Alex Hoffer

What Do You See?

As I sat overlooking the Pacific Ocean on a beautiful early January morning, I asked myself that very question. I watched the waves and began to ponder life, leadership, and family. What follows are questions I jotted down that morning:

What do you see? Do you see the blue water, or do you see the vast mountains on the horizon beyond the water? Both are beautiful, but the latter is only noticeable when you are focused and present. 

Are you focused and present? Not just in this moment, but at the dinner table after a grueling Monday? 

Do you see the grumpy person in front of you at the grocery checkout line, or do you see someone who just needs some encouragement and affirmation?

Do you see only the limitations of those around you at work, or do you see their potential? 

Do you only see their few mistakes, or do you their vast goodness? 

Do you see another day filled with meetings and tasks, or do you see another day filled with opportunities to do things with and through other people? 

Do you see your own past? All your failures, limitations, and most embarrassing moments. Or do you see lessons, possibilities, and future moments of redemption? 

Do you see Jesus or at least the goodness of people who are passionately following Him? Or do you just see all the things that annoy you about Christians, the church, and religion in general? 

(This last one might be more for me, but let it guide your deepest human relationships as well).

And finally, do you see your wife and all the sacrifices she is making to homeschool your kids? Do you let her know how much you appreciate and love her? 

And now I’m off to remind Sarah how much I appreciate and love her because I DO see it!

In the meantime, I challenge you to ask yourself what you see — and learn from the answers.

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Searching for Light After Darkness

A few moments after getting to my in-laws for Christmas, I received a phone call telling me that one of our team members had died the previous night. It was tragic, sudden, and extremely sad. But little did I know then that this was only the beginning. Over the next six weeks, we lost three direct team members to tragic health situations and a total of nine people overall when counting team family members. 

Winter is the darkest time of the year, and this past winter was one of the darkest. 

As those who follow Jesus celebrate Easter this week, I want to dedicate this post to exploring this question: Can there be light after darkness? Admittedly, this is my annual Easter post, which is a departure from the usual format of this blog. I hope you continue, but if you don’t, I’ll return to the usual format next time. My prayer for you and those grieving is that you find the light. 


As I’ve shared before, one of the most striking things about Jesus is his compassion. The gospel of John does a good job of giving a glimpse of this when his friend Lazarus dies (John 11:1-44). After comforting Lazarus’ sisters, Martha and Mary (verse 19), Jesus moved on to where Lazarus was laid to rest. Then, the narrative arrives at the pivotal moment. Upon arriving, John writes these words: 

“Jesus wept.” (John 11:35)

Not only is this the shortest verse in the Bible — it is perhaps the most relatable, for we live in a very broken world. Another way to say it is “broken” is to say it is dark. 

Darkness is cancer, heart attacks, and sudden illness that leads to death. Darkness is gun violence, racial injustice, and poverty. Darkness is all kinds of war, just and unjust. Darkness is loneliness, broken relationships, and political strife or idolatry. Darkness is abuse, neglect, and harassment.

The list could go on. 

The skeptic asks, perhaps rightly — with all this darkness, how is there even a God that is good? 

While such a question deserves to be answered — and to be fair to the reader, I believe such an answer exists — notice what Jesus did not do with Mary and Martha. He didn’t answer the question of why. When Mary stated that her brother would have survived had Jesus been there (verse 32), Jesus didn’t agree or disagree. Instead, he just asked where Lazarus was (verse 34), and then he wept.

One of the thousands of reasons why I follow Jesus is because of this: Jesus mourned with those who mourned. He is worth following because his goal was not to win an argument, prove a point, or win a convert. 

One chapter prior, in John 10:10, Jesus said:

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (Emphasis mine). 

What I learned about darkness this year is that I have to force myself to wallow in it. I have to mourn with those who mourn and resist the urge to move on to the next business opportunity or distraction. And if that means I must wipe away a tear as I walk our plant floor, then so be it. 

Jesus wept. 

So must I. 


I’m going to confess something now: Sometimes, it takes the right set of circumstances to allow myself to feel what I need to feel — and sometimes, it takes international travel for this to happen. I’ve discovered that the lack of sleep, change of routine, and a little bit of homesickness can lessen my self-defenses and allow me to feel what I need to feel. 

One of those moments occurred on January 25th this year. I was leaving Barcelona, one of my favorite places on the planet, and was in the right place at the right time for something I might never forget. 

We were headed to Munich before switching planes and heading back to Chicago, and our flight left Barcelona right at sunset. As we took off, the sky was cloudless. Amazingly, the darkness that had engulfed us on the ride to the airport 90 minutes earlier had disappeared. Outside the airplane window, I could see light beginning to emerge over the Mediterranean. 

I looked up from the book I was reading and then decided to put it down. As I looked out, I just sat in complete and utter wonder. 

One of the things my friend and pastor has always encouraged me to do is look for God in the every day and then praise Him with attributes found in the Bible. This was that kind of moment: 

I silently prayed: 

God, you are the Creator. As I look at the sun coming out from what appears to be underneath the Mediterranean Sea, all I can say is WOW. You are majestic. You are the Light of the World. As I ponder the darkness of losing several Hoffer Plastics team members, I am reminded in your word that you are the Comforter. Jesus, you wept. Because you wept, I know it is okay to weep myself. And Lord, I have! I mourn with those who mourn and pray for you to bring comfort that is unexplainable. Lord, there are times when words just are inadequate, and this is one of those times. I pray you will intercede and bring peace. While your people can be divisive, I know you are the God of peace and I praise you for that. Amen” 

As our plane gained altitude and headed north to Germany, I realized there could be light after darkness. After all, Good Friday was the darkest of days, and it led to Easter morning. 

I know that a short blog post will not convince anyone that Jesus died and rose again. While I believe He did, my prayer is that this post increases your curiosity about Jesus. What I know is that this year has been hard, and most years have elements that are also hard. Jesus is my hope in those years and where I turn when I am at my lowest. If I lean in enough and wait long enough, my experience is that the darkness disappears. I hope that in Jesus, one day, it will be gone forever. 

My words end here, but if you are curious or need a little hope this Easter, may I direct you to something that may help? 

Here is singer-songwriter Blessing Offor — a blind man — singing about how he hopes heaven is like a Tin Roof. I hope it moves you like it moves me. 

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Chris Chelios: The Ideal Team Player

Patrick Lencioni defines The Ideal Team Player as someone who is humble, hungry, and smart. They possess the kind of humility that values others before themselves. They have a relentless work ethic. And they are emotionally intelligent, as they know how to prop others up and give credit where credit is due. 

I couldn’t help but think of these attributes when I attended Chris Chelios’ jersey retirement ceremony at the February 25th Chicago Blackhawks game. Chelios, one of the best U.S.-born hockey players of all time, played for my beloved Blackhawks from 1990 to 1999. These were the years when I fell in love with the Chicago Blackhawks. His hard-working demeanor was something I identified with. His willingness to get down and dirty (much like Chicago Bulls’ Dennis Rodman) motivated me to dive for every loose ball while playing basketball in the 1990s. Hockey would have been an option for me if I could skate. I couldn’t, so I settled for teeing it high and aggressively trying to hit golf balls 300+ yards. 

I didn’t know then, however, that the moment I most admired Chris Chelios was still to come. His 30-plus-minute speech at his retirement ceremony taught me so much that I had to write a blog post about it. And to take it in with my 10-year-old son, Ben, was something I will never forget.  


Throughout the night, there were countless examples of Chelios’ humility. For starters,  Chris included a guy at the ceremony that no one in the United Center had ever heard of. Bobby Parker was a youth hockey teammate of Chelios’s, and after the Chelios family moved to San Diego, Parker made the call that changed Chelios’s life. Because of that call, Chelios ensured Parker was center stage at the retirement ceremony 40-plus years later. 

Furthermore, after being referred to as the “greatest American-born hockey player of all time” by the emcee Pat Foley, Chelios shifted the attention to Patrick Kane. Kane, another favorite all-time Chicago Blackhawk of mine, now plays for the Detroit Red Wings. Naturally, the game was against the Red Wings because Chelios also played there after his time with the Blackhawks. So when Chelios called to Kane, the spotlight literally shifted to Patrick Kane sitting on the Detroit Red Wings bench. With the spotlight shining on Kane, Chelios said, “Patrick, you are the greatest American-born hockey player of all time.” 

There was nothing planned or staged about this statement. Kane didn’t know Chelios was going to say anything. In fact, Kane didn’t do a pre-game media event because he didn’t want to detract from Chelios’ big night — even though it was Kane’s first trip back to the United Center as an opposing player. 

It was a beautiful exchange of humility or thinking more about others than yourself.  


I don’t need to belabor this point because you don’t get to a jersey retirement ceremony without a ridiculous amount of hunger. But two things stood out to me. First, while listening to former teammates describe Chelios’ work ethic, they all said the same thing: “He outworked us.” More so, several who played against him at some point in their careers said that was extremely difficult. “Everything hurt,” former Blackhawk Jeremy Roenick said. 

Chelios commented about going to the arena during the height of the success of the 1990 Chicago Bulls and observing how hard Michael Jordan worked. “MJ had a trainer and was in top condition. So I went and got a trainer and started working hard. This is what allowed me to play in the NHL until I was 48 years old.” 

That’s the definition of hunger.  


Of all the things about the night, however, the most impressive was the relational reach of Chris Chelios. At this event, there were people from all walks of life, from all over the country. Celebrities, former athletes, and even rock stars like my son, Ben, and Kid Rock. The only plausible reason all these people came to an arena on a February afternoon in Chicago was that Chris Chelios had touched their lives in some way. He was someone they followed because he treated them well.  

But the smartest thing he did was putting his family before the celebrities, former athletes, and even the rock stars. He rode out to the ceremony with his mother, called his wife up to the podium to be center stage, and raised the banner with his family. This is true leadership.  

As Ben and I drove home that night — after Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal for the Detroit Red Wings, no less — I asked him what his favorite moment of the night was. 

“Without question, Chelios’ speech.” 

 Mine too. 

What a moment that we will never forget!  

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robert hoffer

Dear Grandpa 2024

Dear Grandpa, 

I recently read a critically acclaimed biography about Martin Luther King Jr. (King: A Life) that touched on every aspect of his life. So many elements of King’s life stood out to me: his courage, his tenacity, his sense of calling, his willingness to suffer, and much, much more. His imperfections also stood out to me. Quite honestly, I had not considered them before. The version of MLK I had in my head was simply inaccurate. 

As I have read my Bible this year and reflected on my life, being human has been a primary theme. People are people, a simple lesson I’m sure you’d remind me of. Your leadership saw people for who they were, not for some image of them that was not real. You also recognized that people would have both good and bad moments. To that end, our critical eye is best turned inwardly as Jesus instructed us. 

The same can also be said for companies. The leader’s goal is to steer companies past these imperfections, persevere, and improve day after day despite them. And as I have walked the production floor this year, I’ve reflected on my memories of you. How much of them are still accurate, and what am I missing as the years have passed?  

Your tenacity is one memory I’m confident is accurate. I used to think that great leaders made big strategic moves. I’ve realized that big strategic moves are born from small, intentional disciplines. It is the small things that few notice that make all the difference. While I imagine you had momentary lapses in tenacity, your life’s work is evidence of consistency. It is something I aspire to in all aspects of my own life. 

Some call these small disciplines fundamentals. Looking back, it seems to me that you were tenacious about certain fundamentals within our business: 

  • Safety wasn’t just a buzzword. It was paramount. 
  • Cleanliness meant things were in order and clean long before 5S became commonplace. 
  • Each press was measured, each standard challenged, long before any ERP system was in place.
  • Visiting customers and working to improve their lives was a daily practice and not part of some one-off initiative. 
  • Our team members were treated as part of our family before the value was established and put on the walls.

Our longest-tenured employee is a Black woman who began work over fifty years ago. I don’t know if that was intentional. But I know she is family…and that didn’t happen by accident. It was something you built, day after day, year after year, decade after decade, until the end. 

The end isn’t something people want to think about, but it is something I am thinking about. No, I don’t have any feelings of an early death like President Lincoln or Dr. King did. But, it is the reality of being human. 

Your day came, and my day will too. 

This is a sobering reality to me. 

The morning I returned to work in 2024, I started my day by signing eight sympathy cards. Eight of our team members’ families experienced the worst loss over a 10-day break. It was devastating. I mourned for them and with them. 

And looking back, I remember being upset one night when Dad and I went to visit you at home. I can’t remember how old I was; I only remember asking Grandma where you were. 

“The funeral home,” she said. 

Grandpa’s always at the funeral home, I replied. 

“Yes, he goes often,” she said. 

It’s no wonder your wake went on for hours, and people lined up outside in the cold. 

I want to be that kind of leader as well. 

Thinking of the old house and Grandma brought me to one last realization: My life’s work begins with my marriage to Sarah and then extends to my kids. That’s the most important work, as you would surely remind me. I must remain tenacious there. 

But it doesn’t stop there. My favorite thing to do this year — the thing that has helped me in more ways than I can adequately describe —  is putting on my hairnet, donning my safety glasses, and going to our floor to look for something good. Yes, challenges abound, as they always do with humans, but as you taught us, so does the good. It is there if we seek it. 

Dr. King saw it when it looked impossible; therefore, we, too, can see it when it is cloudy, dark, and cold. What we face pales in comparison to what Dr. King faced. 

What is it that I am looking for? Well, the boldest claim I have ever made in this blog. 

One day, this will all be made right. There will be no more sympathy cards, cloudy days, or sleepless nights. There will be no more racism. In fact, there will no longer be any need to be tenacious.  

We will all finally be able to rest. 

My hope is in Jesus and the coming of his kingdom. This world’s trouble is more than I can handle, so I hope in Him. 

Until then, I promise to work with tenacity. 

One day at a time. 

This is the life you lived. 

I still miss you.



Dear Grandpa 2024 Read More »

Why Sleep is a Leadership Secret Weapon

What if I told you you already have access to the best supplement for your life and leadership? Meaning you already own it and it’s free. Your only cost is NOT taking advantage of it. Would you be interested? 

If you’re like me (and most people I know), you’d jump at the chance to improve your life. 

That’s why I’m willing to share what I think is a secret weapon for effective leadership: getting enough sleep.

Sleep As a Luxury

Many folks feel like sleep is a luxury, an option they can implement as needed. That’s why people say things like:

  • “I can get by on 3-4 hours of sleep a night.”
  • “I’ll sleep when I die.”
  • “I guess I’m just permanently tired.”

I know I fit into the “sleep as a luxury” crowd. Certainly, I recognize how important sleep is — but that hasn’t helped me prioritize it. My excuses are lengthy, and I’m often tired because of them. Like many people I know, I’ve viewed sleep as a “supplement” and have seen it like a healthy protein shake or vitamin water, trying to add a little sleep to my routine when I’m taxed, sick, or overtired.

I’ve found, however, that this isn’t good enough. That’s why I’ve made “getting enough sleep” one of my primary goals for 2024. 

How Much Sleep Do We Need? 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend seven to nine hours of sleep for those in the 18-64 age range. And SingleCare’s recent survey found that 44% of Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep. 

But my doctor brought up a good point. In my annual checkup in December, he asked, “Alex, the AVERAGE person gets under 7 hours of sleep per night. Do you want to be average?” 

He then gave me examples of high achievers and how much they sleep. For instance, he shared that Lebron James sleeps an average of ten hours per night and naps for one to two hours every afternoon. 

Now, I’m a die-hard Michael Jordan guy, but maybe I want to sleep like Lebron? 

How Much Sleep Do You Get?

Do you know how much sleep you’re getting? 

Do you know how much sleep you need? Here’s a clue: this isn’t what you think — it is what your doctor, your significant other, and the team you lead believe you need. 

What are you going to do about it? 

After my doctor’s visit, here’s the sleep routine I committed to. Feel free to use it as a starting point for customizing your sleep routine.

My goal for 2024 is to be in bed (a controllable variable) for 8+ hours on 80% of nights or 292 days of the year. That means on a typical work night, I’ll be in bed from 9:30 p.m. until 5:30 a.m. 

My weekend goal is not to allow my go-to-bed time to move more than an hour later, and the same goes for my wake time. The reason for this is to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm. 

I aim to do this 80% of the time because I acknowledge that some days won’t be typical — I regularly travel for work and have early wake-up calls and other obligations. That said, I’m committed to being the guy that others poke fun at for leaving work dinners early. I feel confident that my health gains will far outweigh any good-natured teasing. 

The Early Results

As I write this post, I have a few weeks of my “new” sleep schedule under my belt. And even though it’s been a relatively short time, I’m already seeing many positive results:

I was able to stay calm and focused when a personnel issue arose. The extra sleep provided the necessary reserves to handle the added stress. I didn’t break out with canker sores (a normal response for me), nor did I feel the need to medicate with an extra glass of wine at night. 

I’ve been showing up at home with more energy for my wife and kids. I want to point this out because going to bed a little earlier is also a sacrifice for Sarah. Yet, she sees a difference in me. With more sleep, I am more help for her. 

Besides noticing an uptick in my physical health, I’ve also seen an uptick in my clarity and creativity. For example, I was able to craft the message I delivered at our holiday party in 50% less time than it usually takes me to create a message.  

One Last Word of Encouragement 

I will close with one more thing my doctor told me about sleep: Certainly, robbing yourself of sleep today is something you can do. But you must realize that, like a business, you’re simply trading in future earnings to stay “alive” today. Eventually, you will become “sleep-poor” and have no reserves to cash in. 

With this in mind, what do you lose in going to bed earlier or sleeping a little later? As I’ve found, there’s much to gain. 

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Gaining Clarity: My Six Focus Areas

Last fall, I attended the Path for Growth leadership experience in Asheville, North Carolina. Path for Growth’s mission is to help impact-driven leaders step into who they were created to be SO THAT others benefit and God is glorified. In pursuit of this mission, much of the experience’s content focused on clarity. This makes sense because for a leader to be someone worth following, they need to be clear about who they are (including what they value) and what they do. 

In today’s post, I want to focus on the latter: What is it that you do? What are you focusing on in your current role? Reaching clarity on this matters because it will help you more effectively prioritize your time. 

During some downtime at the Path for Growth experience, I clarified six specific areas where I invest my focus and time. I will share what these areas are and why they matter below. Then, I’ll challenge you to do the same:

My Six Focus Areas

My role: Co-CEO 

My areas of focus: 

Safety: I see this as the most foundational area for a senior leader in any business, not just those of us in manufacturing. I say this because if there isn’t physical, emotional, and spiritual safety inside your workplace, the workplace is unhealthy at best and potentially toxic at worst. Safety allows everything else to happen. 

People: Leadership is about doing things with and through other PEOPLE (emphasis mine). This means that you don’t use people; you realize they intrinsically matter. My focus is on how I build up our people. How can I say hard things in a way that is instructive and not unnecessarily cruel? What questions can I ask to show that I’m truly interested in our production floor tech’s life outside of the floor? How can I show and demonstrate value to people every single day? These are the real questions that keep me up at night. 

Vision: Leadership is always about moving people from “here” to “there” and you can’t do that without having eyes on “there.” What are the threats, and opportunities 18 to 24 months out? What things do we (the company) need to do right now to keep our people safe in the future? What technology can we develop or invent that would improve the lives of our customers? 

Finally, what can I learn about pending regulations in our industry? And what relationships can I develop to learn more about all these topics? 

Financials: A good leader would never miss their yearly physical because doing so could mean they miss a diagnosis when it is still treatable. Keeping an eye on your business’ financials is much the same.

What complications are coming in terms of costs like healthcare, CapEx, or changes in raw materials pricing? Can the business handle inflationary wages for the foreseeable future? If not, how can the business strategy pivot so that it can? Other leaders might have different questions than mine, but our mission is to be all-in for people first, so we stay true to that. 

Sales / Relationships: Without the customer, there is no business, and without sales, the company dies. As a leader, we should be asking how we can help customers gain market share with a new design? What can we do to help them resolve production floor challenges? Who should we spend more time with, and are we prioritizing our time to do so? These questions energize me! 

Succession: My final area of focus is succession — at all levels of the organization. I recognize that our people are priceless, but I also realize that everyone is replaceable (even and especially me!)

How can we help our people end well? How can we help younger leaders level-up their leadership skills in preparation for upcoming opportunities? What kinds of people do we need for the future, and what skills is our team missing today? These are the questions that I think about regarding succession. 

What a Life!

In my private notebook, I wrote one final note that I hesitatingly share now. I hesitate because it is kind of embarrassing, but it also gives you a sense of the ah-ha feeling I hope you get when you do this exercise yourself: 

Focus on these areas and what a career! Actually, what a life! 

I invite you to spend time in the next few weeks clarifying what areas you focus on. The ah-ha may or may not come, but trust me, this exercise is worth your time.

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The One Thing a Leader Always Does

In my previous post, I shared my experience of not having a job at the start of 2008. That experience humbled me and changed the way I view every single Monday. Every Monday that I get to go to work is a blessing. But more than this, the experience taught me that every job has value. I may not have had the job I wanted back then, but my job as a substitute teacher had honor, dignity, and value. 

So, as we start another year, let’s level set in today’s post. Since many folks use this time of the year to work on becoming a better version of themselves or start new habits, let’s begin this year getting crystal clear on a few things: 

What is a leader? 

A leader is someone worth following — and they’re worth following because of the kind of person they are. They have integrity. They’re the same behind closed doors as they are in public. You can always trust them to do the right thing, even (and especially) when doing the right thing is hard or costly. They never purposely harm. They use their words carefully, and when they say something that doesn’t come out correctly, they own it and apologize. 

That’s right — leaders are not perfect. But they are humble, and they definitely own their mistakes. 

What is leadership? 

Leadership is the process of doing things with and through other people. Leadership is never about the leader but always about those the leader serves. This process is always a journey, meaning that it is never stagnant. It always moves something, or someone, from point A to point B. 

Base camp is the “here and now,” while the summit is some future reality that moves the soul. And nothing moves the soul like the betterment of people and the reality of them stepping into who and what God has called them to be. 

So this begs today’s question: 

What does a leader always do? 

A leader always speaks meaning into those that follow. A leader reminds others that Jesus died for them — meaning their value is priceless. The person who is begging for change at the busy intersection? Their worth is incalculable, and leaders are worth following because they get this. 

Leaders see the cashier, the janitor, the grocery bagger, or the person on their production line as invaluable. They are not just doing this to be nice — they know this at their gut level. And because they know it at their gut level, they are moved to speak meaning into others. 

Leaders know that life is tough and the days can be tougher. There have been moments, even seasons, when they’ve lost sight of their own worth, and that moment of remembering was a gift of immense value — the kind of gift so valuable you’d give anything just to experience it again. 

Allow me to speak meaning into you 

Dear reader, I can’t possibly know the situation you find yourself in as 2024 starts. I don’t know all of the extenuating circumstances, nor do I know the challenges that are on your plate. As real as they are, I invite you to set them aside for a brief moment, to lean in, and let these words wash over you. 

No human leader is perfect. Sometimes, you say the wrong thing, think the wrong thought, or forget someone’s priceless value. 

And if this makes you think of a time when you messed up, sit with it for a second. Acknowledge it. Owning it makes you worth following. We don’t make excuses — that isn’t who we are as leaders. But, we can’t stay here just wallowing in it. We have to take the next step:

I invite you to pray these words: “Lord, I confess that I _____________. I ask for your forgiveness. Please help me to turn around and live differently with your help.” 

If you need a visual, write these words on a slip of paper, including your leadership mistake. Then, slip that sheet into a shredder and watch it disappear. I am reminded of these words when I do this: “…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

Leaders live differently. We don’t live differently because we’re sufficient. We live differently because we are loved sufficiently. This love met us at our base camp and aimed to take us to a summit higher than our deepest imaginations. In the interim, we have one primary task…

Love people. 

We, you and I, get to do this every single day if we choose to. We get to speak love and meaning into those we see and interact with at work. We get to be generous to those in need. We get to remind people that they are not alone and are of incalculable worth. 

All because we were loved first.

Let’s make this year different. 

What does a leader always do? 

A leader always loves. 


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The First “Back to Work” Monday of the Year

One of the most formative days of my life came on the first Monday in January 2008. 

The year prior was supposed to be — and in many ways still is — the best year of my life. I got married. Sarah and I went on an amazing honeymoon to Hawaii. We moved into a beautiful suburban home. We were launching into life. 

Yet, that year was also the year my grandfather died in February, and I came back to the post-honeymoon reality that I didn’t have a full-time job. Until that point in my life, I’d always believed that hard work was rewarded. To that end, I’d earned an undergraduate degree from Purdue University and completed all of my coursework for a Masters in Education from DePaul University except one final course. This course — a capstone course whose only requirement was a full-time teaching job — was all that stood between me and the degree. And as our moving truck headed to the suburbs, I thought that finding this job would be a no-brainer given my relationships and the 3.99 GPA I’d earned in my coursework. 

I was wrong. 

Questioning Everything About My Life

Not only did I NOT land a full-time teaching job, but I also had to unroll from the capstone class because “substitute teaching” didn’t meet the full-time teaching requirement. And to make things worse, the only work I DID get was substituting in the district where I grew up. There I was —my fancy college education in tow — walking back into the high school I’d proudly left just six-and-a-half years prior. 

While I didn’t voice this out loud back then, I must humbly confess that I felt like a loser. Note: All these years later, the more mature me realizes that there was a LOT of dignity in the work I was doing. But I was blind to that reality then. I’m being brutally honest about how I felt then, not what I think now. This clarification is important because I now realize how much value substitute teachers bring to the education system. More on that below

As Sarah has recalled, in years since, I spent many nights that fall questioning everything about my life. I was angry at God for not providing the job I wanted, depressed over my inability to “pull myself up by my bootstraps,” jealous of my wife’s full-time teaching job, and nursing my broken pride over the fact that my wife was the “breadwinner” in our household. 

Returning from Holiday Break

At this point, you may wonder what the first Monday in January has to do with this story.

At least in the US, the first Monday after a big holiday break is a day when teachers are virtually mandated to be at their school. Barring some kind of crisis, the expectation is that they are supposed to be there. 

And this year, on that first Monday after the holiday break, I had no work. 

My wife got up, got ready, and left. 

I got up, sat alone, and wept. 

Ok, so I didn’t weep first. First, I took a walk. It was a cloudy Chicago day. It was about 40 degrees out, there was no snow on the ground, and it was dark. It was the exact kind of weather a movie director would call for had they been filming my first day in January. 

As I walked through our neighborhood, the puzzle pieces of the previous year started coming together. All the emotions I’d felt began bubbling to the surface. I know this will make me sound crazy, but I started talking out loud to God. Before long, I started arguing. As I unleashed my pent-up frustration, depression, and anger, I didn’t feel much in return. I didn’t hear “God’s voice” or anything like that. 

I simply heard silence. 

But it wasn’t a lonely silence, but an oddly comforting silence.

That’s when the tears came. And I am brave enough to own it. 

As I pulled myself together, a few things crystallized in my mind. But before I share them with you, let me explain why I am telling you all this on the first day of January 2024. 

I know a few things.

I know that the last few years have been hard for most people reading this blog. 

I know that some people who read this blog are leaders of businesses that have not met expectations.

I know that almost everyone’s life is harder and more complex than just a few years ago. 

Therefore, as we enter a New Year, why don’t we start with perspective and hope? My invitation is to lean in right now and let these lessons saturate your soul. 

What I Learned

Here is what I learned: 

First and foremost, I learned that work is always dignified. Oddly, it was on that fateful Monday morning when I was walking through our neighborhood that I realized the work I’d been doing as a substitute teacher was holy. Yes, holy. It mattered to the teachers I was substituting for and the administrators. It mattered to the kids (well, at least a few of them!), and it certainly mattered to their parents. This moment shaped my view that as a leader, I need to remind every person on our team that they matter, and so does their work. I am deeply passionate about this because the first person I had to remind of this reality was myself.  

Second, I learned that every Monday matters. Every one of them, but especially that first Monday in January. I promised back then that I would always go back to work on the first Monday in January with renewed hope, passion, and perspective. Thank you, Lord, for the work I have to do! It is thank-God-I-have-a-job-Monday. Amen! 

And last, I learned that God‘s purposes for my life are deeper and greater than my current circumstances. All I wanted during that time of my life was for someone to hit the easy button for me so that I could land a teaching job and realize the plans I’d made for my life. While this pursuit was meaningful, I learned several months later that God was calling me elsewhere. These were not my plans, nor were they Sarah’s. They were His.  

That year — 2008 — wasn’t an easy one. It was a year of opportunity, meaning everything was disguised as hard work! But, it was work. And with the help of mentors, one of them who reads every one of these posts, I launched into a different life at Hoffer Plastics. 

The Gift of the First Monday in the New Year

It is once again the first work Monday of January. 

What a gift! 

May God bless you and yours this next year. 

Thank God we have work to do! 

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Start, Stop, Continue

Earlier this fall, I had an interesting thought: What would I stop doing if I retired at the start of 2024? The idea behind this thought was that there may be things I could stop doing at the beginning of next year even though I’m not yet retiring! 

Like many of my thoughts, however, this thought soon began to morph into deeper territory. What do I really think about retiring? Besides those things I would stop doing, what things would I continue doing? Would identifying those things help me gain perspective that I’m on the right path? (Spoiler alert: it did.)  And finally, what would I start doing? 

A Work in Progress

This is admittedly a work in progress — and for the sake of brevity, I’m not sharing everything. But I’m sharing some of my thoughts because my hunch is that this exercise will be helpful to you as well, regardless of where you are in your career. 

Also, let me clarify: When I’m talking about retirement, I use that word in the traditional American way — the thought of stopping my current role/ work. In a sense, I think of it more as a transition in that I would likely transition from one role to another versus stopping work altogether. In other words, when I say “retirement,” I mean that I am no longer doing my current work. 

So what’s next? What would I stop, start, and continue?   


What would I stop doing? 

  • I would stop interacting with my professional work email.
  • I would delete 98% of my personal emails without ever opening them.  
  • I would stop getting up before 7 AM. 
  • I would stop keeping an office at Hoffer Plastics. Instead, I would come in and use one of the remote workstations. 
  • I would stop keeping a planned schedule, which means that my activity would be run much more by the Holy Spirit than the weekly planner I currently use! 


What would I start doing? 

  • I would take a cooking class with my wife (with a focus on grilling.) 
  • I would start making time for longer walks in nature. 
  • I would start spending time with young leaders, asking questions, and focusing on how to build them up. 
  • I would start walking the golf course more with a caddy to slow down on the golf course.
  • I would start taking the time to build into a younger person while playing golf. 
  • I would start allotting an hour of the morning to slowly read a physical book. Doing this multiple times a week would greatly impact my life. 
  • I would start popping into my local church with the primary focus on building the young leaders there. How can I encourage them? How can I support or help them? 
  • I would start being the “supporting cast” and not the “lead” in all areas of my life. As the above indicates, I want to support, build, and encourage. 


What would I continue to do? 

  • I would continue to focus my travel on spending time with Sarah. 
  • I would continue to read my Bible first thing each morning. 
  • I would continue to pray nightly with my wife. 
  • I would continue to work out a minimum of four days a week. 
  • I would continue to meet with an accountability partner two times a month. 
  • I would continue to listen to leadership podcasts.  
  • I would continue to read content that would help me learn. 
  • I would continue to play golf — the same amount in summer, more in winter!  
  • I would continue to write this blog. 
  • I would continue to travel and visit business relationships when invited/needed to.

What I Learned

What did this process teach me? 

  • I need to create more limits around screen time, given that much of what I’d eliminate is related to email. 
  • There are easy things I can incorporate in 2024 that would positively impact my life. For example, I can make time now to meet with younger leaders to encourage them. I can also start slowing down by walking on the golf course instead of always riding in a golf cart. Come to think of it, I need to invest more time in walks outside in general, as that emerged as a theme. 
  • Finally, there are many things I am currently doing that I would continue to do. I should celebrate this. 

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn! I urge you to spend some time this week going through this exercise. I think you’ll find that it will help you reap positive benefits going into 2024. 

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The Power of Stepping into Your Discomfort Zone

Yesterday, I had a frank conversation with our new VP of Operations, where I asked him to provide me with honest feedback — and he delivered. And even though his feedback nudges me outside of my comfort zone, it’s the only thing that will help me become a better person, leader, and even golfer! 

I believe we must be willing to be uncomfortable to truly improve — we have to be willing to actively ask for and receive feedback. And my goal in sharing the feedback I received is to challenge you, the reader, to also step into your discomfort zone so you, too, can improve.  

Example 1: Work and Leadership 

I’m blessed to be developing a deep relationship with our new VP of Operations — we speak to each other openly and with vulnerability, and the honesty in our meetings is refreshing. With that in mind, I felt comfortable asking him to point out my blind spots — what do people perceive about me that I don’t know about myself? And while my ego would rather not share his feedback, I’m stepping outside my comfort zone in the spirit of vulnerability and growth.

  1. I may not be as approachable as I thought: Our VP shared that the people on our production floor recognized that I was very visible and on the floor daily. But outside of the day shift, he noticed that some of our workers were intimidated to talk to me. Others would talk to me but only tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. He shared, “This probably isn’t fair to you because I can see you’re trying to be approachable, but you probably need to go the extra mile in seeking their input.”
  2. I should be firmer in my expectations: My VP’s feedback was that he noticed I could be direct in meetings and then would try to be nice afterward, which could come across as “inauthentic.” This was tough to hear, as authenticity is my goal! He suggested that “…sometimes the team needs to see you are upset. Be respectful, but be direct.” This feedback was a helpful reminder that one of my blind spots is seeking the approval of others, which is why being direct without trying to “soften the blow” can be challenging for me. 
  3. I should give feedback directly to the source: He clarified that he also struggled with this, given that we have nine production plants. For me, he suggested I give plant appearance feedback directly to the specific plant manager rather than lumping my observations into a more general message all plant managers receive. 

Example 2: Golf Lesson 

The evening after my feedback meeting with the VP of Operations, I was taking a golf lesson with a new instructor. This was my second lesson as I attempt to improve my golf game after plateauing at a six handicap for the last few years. After seeing me hit a few shots and filming my swing, my instructor (someone who I specifically sought out due to his status as a “top 100 teacher”) asked me, “How open are you to change?” I responded, “That’s why I’m here.” 

He told me I was doing things well, considering I am a six handicap. However, he can see why I have plateaued. What was wrong? 

  1. My right-hand grip was too weak.
  2. My upper body turn was “nonexistent.” He asked, “Do you work out or do cardio?” I replied that I have been working out with a golf-specific trainer for two-plus years. He said, “Well, I can see you are strong. But you aren’t incorporating mobility into your swing—it’s nonexistent.”
  3. Finally, he pointed out how my right knee sometimes flares out on my backswing. I told him a former golf pro I’d played with had also pointed that out and told me I couldn’t be good until I fixed that.

    “Well, they’re right,” he said.  


Alone with My Thoughts

This instructor is so booked that his lessons only run 30 minutes, so it wasn’t long before I was driving back home alone with my thoughts. 

Is this even worth it, I wondered? 

“No wonder I suck at golf!” was what I blurted out getting back on the highway. 

And even deeper in the recesses of my heart, a faint whisper said, “…And you aren’t that good at work either.” 

The Next Day

I woke up the day after my lesson and my first thought was a personal declaration: 

I am open to feedback, and I want to get better. 

Frankly, the work feedback was much easier to hear than the golf feedback. 

But — and here is the kicker — in the deep recesses of my heart, I know that both the work and golf feedback were accurate. 

Discomfort is Unavoidable

If my goal is to get better, I cannot (and should not) avoid discomfort.

For example, writing this post is uncomfortable, but I find value in documenting the process — and I am inviting you to join — IF you want to improve. 

If you don’t…you don’t have to be open to feedback. 

If you do…welcome to discomfort. 

Welcome to the pursuit of improvement. 

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