Alex Hoffer

The False Self Series, Part 4: Harshness

I recently listened to an Emotional Healthy Leader Podcast episode by Pete Scazzero (The September 6 episode, Silencing the Seductive Voice of Your False Self) that greatly impacted me. In the episode, Pete said, “one of the most destructive temptations leaders face is living and leading from the veneer of the false self.” He then listed ten examples of how this can happen. 

These examples made sense to me — and I think they’ll resonate with you too. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll talk about all ten. I am doing this because overcoming the false self is the best way to head into 2023. Leadership is about doing things with and through other people, so leading yourself past your false self is step one to leading effectively.

The False Self Series, Part 4: Harshness

By their nature, leaders move things from point A to point B. Leadership, as I define it in this blog, is the process of doing things with and through other people. Therefore, one potential leadership pitfall is impatience — the frustration we feel when things aren’t moving as quickly as we’d like.  

In this post, I want to talk about the importance of leaders remaining impatient for results while maintaining patience for people. When a leader becomes impatient, they can often lash out, becoming harsh. I argue that this is often a sign they are leading from their false self. Allow me to unpack my thoughts. 

Impatience Leads to Harshness 

The False Self series is about how leaders are tempted, in certain situations, to be someone they are not — their false self — rather than being authentic. In this particular case, when things are moving slowly, a temptation arises for the leader to act swiftly or even aggressively. While a willingness to take action is easily one trait that makes someone worth following, my argument is that what matters most is the type of action you take.  

For instance, when a project is delayed, is the leader asking questions about its delay or taking potshots at mistakes made by the team? Are the questions being asked in a tone that suggests harshness? Or, based on the questions being asked, can one observe any element of the “blame game” being played? 

These questions are important to consider because they uncover the motive of the questioner (in this case, the leader). As I stated above, leaders should be impatient for results because they prioritize action. But the way they go about doing this matters if they want to remain someone worth following. 

The temptation here is to lead from the false self, one that is highly critical and harsh. To be fair, this is how much leadership is portrayed in television and movies. The “boss” demands answers, and often gets them, but at a cost. People follow out of necessity, not out of desire. 

Understand Why It’s Happening, and Fix the Problem

The leader committed to leading from their real self, however, is already open to the criticism of others, not looking approval from others, and willing to admit their own weaknesses. Hence, they can genuinely and authentically ask questions from a place of curiosity. Their goal is twofold: understanding why things are not moving as quickly as possible, and fixing the problem. 

I also want to point out that not addressing an issue is another sign of living from the false self. I am referring here to being “non-confrontational.” Leaders should be confrontational. Leaders should be impatient when things are dragging on and on. The key is to be both confrontational and impatient in ways that are not harsh, demeaning, or damaging to others. When leaders are damaging, it is often because they lead from their false selves, which needs to be justified at all costs. 

Let this point sink in: Harshness towards others is often a sign that something is wrong inside you. For the leader, it is often an unwillingness to hold yourself accountable. Put bluntly, is your poor leadership the root cause of your harshness? 

I can only speak for myself, but my past harshness has often been rooted in exactly this. In that case, I have done a poor job leading myself, and others. 

The gift of leading from your real self is that you can have any “difficult conversation” because you don’t have to (and shouldn’t be) harsh. You can simply have a conversation. This doesn’t mean those conversations will be easy, but it does mean that they’ll be easier and much more productive. 

Leaders are worth following largely because of how they treat others. In this sense, leaders should be impatient for results because they prioritize action. But they also need to be patient with people, prioritize questions over statements, and treat them respectfully in the process. 

The False Self Series, Part 3: Defensiveness

I recently listened to an Emotional Healthy Leader Podcast episode by Pete Scazzero (The September 6 episode, Silencing the Seductive Voice of Your False Self) that greatly impacted me. In the episode, Pete said, “one of the most destructive temptations leaders face is living and leading from the veneer of the false self.” He then listed ten examples of how this can happen. 

These examples made sense to me — and I think they’ll resonate with you too. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll talk about all ten. I am doing this because overcoming the false self is the best way to head into 2023. Leadership is about doing things with and through other people, so leading yourself past your false self is step one to leading effectively.

The False Self Series, Part 3: Defensiveness

Of the ten ideas in this series of shedding the false self, none is as applicable as this one during the holiday season. At its best, the holiday season is a time of reconnection. It is a time of families coming home and being together. There is joy! 

In recent years, however, there have been numerous articles about all the things families can no longer discuss during the holidays. While this post is not intended to discuss all the reasons this may be so, it does cut to one potential explanation: People are easily offended these days, and they are defensive when others (particularly family members) critique them.  

To be clear, I am not above the fray here. At my worse, I am offended by the slightest perceived wrong. And while it is easy to let a stranger’s critique of me not fully ruin my day, the critique of someone close to me can ruin my day and impact my night’s sleep. Worse yet, when I allow these things to upset me, I am tempted to act out of my false self, the one that justifies my views, behaviors, and actions as better than the person who offended or critiqued me. 

Can you relate to what I just shared? 

Moving Away From Our False Self

Notice the progression of what we have discussed so far in this series: 

Part 1: The Struggle of Pointing Out My Flaws and Weaknesses To Others

Part 2: Looking for Approval from Others More Than I Should 

Part 3: Being Highly Offendable and Defensive When Others Critique Me

If we are open to our own flaws and weaknesses, and if we are not looking for approval in others more than we should, then are we going to be as easily offended and defensive when others critique us? 

Of course we won’t! By looking inside ourselves first, we are humbled. By finding healthy levels of approval in others, and affirmation only where affirmation can be found, we can be open to others’ feedback. 

Control the Internal

Yes, feedback! After all, that is what we are talking about here. Notice I am not evaluating whether we should be offended. Nor am I evaluating whether the critique of us is fair or accurate. I am not because we cannot control the external. 

But, we can control the internal. We can control our response. Instead of being offended, we can say to ourselves, “That’s an interesting perspective.” We can then evaluate what is accurate or not accurate about it. The point is that we keep the learning door open by not leading with defensiveness.

Reacting with self-control when others critique is not easy. But staying calm, listening, learning, and changing from criticism makes someone worth following. Imagine how different our political sphere would look if leaders were not easily offended and defensive when others critiqued them. More legislation would likely get done. 

My invitation this week is to take a deep breath when something upsets you. It may be an annoyance, or it may be unjust. Either way, you can only control how you respond to it. By maintaining your composure, you can address the situation from your true self, not the false one whose existence relies on always being justified. You can seek the truth in the situation and move forward with new knowledge. In the process, you will become someone others want to follow because such character is rare nowadays.  

The False Self Series, Part 2: Looking for Approval

I recently listened to an Emotional Healthy Leader Podcast episode by Pete Scazzero (The September 6 episode, Silencing the Seductive Voice of Your False Self) that greatly impacted me. In the episode, Pete said, “one of the most destructive temptations leaders face is living and leading from the veneer of the false self.” He then listed ten examples of how this can happen. 

These examples made sense to me — and I think they’ll resonate with you too. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll talk about all ten. I am doing this because overcoming the false self is the best way to head into 2023. Leadership is about doing things with and through other people, so leading yourself past your false self is step one to leading effectively.

The False Self Series, Part 2: Looking for Approval

It’s a scientific fact that a newborn baby seeks affirmation from their mother. This is why mothers are encouraged to bring their babies close to them immediately after birth. It is natural, beautiful, and affirming to the newborn. It reassures the infant they are loved and treasured.

As the years pass by, the newborn grows into a teenager. At some point along their journey, they start seeking approval from their friends. Notice that approval is similar to affirmation in that both seek a sense of acceptance. The difference, however, is that approval often deals with external factors, like what one is doing, rather than internal factors, like who one is. 

In other words, no loving mother withholds affirmation from her child. But one could also say that no loving mother approves of everything their child does. This distinction is vital when discussing leading from the false self. 

A Temptation to Lead from our False Self

I want to clarify what I am NOT saying in this post. I am not saying that looking for affirmation is wrong — in fact, I think part of what makes us human is the need for human connection, which is another way of saying affirmation. Being affirmed for who we are is critical to leading from your real, not false, self. 

But seeking approval from others can tempt us to lead from our false self — the one willing to bend to the whims of popular opinion to gain approval and be liked. That’s problematic because it can tempt us to be or act in ways that aren’t congruent with who we really are. 

One issue with seeking the approval of others — a lesson I repeatedly learned as a teenager — is that it never delivers long-term results. Approval from others is similar to a sugar high: It feels good in the moment but doesn’t offer long-term energy and nourishment. Eating more sugar is the only way to keep the “high” going. Or, in this case, seeking more approval.

Organizational Leadership and Seeking Approval

Given this blog’s focus on leadership, there are two things I want to point out regarding organizational leadership and seeking approval. First, there is always a temptation for the leader to lead in a way others approve of. This may mean acting a certain way or possibly doing (or not doing) either popular (or unpopular) things. Leaders, however, are worth following when they stay true to themselves and do the (potentially) harder thing. We should be focused on staying true to ourselves and doing the right thing, even if it is hard, rather than seeking approval in anything we do. 

The classic American example of this type of leadership is Abraham Lincoln. One can argue that he was potentially the most hated President of all time when he entered office. After all, who else’s election led to half the country seceding? That said, we now hold Abraham Lincoln up as the gold standard of authentic leadership. Why? Because Lincoln held to his convictions — preserving the Union at all costs — and eventually evolved his thinking to include the emancipation of enslaved people. Neither decisions were popular with the majority at the time. Yet, this is why Lincoln is held in such high regard all these years later.

The second consideration leaders need to make is understanding that their followers need affirmation. All humans need this. So, while a leader’s affirmation looks different than a mother’s to a child, it is important to still treat all people with respect, dignity, and grace. I use the word “grace” intentionally because we are often quick to slam reputations for the slightest infraction. Yet the wise leader realizes they can disapprove of actions while simultaneously affirming people. To this end, leaders should always treat all humans well, regardless of their actions.

Approval, or Something Else?

The thought I want to leave you with this week is one that I have often been contemplating recently: How much approval from others am I seeking, and is it really approval that I am seeking? The first part of that question is easy to measure. The second part of the question is a question of the heart. Both are necessary. 

They are necessary because the first part clarifies our behavioral tendencies in leadership and life. Changes could range from posting less on social media all the way to making harder (possibly less popular) decisions at work. These are all easy to act on. 

But the second part is also necessary because if we are not clear on what we seek, we cannot lead from our true selves. In other words, if we seek affirmation from others, not only will we not find it in the approval of others, but the disappointment we place on it, or even them, will be unfair. 

As for me, when I am feeling my lowest, I often seek approval from others the most. Unfortunately, this never gets me out of my funk. It is only when I realize where my true identity is, in Jesus, that I find what I am looking for. While this may sound strange, possibly even weird to some readers, I share it because only Jesus knows all my junk, including the things I am most ashamed about, and still affirms me. This frees me to be me rather than trying to seek His approval. For, I already have it. 

The False Self Series, Part 1: Strengths and Weaknesses

I recently listened to an Emotional Healthy Leader Podcast episode by Pete Scazzero (The September 6 episode, Silencing the Seductive Voice of Your False Self) that greatly impacted me. In the episode, Pete said, “one of the most destructive temptations leaders face is living and leading from the veneer of the false self.” He then listed ten examples of how this can happen. 

These examples made sense to me — and I think they’ll resonate with you too. In the upcoming weeks, I’ll talk about all ten. I am doing this because overcoming the false self is the best way to head into 2023. Leadership is about doing things with and through other people, so leading yourself past your false self is step one to leading effectively. 

Part 1: The struggle of pointing out my flaws and weaknesses to others.

How easy is it to talk about your flaws and weaknesses? I feel like this is the first step we should take because it is far easier to point out the flaws and imperfections of others than it is to talk about our own. 

Having said that, here are some of my flaws and weaknesses: 

  • I sometimes process issues with third parties and share too much information. This is gossip when I do. 
  • I can be moody at home. This comes out of my selfishness and desire to have things my way. 
  • I like approval (more on this next week). 
  • I often look for relief in “stuff,” even though I profess happiness cannot be found in “stuff.” 
  • I allow my eyes to critique others and linger too long on what I find attractive. 
  • I occasionally compare my work situation with my sisters, who I co-lead the business with, sometimes leading to a feeling of discontentment. 
  • My opinions often come off as if I can fix everything from the state of the country to the Chicago Bears.

And the above is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Let me tell you something about sharing those flaws with you. It feels good; there is freedom in just being real. It is freeing because you no longer have to put up the front of your false self. It also humanizes you to others as they are not perfect either. We all are works of improvement. 

Want to be someone worth following? Open up about your flaws and weaknesses. You are a human being, after all. No one outside of yourself expects you to be perfect (and more on “beating yourself up” in a few weeks). 

Opening up about your flaws and weaknesses will allow you to live more authentically. You will no longer have to hide. It will also help you become more graceful towards the flaws and weaknesses of others because you will realize they’re human too. 

On that thread, why not be open about your flaws and weaknesses in your home life as well? After all, who knows you better than your spouse and your kids? Or, if you are not married with kids, who knows you better than your closest friends and family? Opening up to these people opens the door to the deepest of human relationships. 

For example, acknowledging that I am a work-in-progress to Sarah is something she sees with her own eyes every day! Yet, I can safely say that Sarah is a work in progress too — and no, saying that doesn’t mean I’ll be sleeping on the couch tonight, because she knows it too. No one knows my flaws more than she does and vice versa. To be known, and loved, is amazing. There is no better human relationship than one that captures this authenticity. 

Yet, only God can fully and truly know all of our thoughts, desires, motives, and faults. So to be fully known, and only God fully knows, and loved, is amazing grace. 

This week I invite you to consider your own flaws and weaknesses. You do not have to post them anywhere, but I challenge you to start sharing them with someone (a spouse, a friend, a coworker) this week. It is your first step to leaving your false self behind. 

23 Things Golf Taught Me About Life and Leadership

Everyone who plays or follows sports has their view of which is the best. Of course, such notions are relative — there is no definitive or objective answer. That said, I think golf is the most applicable game to life. To illustrate, I am using today’s post to share what I have learned from golf over the last ten years. 

Before sharing the list, let me elaborate a little on why I have focused on the past ten years. As I have shared in other posts, I came close to walking away from the game of golf in my twenties. The love I had for the game came mainly from the fruits of it, which was the success I experienced as a high school golfer. When the success went away, and my scores increased, I began questioning why I even played the game in the first place. 

Here’s what I learned. 

  1. A performance based on results does not lead to peace of mind.
  2. Expectations are deadly. Just hit the next shot! 
  3. Doing enough will never be enough in golf or life. 
  4. More practice does not guarantee lower scores, but less practice guarantees higher scores. 
  5. Hurry leads to bad decisions, poor play, and less joy.
  6. The embarrassing shot you just hit was hardly noticed by the other golfers who are fixated on their next shot!   
  7. Your score is only one indicator (and often a poor one) of how well you played on a given day. 
  8. Beauty is only seen when you look for it, and it is everywhere on a golf course.  
  9. Golf is a game of recovery, not perfection.
  10. The game is best played, not analyzed.
  11. A conservative strategy, coupled with an aggressive swing, often produces the best results. 
  12. One swing thought is almost always one too many. 
  13. Learn the names of your playing partners, and cheer them on. Your battle is with the course and your soul, not with them. 
  14. What you think about, see, and believe about yourself affects your score more than your technique. 
  15. Great golf is almost always boring: keep the ball in play, hit toward the middle of the green (not at the pin), and two-putt. Repeat. 
  16. During a great round, you must contend with the inner belief that you deserve to keep playing well. More rounds have been sabotaged by insecurity than “choking.” 
  17. There might be nothing more satisfying in life than spraying a ball into the trees, humbly chipping it out to the fairway, and getting up and down from 100 yards to save par. 
  18. There might be nothing more tempting in life than trying to thread the ball through 20 trees and onto the green. I have made more double bogeys doing this than I care to admit, but the handful of birdies I have made have been awesome! 
  19. Putting is 101% mental and belief. My putting turned around when I started believing this.
  20. Negative self-talk does not end on the 18th hole. Learn to do away with it before you begin the round. 
  21. A certain amount of luck is needed to make a hole in one. But there is a certain amount of skill required to hit it close. 
  22. Golf was never meant to be played riding in a cart. Walking helps one see the landscape, hear their thoughts, and feel the life of the course. I learn this lesson repeatedly as most of my rounds are in a cart. 
  23. And regardless of what you shot today, there is always tomorrow. At least for now. 

There is no game like the game of golf. I say this as it has helped me learn more about myself than any other sport I have participated in. To the achiever, it is the most insidious game ever created. To the humble, however, it is a gift. A gift that teaches one that their self-worth will never be found in any game, pursuit, or result. 

And this last lesson might be golf’s greatest. Golf taught me that the only way I would find peace with it, as crazy as this might sound for some, was to look elsewhere. For me, it was discovering that Jesus really loved me — the broken, imperfect me, with secrets I would not want to print here and insecurities I could list for days on end — that freed me from the need to be good at golf, great at work, and the world’s best (even though I am one of the most flawed) husband/dad. 

Every time I am tempted to think I am turning into “someone” or that I am important, I am reminded to go tee up. 

A few shots in, and I am quickly humbled once again. 

Golf, it turns out, opens your soul to a lot more than just golf. 

The Biggest Battle Senior Leaders Face

Executives and future executives: This post is for you. 

Last week I talked about work fulfillment. And for my first 10+ years at Hoffer plastics, my career was “up and to the right.” My “doing” was noticeable, and it was easy to check off accomplishments in my notebook — I mean I could visibly see my work translating into wins. 

Sure, some probably think I advanced because I was in the family, or that I got meetings with senior executives earlier than I would have with a different last name. There is probably truth to both. But I focused on working hard and doing good work, and I could see it having an impact. 

And let me be crystal clear. It felt really good. 

Then my sisters and I got promoted to the C-suite. Hello, problems! COVID, the downturn of the economy, etc. But looking back, I feel like those issues were relatively easy to deal with — especially compared to what I think is the biggest issue executive leaders face, which is this: 

The hardest part about being in a senior leadership position is battling YOUR OWN INSECURITY. 

That’s right. 

You have to be secure enough to actually do things WITH and THROUGH other people — the way I define leadership. 

You cannot do it FOR them. Doing it for them feels better! You get to be the hero and enjoy all the accolades, but over the long haul, it is detrimental to your culture, and your team’s development. 

Executives: It’s Not About Us

Make no mistake: I am more insecure than I let on. I like the adrenaline rush of getting involved, getting into the “game,” and scoring a win. 

But I know that the best leaders do things with and through others. They let them take the ball and score. 

It is so easy to talk about this stuff, but a lot harder to do it. 

There are more days now where I go home wondering whether I even made a difference. My work is far less measurable today but I can see its effects even more across the long time. It is the work of senior executives. 

This work is not about us. 

It is about casting vision and developing the team.

Work: What’s the Point?

There is a lot of discussion these days about the “Great Resignation,” the worker’s power, and worker fulfillment. These are good and necessary conversations. That said, in today’s post, I want to make a few points that I think get lost in the conversation. 

What if we are asking work to fulfill something in us it was never intended to fulfill? 

This is a big question, and admittedly, a personal one. I always aim to be transparent in these posts, so I admit that I often struggle with this question. Occasionally, I pull up to work wondering if I even want to be there anymore. Before you judge that statement, consider the challenges facing me — working with siblings in a family business, in an industry that is, quite frankly, under attack, and dealing with all the current economic challenges. My work is hard. And I know your work is too. 

So back to the question: what if the problem is not the situation I am in (or the situation that you’re in) but something deeper? What if we are asking work to fulfill something in us that it was never intended to fulfill? Perhaps, that is why I sometimes pull up to work not wanting to be there. Perhaps, that is why my discontentment finds me at home, on the golf course, and anywhere else I search for meaning and purpose where it was never intended to be found. 

A new term, “quiet quitting,” has entered our lexicon this year, and it is directly relatable to the reality I’m describing. “Quiet quitting” occurs when people quietly quit their job yet still “work” their same job. Yes, that sounds weird. But, it is a real thing. 

On one hand, I think what people are saying is healthy. They’re saying that work is no longer going to be 24/7. They are going to have a life. They are going to stop taking work so seriously. These are not “boundaries,” they are an acceptance of limits — limits God placed on work via the Sabbath, I might add. I celebrate when people realize that life is more than work, especially when those people work with us at Hoffer Plastics! 

On the other hand, the notion of “quitting” and doing less feels like it misses the mark. While I don’t believe people can find their fulfillment in work, doing shoddy work is also harmful. Now before you go to send me an email, realize that I know not everyone “quiet quitting” is going to do shoddy work. But isn’t our human tendency to flip from one extreme to another, or is that just what we do with fad diets? Isn’t in our nature to be “off” or “on” and not something in between?

The Purpose of Work: Contribute Value

I think a more helpful perspective is realizing the work’s purpose. Work is good to the extent it contributes positively to human flourishing. Whether you are an IT person or a Kindergarten teacher is irrelevant. There may be vast differences in what you do, but the overall purpose of your work is similar. The purpose is to contribute something of value. The IT person may spend her time making systems work efficiently for organizations, while the Kindergarten teacher provides five- and six-year-olds with their first seedlings of knowledge and wisdom. Still, both jobs exist to make things better for humans. 

What I am advocating and attempting to practice is to arrive at work every day focused on contributing something of value. That’s it. I know it sounds so simple that it is easy to miss its significance. I can walk the floor and have a meaningful conversation, listen to one of my sisters talk about their daughters, or have a deep conversation with a customer. These are vastly different conversations, but they all can lead to human flourishing when done with purpose. 

And this, I believe, is the purpose of work. 

Next week, I will share more thoughts on what makes work hard for senior executives. But before doing that, I want to close with one last thought on work from a Biblical perspective. 

I mentioned above that the Sabbath was made for man. Regardless of what you think about the creation story, know that God is a God of rest. The Sabbath is a gift more than a rule. It is a gift from God that says he loves you and knows your limits. It is a weekly reminder that success is not up to you and that the demands of the job are not 24/7. You can rest. As I learned when I was in the hospital for a week in 2020, the show goes on without you  — sometimes even more successfully! The point here is that work was never meant to complete you. Only God can do that.

Forget Balance. Aim for Rest

No human being has ever continually progressed upward and to the right. Yet, if they tell the truth, most leaders expect to. Something inside us expects progress, so we work to that end — even when working to that end hurts us. It would be bad enough if it stopped there, but this hurt usually extends to others, both our followers and loved ones. 

Work/life balance continues to be a hot topic because the “Information Age” has made the cessation of work nearly impossible. So instead, we aim for “balance.” Balance implies that we can somehow manage both work and home stressors in perfect symmetry — but the reality is more a feeling of trying to balance atop a narrow balance beam while simultaneously juggling a child, a laptop, and quite possibly an enormous kettlebell-sized amount of work stress. 

I propose that not only is balance impossible, but it isn’t the solution we need. Instead, the solution is something so simple we miss it. 

The solution is rest. 

As I’ve shared, my family and I went out West this summer. We usually gravitate to summer beach vacations, but we chose something entirely different by going to Yellowstone and Montana this year. Instead of playing golf and sitting on the beach, we hiked and saw wildlife at Yellowstone and The Grand Tetons. It was definitely a more active vacation. Yet, I came home refreshed. This made me ask the question: why?   

Four Types of Fatigue

As I reflected, I realized that not all fatigue is the same. In fact, I think there are four main types of fatigue: 

  • Physical
  • Spiritual 
  • Mental
  • Emotional

I then observed something about myself that you may or may not relate to: I usually characterize my fatigue as being physical because physical fatigue is easily felt. But I rarely consider spiritual, mental, and emotional fatigue as being a culprit. 

In hindsight, it is clear that I went on our vacation with a lot of spiritual, mental, and emotional fatigue. Here are some examples to help clarify the differences: 

Spiritual: My trust in God’s Sovereignty had waned. How do I know? I found myself becoming hopeless regarding the darkness of our modern World. 

Mental: I was becoming angry when the demands of work — legitimate demands — came to my desk. I was becoming someone not to follow! 

Emotional: Inside me, I felt a real sadness about some of the changes that have occurred during the past six months at work. 

Of course, I was also physically tired. My body felt it, but it also felt all the above! 

Every day that passed on our vacation, I found my energy returning, despite often hiking around 7 to 8 miles with three kids, sleeping without air conditioning, and eating National Park food (You can call me a snobby foodie if you like — let’s just say the food wasn’t the highlight of the trip!) This happened because I was immersed in nature, reminded of God’s creation, and freed from Wi-Fi, work email, and work in general. 

It was legitimate rest. 

Suddenly, I could see the sun again, and it was gorgeous. 

Putting Insight Into Action

So what do I do with this knowledge? Admittedly, I can’t go back to Yellowstone whenever I feel like it. I am writing this post about five weeks after returning and already feel the need for another adventure! Here are a few ideas I am considering to help me stay restful. I am sharing in hopes that they spur you on to lead yourself in the pursuit of rest. 

First, I am recommitting to observing the Sabbath. Jesus found time to go away, pray, and rest. I, too, can find time to rest one day out of seven. The Sabbath is a gift because it is the weekly reminder that I am not in control of time, destiny, or even my own progress. Sure, I need to work hard the other six days. But that is not my problem, and if you are reading a blog about leadership, I would imagine it is not yours either! Rather, resting is our problem. I can rest because progress is not up to me. The same can be said of you! 

Second, as I have shared, I am going to do less, better. I do not intend this to become a mantra but rather a reminder that I cannot do it all. I need to clarify what constitutes the best use of my very limited time and energy I have. Often, the problem I face (and I imagine many of you face) is that I try to do enough, good enough. There will always be more to do. So what’s the best use of your time and energy? 

Third, I am going to commit to getting outside this winter. As Chicago winter approaches, I am not going to become a hermit. As I learned during my vacation, a positive return of energy — physical, spiritual, emotional, and mental — comes with being outside in nature. It reminds us of our place in the world and that there is a Power far greater than us behind it. And even though things are not as they are supposed to be, we see glimpses – if we look for them – of how things will inevitably be restored. 

What I Learned On My Summer Vacation: Part II

In my previous blog post, I talked about the first lesson I learned as I spent some time reflecting on life during my family’s recent vacation: Do less and do it better. Today, I want to focus on the second lesson I learned: The most valuable to-do on my list is to contemplate.

Lesson 2: Contemplation is the most important thing on my to-do list

The “Information Age” has its tentacles all over modern life. Often, I give into the temptation to engage with more and more (and more!) of it. If I am not careful, every moment is filled with input. 

For example, I recently did an inventory of “inputs” throughout my day. By “inputs,” I mean anything that my mind is engaging with, ranging from learning all the way to entertainment. 

Here is a quick synopsis: 

5 a.m.: Got up / prayer journal / Bible reading 

5:30 a.m.: Listen to leadership podcast 

6: a.m. -7:30 a.m.: Work out / listen to music (don’t worry, I’m not one of those people at the gym — I used my AirPods!) 

7:30-8:00 a.m.: Commute / more podcast or audiobook

8-12: Mostly work, but inputs via email (newsletters, news emails, etc.) 

Lunch: More audiobook time 

1-5 p.m.: Mostly work, inputs via email at times (responses, etc.) 

5 p.m.: Sports radio on home commute 

6:30 p.m.: Listened to audiobook while stretching 

7:15-8 p.m.: watched sports with boys 

8:15-9:30 p.m.: After praying with Sarah, we watched a Mad Men episode 

Are you judging my day right now, or is that just my insecurity? Kidding aside, did you notice how much time I spent in my day I spent on “thinking”? 

Very little! 

Okay, so I thought during those times of work. But still, it was not planned. 

Here is a quote that floored me a few years ago but I have (so far) failed to fully put into practice: 

“We waste our time with short-term thinking and busywork. Warren Buffett spends a year deciding and a day acting. The act lasts decades.” Naval Ravikant

If I’m honest with myself, when I look at the day I described above, it’s clear there was a lot of busy work. Even things like audiobooks — which are not necessarily “good or bad” — can become busy work when I am not careful. 

I have learned that I need to schedule the time to think and be quiet. I know that “scheduling” such a time demonstrates how type-A I am, but I am what I am. If I do not schedule this time, it won’t happen. 

The reward for scheduling the time is that my life will take on more meaning. I will be able to think through what really matters. I will be able to prioritize rather than react. I can even anticipate things, all because I have spent time thinking. 

Perhaps, the most important thing you need to do in the next week is to carve out two hours to be alone. I know that you think you do not have the time, but you too can do less, better. Invest two hours just to be quiet and think. 

I am not guaranteeing that something magical will happen because it does not always happen for me. But I can share that the more time I spend being quiet and thinking, the better my life has become. 

The next post I will write comes from a recent time I spent thinking and reflecting about the vacation we took — the vacation that sparked this post and my previous one. Specifically, I wanted to figure out why I felt reenergized after our out-West vacation but didn’t feel that same rejuvenation after our last beach vacation? 

More on that next time. 

What I Learned On My Summer Vacation

I recently spent some time with my family out west in Montana and Wyoming. We explored places like Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. It was one of the best family vacations we have ever taken. It was also the perfect opportunity to take stock of the year and reflect on many aspects of my life. What follows in this series of posts was born from time spent there. 

Lesson 1: I need to do less but better. 

One temptation I constantly give into is doing more. If I do enough, I feel accomplished. So I push through my natural limits to finish the tough workout when I am tired, write the blog post when I feel uninspired, and coach Little League in the spring. But instead of feeling accomplished, I often feel like a boxer holding on to the ropes, struggling to make it through the round (or, in my case, through the week). One of my go-to jokes is that I have been tired since 2011 — when Will was born — and I wear that joke like a badge of honor. 

The reality is that I do not want to live this way anymore because it is not sustainable.

But doing fewer things better is. 

This forces me to ask hard questions, starting with “What really matters?” 

For me, what matters most is: 

  • Jesus: I know this may sound weird, but my relationship with Him is real and life-giving.
  • Sarah: There is no human relationship that matters more. 
  • Will/Ben/Sadie: I have renewed perspective on how short the time I have left with them living in our house. I will invest here.
  • Work: Specifically, relationships. My executive coach has been reminding me of the importance of me building into others. Leadership is the process of doing things with and through other people. So I need to spend the majority of my work time with other people: teammates, customers, and suppliers. Work is human! 
  • Everything else 

Before moving on, and in conjunction with lesson 2 (which I’ll talk about next time), I am considering changing the cadence of this blog to every-OTHER-week in 2023. I am considering the change because I want to do less but better. I want to slow down my writing process to put extra thought into what I am sharing. I believe that you, the reader, will win when I do that.

My goal with these posts is still the same: I want to reach and encourage readers on topics around life, leadership, and faith. And reaching one reader is enough; I don’t count success in a number of views, but rather in hearing feedback that a blog post encouraged someone or made them think differently about a topic. Expect me to be as real as ever in the upcoming months. I pray that something I share will positively impact you because that is the goal.