TSA line (no pre-check, John?).

John Mackey said, “What is your name?”

For a split second, I’d forgotten my name because his hands were so damn soft. Maybe it’s the 90% plant-based diet from his book, The Whole Foods Diet. I bet he drinks a lot of water. I need to drink more water.  

“My name is Dr. Jana Craft. I teach business at Winona State University in Minnesota.”

John Mackey said, “”Nice to meet you Dr. Jana Craft.”

John Mackey said my name.

John Mackey is really tall.

John Mackey probably thought my use of “Dr.” was pretentious.

I turned around to find my two friends in the other line looking at my with quizzical expressions as I did a typical #fangirl move—jazz hands—and moved into line a few people behind John Mackey. As he went through the scanner and I followed a few people behind, we ended up next to each other on the other side of security.

Extrovert Jana: “You know, you should really get a picture with John Mackey for your students. It’s finals week and this would kill.”

Introvert Jana: “Do. Not. Proceed.”

Since Extrovert Jana won round 1, I decided to let Introvert Jana win round 2. Unmolested further, John Mackey went on his way.

My friends and I assembled after security and I proceeded to recount the entire encounter in detail. When I got to the, “OMG it was John Mackey!” part they did a collective, “Who?’ with accompanying expressions ranging from apathy to curiosity to nonchalance. I tried to explain to them that this was the business school geek version of meeting J Lo or Beyonce, but to no avail. I’m waiting for someone to realize how big a deal this was to me.

My students will get it. They’re smart.

[edited: My friends are smart, too. I love my friends. Don’t leave me.]