Alex Hoffer

Living Your Love

This coming week marks the 15th wedding anniversary for Sarah and me, so it’s the focus of my blog this week. 

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If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I believe life is relational. The deepest relationships we have influence every other aspect of our life. I have discovered that getting my relationship right with Sarah positively impacts every other part of my life. Said bluntly, if someone finds me worth following, they can thank Jesus and then Sarah. 

Fifteen years ago, after giving an emotional speech to our wedding guests about my love for Sarah, my dad told me, “Now you have to go live it.” And for the past 15 years we have. 

What does it look like to “live” one’s love? I’ll share a few of our personal examples here. And as I’m sharing these, I’m thinking about two specific kinds of readers: already married leaders and those who may be thinking about getting married. If you’re the former, I hope this encourages you to maintain your marriage not only for its sake, but so that you can bring your best to work. And if marriage is on your horizon, I hope that even one idea below will help set you up for marital success. 

What have Sarah and I done that has positively impacted our marriage?

  • We pray every night together. We started this while we were dating. We confess sins, honor God, ask for guidance, and give thanks. This is communication with God and between each other. It has entirely shaped our marriage and everything that follows below.
  • We learned each other’s love language. When we were engaged, we read the classic book, The Five Love Languages. Okay, I confess that I thought the book was a silly idea. But through reading it, I discovered that my soon-to-be-wife felt more loved when I held her hand or gave her a hug than when I bought her fancy things. Thanks to the book, not only do I ensure I show her I love her in a way that feels like love to her — but just think of all the money I’ve saved! Just kidding. Kind of.
  • Hug your spouse often. As one guest wrote on our wedding picture, “Big kisses, every day!”
  • Celebrate a random day of the night with a glass of wine. During our dating life we shared “Tuesday night date nights” and still do.
  • Set boundaries. Call me old-fashioned, but I am not alone with the opposite sex unless it is for work and Sarah knows them.
  • Be accountable. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I strive to be accountable for every aspect of my life. The first thing I talk to my accountability partner about is my marriage. Hiding in marriage is not healthy.
  • We always resolve conflict quickly. I can remember some of our arguments, but I can honestly say that I NEVER remember one carrying over to the following day. Settle it quickly. Everyone loses when it carries over. Everyone loses. Get it?
  • Have a vision for your marriage. Cliche? I do not think so. I want to be the guy telling his great-great-grandkids to bring Sarah flowers when I am at my end. We share Grandma and Grandpa’s anniversary, so why not share their vision?
  • Remember. Always remember. I will never forget randomly meeting up with Sarah again on Lincoln Avenue in downtown Chicago — or driving back to Chicago from Evansville, Indiana after my Papa’s funeral so I could try to win her back— then working the next month to get my shot with her and telling her we would get married if we got back together. Spoiler alert: we did! And I will tell the whole story some other time. Stay tuned!
  • Share your love. Tell them you love them, and use words. Repeat daily.
  • Talk about your love life. (Mom, please feel free to skip this one!) Talk about your expectations. I know this may sound unromantic, but your needs are probably different from theirs. Making sure you’re aligned here can help you avoid unnecessary resentment. For example, I’m tired of playing golf with guys who complain about this aspect of their life. Or worse, guys who give marriage a bad rap because they don’t have the guts to talk about their needs and wants with their wife. My love life is great, and that’s because we talk about it.
  • Talk about money too. I do not make a big purchase without Sarah’s approval. She does the same. Avoiding conflict here is wise.
  • CELEBRATE the big moments. Like this one. 

Do Sarah and I have a perfect marriage? Of course not. But I will say that a lot of intentionality goes into the great marriage that we have. I am a better person because of Sarah. There is no one I would rather be with. 

Thank you, Lord. 

I love you, Sarah. 

To the Class of 2022

Every June, there are thousands of high school commencement speeches offering advice to new graduates. And during this time of year, I often think about what I might say if asked to speak. Over time, I’ve found that this exercise is an excellent way to regain my perspective on what matters most. 

Before sharing my ten “advice I’d give today’s high school seniors” bullet points, I challenge you: Think about what you would say. What advice would you give? What matters most to you? 

And now, with no further ado, here are the bullet points I developed for this year’s imaginary commencement speech. To the class of 2022, here’s what I think you should know: 

  1. Connect with people IN PERSON. While an online connection is better than no connection, IN PERSON connection is best for relationships. When I think about the loved ones I miss, I don’t think about our phone conversations. I miss their eyes, their touch, and their hugs.
  2. Spend time thinking every day. This may sound odd to a generation known for their ubiquitous earbuds! But spend some time in your own mind — shave without a podcast on, drive in silence, or just sit at your desk and think. We live in a reactionary society. Thinking forces you to slow down, plan, and be proactive.
  3. Seek out wisdom. In my twenties, the best thing I did was have coffee with people further down life’s road than I was. I asked questions, listened, and thought about what they told me during my times of reflection. Do the same.
  4. Realize that the “harder” path is almost always the path with the higher upside. The harder path may not feel good — in fact, “this feels good” is a good sign that you are NOT going the right way.
  5. Understand that “happiness” evolves. What made me happy at 20 was not what made me happy at 40. I’ve found “meaning” and “purpose” to be better guides to personal fulfillment. Doing work that matters may require taking the hard road, but in the end, it will bring satisfaction. This will produce more profound happiness.
  6. Write down what you learn while you are on the journey. I kept a journal in college. I poured my soul out about 9/11, what I should do with my life, and even the kind of person I wanted to marry. Now I keep an Evernote about what I am learning, write in a planner about each week, and still journal. All of this helps me improve myself.
  7. Be financially responsible. Financial strength tends to come from two practices — avoiding unnecessary debt and using compounding interest to your advantage. With that in mind, it’s worth cultivating something else that will help financially and in every aspect of your life: patience.
  8. Recognize that everyone is gifted to some degree. It is the maximizing of one’s giftedness that separates the great from the mediocre. This takes hard work and discipline.
  9. In the long run, consistent good work tends to beat out occasional great work. Keep at it.
  10. Understand your sphere. In a world of increasing divisiveness, it is best to not waste influence over the things you cannot truly influence.
  11. And a final bonus: Love wholeheartedly. You will never regret hugging your loved ones, telling them you love them, and ensuring those relationships are on solid ground. There is no tax heavier, more painful, or more extreme, than regret. Avoiding this tax has, so far, been one of the major accomplishments of my life. 

The list above is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it makes you think. And I hope that thinking leads you down a path of meaning and doing things worth doing. Potentially, even a harder path. But one that leads to real life and with real people. 

A life worth living. 

Prioritizing Restoration

Do you remember counting down the number of days to the end of the school year? I will never forget the magical “last days of school” before summer. There were picnics, parties, and games, culminating in a tremendous last-day sendoff. 

And then? 

The most indescribable feeling of joy: Swimming pools, whiffle ball games, hot dogs, and baseball games. The next day more of the same. It never got old. 

But as an adult, the start of the summer looks and feels different. While there still may be a vacation to look forward to — or maybe some activities with the kids or a few rounds of golf — things are still different. Work does not stop, nor does it get easier. And just like at the end of the school year, fatigue is high. In fact, if I am not careful, I find myself only getting more tired during the summer.  

The Wisdom of My Grandparents

We logically know that “endless play” is not an option. So how do we recreate the joy of summer right where we are, regardless of our circumstances? 

While there are many potential answers to this question, one thing I have been thinking about lately is my family lineage. Specifically, what activities did my grandparents partake in to keep their energy high? What were their daily rhythms? And were they helpful in light of rediscovering energy?

My mom’s mom (we called her “JJ”) was legendary for embracing community. A card shark, golfer, and someone who wanted to be wherever the party was, JJ leaned on her Evansville, Indiana, community. Visiting her on summer vacations are memories I will cherish forever because they were always active and fun. In fact, sometimes Papa and I would go to lunch and a movie just so the two of us could get some rest!  JJ showed me that while community might be the last thing we want when we’re tired, it may also be the most important thing we find.  

My Grandpa Rue — “Papa” — was a World War II veteran who loved being outside. He planted, gardened, and worked the land. Meanwhile, my Grandpa Hoffer would work all day and then come home and spend time outdoors — he had a green thumb that still is talked about today. The point is that being outside reenergized both of my grandfathers. There is wisdom here!  

Grandpa Hoffer also liked to jog. I recently ran across an article published around his seventieth birthday, and it recounted the thousands of miles he had jogged with friends in the community. This is the trifecta of restoration: exercise, community, and nature — being outside in this case. There is wisdom here as well. 

Meanwhile, Grandpa Hoffer never stopped working because he had so much fun with it. He must have understood that work is what you make of it. And he made it something meaningful to himself and countless others. I still think about that when I walk our floor, as he modeled, and make connections with our team members on the floor. It is a community at work!  

Restoration Doesn’t Happen by Accident

My family’s history may or may not be helpful to you. I am sharing it, however, to demonstrate that restoration does not happen by accident. You must be intentional about it. Establishing rhythms around community, hobbies, exercise, and the like will positively restore your energy. And with your energy restored, your leadership tank will be full to give to those you lead. 

Remember, you cannot give what you do not possess. You cannot provide affirmation, creativity, or anything else when your tank is empty, and you are in survival mode. To effectively lead, you must prioritize restoration. You have to refill your tank.  

What restores you? Find it, and make it a priority. How will you be able to tell when you’ve found something that fills your tank? You’ll know you are on to something when, like the long summer days of yesteryear, your heart skips a beat, and you wish the moment you are experiencing would never have to end. 

Planning for Fun

On a recent Friday morning, I was finishing up my gym routine when my phone buzzed. “I know this is a long shot,” read the text, “but any chance you could join me for golf this a.m.?” It was from one of my high school golf teammates from over twenty years ago. 

I looked at my calendar. I had my regular Friday meetings locked into place, but two of those meetings were with direct reports who were on vacation. So I momentarily considered my friend’s offer before planning to decline — as I do for almost all impromptu opportunities that fall on work days. 

Then something dawned on me that might sound crazy. Two nights previously, I talked with my wife about how I was in a rut — how I needed time away from the office and how I needed to be with a friend. I even prayed that an opportunity with a friend would come. 

Looking one more time at my calendar, I said to myself, “What the heck.” 

“I’m in,” I texted back. 

Letting Go and Leaning In

Two hours later, I hit a crisp 2-iron down the middle of the first fairway, and we were off. 

I relaxed. 

When I hit a bad shot, I was kind to myself rather than crushing myself. Because of this, I even made three birdies over eighteen holes. 

More importantly, I rediscovered a friendship that goes back to the early 1980s. And for the first time in several weeks, I spent an extended period of time NOT thinking about work, my stress, and all the challenges that have increased my stress. 

Interrupting my typical “Friday plan” for fun literally reduced my cortisol. By the back nine, I could feel the difference in my body. My steps were lighter. The consistent headache that often plagues me was even gone. I went home in a state of mind that blessed my family upon arrival rather than aggravating them. 

Why I don’t do this more often, I wondered? 

Type A+

My wife likes to call me “Type A-plus,” given how disciplined and even programmatic I am. I have a plan, and I work that plan. At its best, it helps propel me to positive results. But at its worst, it can feel like a self-induced joyless prison. 

And getting back to the question of why I do not do this more often? Because fun — especially spontaneous fun — is usually not part of the plan. 

This is wrong. 

Hear my confession in that last statement. I need to put fun back into my plan — especially the kind of fun that involves personal relationships. After all, nobody wants to follow a joyless, stressed-out leader sitting in the confines of a prison cell of their own creation. 

Golfing with my buddy was one of the best, and yet, most humbling, experiences in quite some time. I discovered that I need to do a better job of leading someone very important: myself. 

Permission Granted

I share this experience because I know there’s someone else out there who also needs permission to have fun. 

To some, that might sound crazy. But I’m willing to bet that to others, it’s exactly what they need to hear. 

It was just what I needed. 

What Vanilla Ice Taught Me About Tackling Tough Situations

Last week I was having quite a week. Things were not going well. And the longer I dwelled on the situation, the madder I got. My prayers that day turned into to a confessional of the thoughts I had and even the things I said. It was not healthy. 

I was desperate, so I desperately prayed. But no epiphany came — at least not immediately. I struggled to sleep, then got up, and lived another day. Rinse and repeat. 

Another day dawned — and like most mornings, I hit the gym. And as I was working out, the funniest thought came to my mind — these five words:

“Alright stop, collaborate and listen.”

If you recognize those words as the lyrical stylings of one of the 1990s most marvelously-coiffed rappers, Vanilla Ice, give yourself a bonus point! And don’t hold it against me. It was what my brain brought to me during that early-morning workout.

Believe it or not, this simple phrase hit me like a ton of bricks. 

Here’s what Rob Van Winkle —  aka Vanilla Ice — taught me about tough situations and leadership.

Stop

The first thing I needed to do was slow down to a full stop. 

Stopping allows you to gain valuable perspective. 

And I did. After stopping, I could clearly see that world was not falling. My situation was in no way pleasant — but it was also not life or death. 

Collaborate

I’ll admit that this isn’t the first time I’ve had to ask myself which is more important: being right or collaborating with my sisters on the change we were collectively experiencing? What about the rest of the team — did I value their input? Was I willing to work with them? Or was this about me? And if I didn’t get my way, would I run away and pout like a three-year-old? 

These were hard questions to ask — and would’ve been impossible to effectively answer without taking a moment to stop. But after pausing for a moment, I could easily see that my relationships mattered more than getting my way. This situation was easily resolvable. 

Listen
Ah, listening. It’s so important! After all, is there any way to collaborate other than through listening? Don’t collaboration and listening go hand in hand? Of course they do! 

I have to remind myself to be open to not just hearing other people’s positions and opinions but also to being influenced or changed by what I hear. The latter is authentic listening. 

When All Else Fails, Laugh

When all else fails, find something to laugh at. 

The notion that Vanilla Ice was teaching me about leadership made me laugh in between exercises at the gym. The thought that I could share this experience with others via my blog made me chuckle all the more. They say that laughter is the best medicine — and laughing at myself and my wacky brain that morning was the medicine I needed to get through that challenging situation. 

So I blasted my headphones (definitely not Vanilla Ice!) and finished my workout. I went to the office and connected with people throughout the day. 

My advice to you? When you find yourself facing a tough situation at work or in life, follow the wise words of Mr. Ice. Stop, collaborate and listen. And don’t forget to laugh!

Choosing Love

I was planning on writing a totally different post — but I just found out about a big change occurring inside our business. Two of our leaders are leaving together to pursue another opportunity. 

In other words, what I thought was the plan and what the plan actually is are two different things. 

Enter Change

Change is always hard. Our “plan” was going just fine — in fact, the company had its best month ever in March! But now, things are interrupted. 

Interruption always brings change. And change is rarely fun. 

As I told my dad when we were texting last night, I have to bring positive energy to the office tomorrow morning. Writing these words on the ‘morrow morning, I don’t feel positive. So where do I go from here? 

The Feeling of Grief 

It would be easier if the two people leaving were not good at their jobs. It would be easier if they were people I did not respect or like. It would be easier, but still not easy. 

The question I find myself pondering is whether I am mad or sad? As a man, it is more socially acceptable to be the former than the latter. But honestly, I am the latter. 

Businesswise, we will be fine. And please note that by saying that, I am not knocking our two departing employees — their loss is enormous. I just serve a bigger God who has countlessly provided for our company and me, over and over again. I have faith in Him. 

Further, I realize we are all replaceable. This starts with ME. I am easily replaceable in so many respects it is not even funny. I am fallible, I get things wrong, and I know other people could do my job just as well or better than I do. I really think this — and I also think (and know!) that in Jesus’ eyes, my value is so great that even the cross was bearable. 

Both realities are true. 

So I am just sad. I am mostly sad that I won’t have the relational connection that I have had with them. Change sucks in this regard. 

Living Out the Emotion 

The next question I ask myself is what emotion am I going to live out? Is it anger? Sadness? Or something else? 

Is it love? 

If love is defined in terms of feelings, it cannot be. 

I don’t feel loving at all. 

I don’t feel hatred either. 

I don’t feel much at all. I just feel numb. 

But, I choose love. I choose the sacrificial kind of love. The kind that does not feel good to give. The kind that costs something. 

I know this might sound crazy, but last night — when I found out the second person was joining the first person to run another organization, I prayed.

I prayed that God would bless both of them. 

I prayed that their new business would experience radical success. 

I prayed that their families would be blessed by the fruits of their labor. 

I prayed that they would both flourish. 

What’s Next

I have a business to lead. Change is not fun, not what I would choose, and not what I want. 

But it is reality. 

Now I end this post with a renewed sense of purpose. My energy is positive. It will take faith, and gratitude, to keep it positive. 

As I pray regularly, I will pray to close now…

Let Your will be done, Lord. 

Even when it hurts. 

Even when I would prefer otherwise. 

Help me choose love nevertheless. 

Help me be for people and not against them. 

Even when it hurts. 

Especially when it hurts. 

Thank you that it does hurt, Lord. 

I love these people. 

I want the best for them. 

Amen. 

What Mom Taught Me About Life and Leadership

I’m filled with happy thoughts when I think back to my childhood. We lived in a typical 1980s neighborhood that felt more like The Wonder Years than current reality. My memories are of driveway hockey games, backyard football games, and more fun than I can fully remember. Life was good and we were blessed. 

We had two main rules in my family: first, my mom better know where I was — and second, I better be home for dinner by 5:30. Going home was never a problem because I was happy there. Don’t get me wrong, it was not perfect, just joyful. And as I find myself striving for some unattainable kind of perfection in my own home, I try to remind myself that what’s most important is creating a joyful environment. 

My mom was the one who set the joyful tone at home. As the third child, I reaped the benefit of her parenting experience. Looking back, especially at my adolescent years, I can see that my mom did three things that distinguished her from other parents and taught me vitally important lessons that apply to life and now leadership. 

Be Hospitable 

My mom realized that teenagers craved community, so she created an environment that was welcoming to all. I hosted sleepovers for various big events like the Final Four, pay-per-view boxing matches, and other sporting events. This often led to teenage boys acting out what they saw on TV in our family basement — and my mom rolled with it all! Of course, my dad reined things in from time to time (a role I see myself playing in a few short years) but my friends knew that we could push things a little more with my mom. It was fun and welcoming, and they all wanted to come back. Therefore, my social credit rose. Thanks, Mom! 

What did my mom get out of it? She knew exactly where we were and what we were doing — and also, what we were NOT doing. Well played, Mom! 

Have a Product 

Sleepovers at my house always ended with something my friends looked forward to: breakfast. After every sleepover, my mom made piles and piles of bacon. And as everyone knows, if you want to touch the heart of a teenage boy, give them lots of bacon! 

My mom was known for her bacon. Looking back, I realize (and I mean this with no disrespect) that there was nothing extraordinary about her bacon. She just delivered it time and time again, which made it special. 

How special? I am now 40 and recently traveled with my best friend, who had been at just about every one of my sleepovers back in the day. While eating breakfast at the Napa Valley Inn— including bacon — he began shaking his head. Puzzled, I look at him. He responded, “It’s still not as good as your mom’s.”

The point is that hospitality, and having a product worth coming back for, led to one last thing. 

No Judgment Conversation 

If my mom had a personal motto, it would have been, “You can tell me anything.” Maybe it was because everyone had a good time (or that they were stuffed with bacon) but my friends told my mom everything. It was literally the no-spin zone. 

In return, my mom did not judge. She most assuredly used her influence to nudge us in certain directions, but at the time, it did not feel like a lecture. It was leadership!  Even as a junior and senior in high school, I could tell my mom everything. This is probably why I learned to share what is (really) going on inside me and not hide it. I owe all that to my mom! 

When I think about my home life and the kind of leader I want to be, I think about the instructive lessons I learned from my mom. I want our home to be the place where kids want to come. I want to create a “gotta have” product — probably hamburgers! And I want my kids and their friends to feel safe enough to tell me everything. 

Similarly, at work, I want my office to be a safe place. I want my “product” to be the gift of listening. And I want others to feel secure enough to share what is on their mind. In short, I want to be like my mom.

Celebrating Sarah

May is a celebratory month with the onset of spring, blooming flowers, and longer days extending the light. When I think about these things, I also think about Mother’s Day. So naturally, I think of my own mother and Sarah, my wife and mother of my children. 

Over the next two weeks, I will share some lessons I have learned from both of them. These lessons have been instrumental in becoming someone worth following — and I can confidently say this because I have followed them! I am blessed to have both of these amazing women in my life. 

Appreciate Everything

I must exhibit some self-control writing this post, or it might become nauseating to the reader. My disclaimer is that the marriage I have with Sarah is human in that there are plenty of imperfections. So don’t get the idea that I think our marriage is perfect. Instead, what I’d like for you to take away is that I often think about my marriage and appreciate many things about it. And this is the first lesson I learned from Sarah that I am sharing with you: appreciate everything. 

Sarah has taught me to not only appreciate the simple things, but also to reflect and be nostalgic. With an intellect that probably surpasses mine, she has taught me to think deeply before coming to a decision. Slowing down to think has served me well when it comes to decision making. My gut is often right, but making sure that it is has helped me avoid making big mistakes. 

Get Outside Yourself

Sarah is the kind of person that bakes a pie for the neighbor when they are sick, buys food and delivers it to the homeless shelter, and writes a note to one of her friends when they are going through a tough time. All of this can be labeled as service, but it does not feel like that when I see Sarah do it. It just feels like who Sarah is — and watching her always challenges me to get outside myself and put others first.  

To this end, Sarah often challenges me when I think I have not gotten anything done throughout the day. Knowing that I am task-oriented, she asks me how many conversations I had during the day. Maybe, she points out, some of those conversations were the work I was supposed to do? I often think of this when I walk our production floor and someone stops me to chat, meaning I’m late for my next appointment. I can practically hear Sarah’s voice in my head saying, “maybe THIS was the appointment you were supposed to have?” 

Hard Work Outside of the Limelight

When COVID arrived, we asked ourselves, “What does COVID make possible?” Sarah’s answer was to homeschool our children. While this transition was not easy, I observed how Sarah embraced this reality with passion. She did not complain about the new circumstance; instead, she used her teaching skills to find, create, and teach a curriculum to our three kids. While it took time, Sarah — and each of them — persevered. Eventually, it became routine. And now, two years in, our two boys are excelling, and our five-year-old is ahead of her grade level. I learned from this that anything worth doing is hard, and success does not happen overnight. It takes a lot of perseverance. This has aided me when projects seem never-ending, and progress is hard to see.  

Homeschooling has also taught me hard work is often done out of the limelight. Occasionally, people do not get the WORK being done inside our house (emphasis mine). I emphasize WORK to describe what is actually transpiring inside our home. Sarah does not fit into some “stay-at-home” label. Rather, she is a wife, mom, curriculum creator, teacher, and manager of all things inside the house. Label at your own risk — the point is that she shows up and does the WORK regardless. To this extent, neither of us loses sleep over our titles. Rather, Sarah has continually shown me that you do the best you can and then find your worth from the Lord. What other people think is precisely that — what other people think.

Sarah’s Wisdom

Finally, Sarah has taught me other lessons that are worth sharing here: 

  • Napping is a secret weapon for the psyche. 
  • You can always sleep in. 
  • You should only read what is fun or what you are interested in. 
  • You should always create a “fun” night where you can relax. 
  • Always give other people’s motives the benefit of the doubt. 
  • Never speak poorly of others when they are not present. 
  • Ask “what can I do to help” often. 

This world needs more thriving relationships. So if you get nothing else out of this post, I challenge you to think about what you appreciate with those you are closest to. Then share it with them. 

As I said above, my relationship with Sarah is far from perfect. But we work at it by discovering, and even rediscovering, what we appreciate about each other. This process makes us better. I am thankful for it, and for the amazing wife I am blessed with.

From the Dugout to the Stands

When you become the parent to more than one child, the first thing people will tell you is how different your second child will be from your first. And as Sarah and I learned, a third child is also different from the first two. Each child has their own unique personality. No personality is better, just unique. It is up to us, the parents, to discover, develop, and appreciate each personality.  

The same can be said for every person we interact with at work. Each person is unique and valuable in their own way, and that means that the way they interact with other people at work is also unique. As a leader, we have to be cognizant of this reality so that we meet people where they are. Because we validate who they are, they will feel that we’re worth following. 

And the Wisdom to Know the Difference

As I shared in a recent post, I have been praying over whether I should coach my middle son Ben’s little league team this spring. To some, praying over something like that might sound silly. But given how much wisdom I need, I find praying is absolutely necessary.   

I need all the wisdom I can get to understand how I can best relate to Ben. Coaching Ben’s baseball team last fall was challenging. And while I learned a lot from the experience, I also observed something during a late-season game. After stepping in to be the head coach for my older son Will’s team earlier in the day — the “real” head coach had been unable to attend — I ended up sitting out Ben’s game since there were already four assistants there. Sitting behind home plate, I was a fan for that game instead of a coach. I cheered, encouraged, and cheered some more — and Ben seemed to thrive.  

The fact that he thrived when I was NOT coaching weighed on my mind, and I prayed about this all winter. Should I coach his team this spring? Sure, I did cheer and encourage when I was coaching, but my role also included holding all players (including Ben) accountable. Maybe he just needed me to be his fan and not his coach? Or maybe he’d be happier if I played a different “role” in his baseball journey? As I do with many things, I ran the idea by Sarah, and she immediately thought I might be on to something. 

Still, I resisted not coaching Ben’s team for one primary reason: My son Will has made it abundantly clear that he liked me coaching his team. How would Ben feel about me coaching Will’s team and not his? I didn’t want Ben to think I was prioritizing his brother over him. 

I Love Having You There

After praying about this again one night, it finally dawned on me that I should just talk to Ben about it. On the surface, this sounds somewhat crazy because Ben is only eight years old. But as you will find out in a minute, he is vastly more mature in his thinking. 

To be honest, I had mentioned this whole ordeal to Ben a couple of times earlier in the winter, and so had his mom. This time I explained “why” and reminded Ben about that time last fall when I sat out coaching one of his games. He remembered that day. We agreed to think about it and talk again. 

A few days later, I called Ben in again and reassured him that there was no wrong answer — I’d do whatever he wanted. This is what he told me: 

“Honestly, it stresses me out when you coach. You are strict. I love having you there but it stresses me out.” 

I then asked him about the time the previous fall when I sat out the game as coach and was there as just his biggest fan. 

“I would love for you to just be my fan. I love having you there.” 

The Value of Playing a Different Role

Ben’s feedback taught me a valuable lesson about parenting, and perhaps leadership. In my relationship with Ben, he was inviting me to play a different “role” in terms of his baseball journey. I was being moved from the dugout to the stands!  

I am not going to lie and say that it was easy to hear your child say that your “strictness stresses them out” on the baseball field. In fact, part of me wanted to justify that I am not too strict, kids these days are soft, and blah blah blah. Instead, I listened to what Ben was saying. 

“Okay, buddy,” I said, “What if I am just your fan this year. I’ll still split my time 50/50 so that I can be present equally for Will and you, but I’ll play a different role for each team. With Will’s team, I’ll be the assistant coach and with your team, Ben, I am just the number one fan!” 

“That’s exactly what I want,” Ben said. 

We then hugged, music played, and the scene faded to black. 

Well not exactly. But you get the idea. 

Meet Them Where They Are

Driving to work the next morning, I realized that I needed to write about my experience above because it taught me that leading adults is no different. Please hear me when I say that I often get that wrong as well — leading adults isn’t any easier. Some need me to lean in and play a more active role, while others need me to cheer from the sidelines. It depends on the unique personality of the individual I am leading. 

So this is why I pray often for wisdom. It helps me consider how my God-given abilities match up to those I lead. Prayer also encourages me to seek feedback — my prayer is equally about listening as it is about asking. I receive feedback, then course-correct when I get it wrong.

If leadership is the art of being someone worth following, which kind of person would you want to follow? The one who adjusts their leadership style to suit your needs, or the one that expects you to adjust to them? 

Circling back to my parenting decision, I could have forced my desire to coach Ben’s team. But that would have been about my preferences — and to a certain degree, my insecurities as a Dad. I would’ve missed out on what Ben really wanted. 

My encouragement to you is to be the one who is ready, able, and willing to course correct so you can meet people where they are and really connect with them. 

And if that means being their biggest fan, cheer loudly! It’s a role I plan to embrace all spring long. 

What A Richard Curtis Movie Taught Me About Life and Love and Being in the Moment

Perhaps (one) of the most embarrassing admissions I can make in writing this blog is that I am a sucker for Richard Curtis films. Now, I may just be trying to rationalize, but my admiration of Curtis started after seeing him speak at the Global Leadership Summit in 2007. I was sitting there with my wife and was in awe of the intentionality of his storytelling. It was purposeful, magical, and full of what’s best in life. 

Years later, a “macho” buddy told me about Curtis’ movie About Time. The film tells the story of how a lovesick 21-year-old uses time travel in the best possible way to find love, all the while being “coached” by his father, James — played brilliantly by Bill Nighy. The movie is full of funny moments and re-dos. It even leaves us wishing we, too, could have a few do-overs! 

FYI, if you’re interested in watching About Time, it’s streaming on Netflix as of March 2022.

SPOILERS AHEAD 

I am not one who wants to give away a movie. That said, for this post, I have to give something away. So if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know the spoiler, please stop reading here — do not continue beyond the image below.  

Image courtesy BBFC, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39394371

Notice How Sweet it Can Be

The movie’s biggest surprise comes when the main character, Tim, discovers that his dad has terminal cancer. Tim immediately thinks that time travel could somehow change this reality. Unfortunately, Tim cannot do this without undoing the relationships he has discovered along the way, most notably the love of his life. And as he would later find out, the ramifications would be far more reaching than even that! 

Tim’s dad, James, had already put all this together. In fact, for years, he had been going back in time to relive moments with family. James then looks into the face of a teary-eyed Tim and tells him to live each day going forward twice. First with all the everyday worries and tensions, but the second time noticing how sweet the world can be. 

Soon after this conversation, James dies of cancer. But Tim can still go back in time to be with his father, so this is not the end…yet. 

Then Tim’s wife wants to add another child to their family. Tim realizes that when this child is born, he will no longer be able to travel back in time to see his father without “erasing” his child. What a dilemma!

The movie culminates nine months later when Tim travels back in time to see his dad one final time. He and his dad play ping-pong together. Tim then tells his dad that he wants to kiss him. This clues James into the truth —this is the last time he will see his son. Taking this in, James takes Tim, and together they travel back in time one last time to when Tim was a small child. The movie ends with the two of them together on the beach.  

It is arguably the most emotionally raw and beautiful scene one can imagine — or at least any parent could imagine. 

Time Catches Up with All of Us

To the best of my knowledge, I do not presently have any significant health concerns. But, my time will come. As James says in the movie, “Time catches up to all of us, my son.” 

It will catch up to me, as it will to you. 

I have been getting lost in the cares, tensions, and busyness of life. These days, it is natural to do so, and I will not beat myself up over it. 

But early in March, I found myself in Orlando with my family. We were at Epcot, there was not a cloud in the sky, and it was extremely crowded. 

Our kids are 10, 8, and 5. I may have a little more time with Sadie (5) than I do with the boys — I hope at least. But time will catch up here too. 

So there I was, walking through Epcot with Will (10) and Ben (8). They were holding my hands. Ben kept grasping, and I wished he would never let go. Will never does this anymore, yet in the crowded park, he did. And for a moment, all my worries, tensions, and stressors dissipated. 

There I was in the moment with my boys. No distractions. No agenda. It was just us. And I thought that this day might be the day that I would go back to… 

The day when I could just be with my boys. 

The depth of that joy is and was indescribable. 

Find Your Moment in Time

I share here to invite you to find your own moment in time. Often, the summer is full of opportunities for such. So go make a moment this summer. Make a moment with a friend, spouse, or grandkid. 

Like a Curtis film, craft a story of joy for the world to see. 

This is the ultimate way to refill the tank. 

And like Tim, may we all learn the lesson that life is best lived by living each day once. Let’s seek and find the goodness amid life’s busyness and stress. 

There is no better way to live.