Alex Hoffer

The Identity Mall

There is a mall that I go to often. My daughter does not even know what a mall is, so I should explain for any of my younger readers that it is a place people used to go to to buy things. The mall I unintentionally go to is unique, and it is called the Identity Mall.

The Identity Mall is open 24/7, and shopping there is especially inviting when you are feeling low. It is a place where everything is on sale, yet everything ends up costing more than the price you pay. Still, its shops are so enticing that I am often tempted to shop.

The Success Shop

There is the success shop. It promises that success will help me feel secure and satisfied. It is a place where all my dreams will come true! If I am honest, I have often been tempted to blow all my savings here. “If only,” I think.

The Approval Shop

Sometimes, however, I shop at the approval shop. It can be awkward with its floor-to-ceiling mirrors. However, I can get past this as people are inside the store cheering me on no matter what I do. They don’t even care if what I am doing is healthy. And their cheering certainly feels good to me. But the only way to keep it going is to keep shopping there.

The Pleasure Shop

This gets tiring after a while, so I head to the pleasure shop. The seats inside this shop are the most comfortable seats I have ever sat in! To top it off, the people inside the store serve the best wine, and give me a catalog outlining potential golf trips I could take, or new cars I could buy. The possibilities for pleasure are immense. But I often start feeling guilty about all of it, so I move on to the next shop. 

The Family Shop

Around the food court and playground is the biggest shop yet, the family shop. Finally, one that feels just about right. To my surprise, my three kids are already inside this shop. There is nothing to buy here, however, only the kids. The kids become the product, as it is up to them to make my identity feel good. My goodness, one of them is running to the success store to buy something. The other just sprinted to the approval store. I am getting out of here before the third runs somewhere else.

But where do I go now? 

The Past and the Future

At the end of the hall, there is even a bigger store simply called “the past.” It looks like an old movie theater. Actually, it has all the good smells from 1980-something — buttered popcorn, candy, and sugary soda or pop (not deciding that argument here). And the previews show the highlight reel from my golf “career.” It is kind of awkward that it is showing that. It must say something about me?

Next door is the same setup, but it’s called “the future.” No one is going inside this theater, however. People are just pacing and talking to themselves. The future seems to make everyone nervous. I think I have had enough of this place.

This place always costs more than it is worth. 

Where Are You Shopping? 

Welcome back to reality. The Identity Mall may not be a real place, but it is certainly a place I have been before. Of course, it always happens subconsciously. I share the above to simply ask this question: 

Where are you shopping for your identity? 

Spend time reflecting on this question this week. 

While I cannot answer for you, I find the most peace when I return to my faith in Jesus. You can judge for yourself, but for me, it takes looking to him and understanding the price for which I was bought, to free me to be free.

Memorial Day Thoughts from a Veteran Who Made it Back Home

The following is a post written by my friend, and Veteran, Matt Mason:

It has been ten years since I left Camp Lejeune for the last time — and when Memorial Day rolls around, my family, friends, and colleagues often ask me how they can thank me as a veteran. What is the best way to honor those who have served our country?

The answer I give often surprises people. I believe we should live (and live freely) in a country that has always loved, honored, and fought for freedom. We have fought for our freedom of religion, of speech, of the press, and of our right to assemble, to name a few. The best way to thank a veteran is to actively enjoy those freedoms — don’t take them for granted — and ensure we pass them along to the next generation.

Honoring the Fallen

But this Memorial Day, I want to remind you of something else — a piece that sometimes gets lost in all of the political rhetoric, the photo ops, or the latest Applebees-sponsored free lunch for veterans. I want to remind you that Memorial Day is about those who DIED in the course of service for the very freedoms that we possess and enjoy.

One of the most sobering moments of my life was in November 2009. I had just finished the Marine Corps marathon the day before, and my wife and I stopped at Arlington Memorial Cemetary on our way back to North Carolina. Walking on stiff, achy legs through thousands of crosses on a breezy, cool day brought me an overwhelming sense of peace and humility. It was awe-inspiring to see the number of men and women there who have been laid to rest, many of them perishing in the heat of battle. To this day, the moment is seared into my memory as an example of what it means to memorialize the fallen.

The Healthy Side of Survivor’s Guilt

My days of military service have long since passed, but I would be lying if I said I don’t live with some guilt about surviving my three combat deployments. Most combat veterans do — some of it healthy, some of it not. The healthy side of that guilt motivates me to make the most of my life and never to stop living, enjoying, and teaching others about our freedoms. The healthy side of it reminds me of the eternal hope we have on this side of heaven. 

God obviously had a different plan for me, so what will I do with it? That is a question that we can answer at another place and time. Is it fair that some return home from the fight and some do not? I’m uncertain there is enough human wisdom to answer that question in a way that would make sense. Our God makes his feelings known on this subject, “Greater Love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13. 

The men I served with were my teammates, brothers, and friends. We loved each other and would gladly have given our lives for each other. Maybe those who have given their life in service to this country are reaping the reward of knowing they laid down their life for their friends, fellow Americans, and fellow man. Let’s honor them this Memorial Day.

God Bless,

Matthew J Mason

Capt. USMC

The Leader Layer 

I often bear my soul on this blog, and today will be one of those occasions. 

I was walking our production floor the other day, and it got me thinking about how a leader needs to listen to feedback in real time. They have to do more than just hear this feedback. They need to be able to relate to the person giving feedback and willing to occasionally change when change is needed. 

As I’ve thought more about this, I started to think about this in terms of leaders developing a layer of their personality that allows them to listen to, relate to, and accept the feedback of others. I’m calling this the “leader layer,” and I found myself relying on that leader layer several times last week; here are two examples.

Feedback and the Leader Layer

The first example is a positive one. I went out for my production floor walk at 7 AM on Tuesday and was forewarned that one of our long-time team members was going to seek me out to share their thoughts on a policy they’d been gently reprimanded about the previous week. When I arrived at their work area, I sought them out instead. I asked them how they were doing, which allowed them to tell me why they were not doing well. I listened. I sought to understand their point of view and even agreed with some of their frustration over how the message had been delivered. Still, the policy needed to be followed. Now that they felt heard, they were on board. 

This was an easy win. But what happens when the feedback is a little more personal to me?  

Example two: Also last week, I was working on a company update. I shared it with my sisters, and their feedback was it was too long. This wasn’t hard to accept — I realize brevity is not one of my strengths! 

At the same time, I’d shared a blog post with friends whose opinions I deeply value. Two are book authors, so I was anxious to get their views. And guess what — they thought the blog post was too long! For the second time in twenty-four hours, I received the same feedback in terms of length. While their feedback about the overall content was positive, one of my friends pointed out that it could be even stronger if I cut about two-thirds of it. 

Here’s my confession: Hearing this feedback from my sisters and my friends gave me pause. Neither was especially harsh; they weren’t criticizing the content, just expressing concerns about the length! But as I mulled it over late one night, I realized their feedback brought up feelings of insecurity about my writing. 

Only after stewing over it for twenty-four more hours did I realize that internal struggle is the only path to growth. In fact, I had to ask the following questions to lead myself out of insecurity and back to the path of growth:

  • Is this feedback actionable? 
  • Is this feedback fair? 
  • Is this feedback a chance to grow my leader layer? 
  • Am I open to this feedback? 

The answer to all these questions was a resounding yes. 

Developing Your Leader Layer

The leader layer is comprised of feedback, coaching, and in some cases, scars from the past. It is a growth layer born from listening, relating, and acting on feedback. The thicker it becomes, the more you grow. But it’s different than having a “thick skin,” which implies that you can hear anything and let it bounce off of you — having a thick “leader layer” means you can hear things, think about them, and then change for the better when it makes sense.

The question you have to ask yourself is, are you open to this kind of feedback? Are you open to growing your leadership layer? 

Mothers: The Original Leaders

As you know, this is a blog about leadership. Leaders are those worth following, and leadership is the process of doing things with and through other people. But the more I think about it, those characteristics also describe mothers! Let me share some examples of moms in action as we celebrate Mother’s Day. 

My Mom

My mom always made our home welcoming. My friends loved coming over because she made it that way! As my wife points out, my mom has the gift of being interested in what other people are interested in — this is one of the reasons she is worth following. She also cares about the community and regularly volunteered her time to help. This example is something I see in my sisters and something I work on modeling in my own life. I am blessed to have the mom I have! 

My Mother-in-Law

Watching my mother-in-law can be like watching a CEO lead a business. There is action everywhere, and the food is always prepped and ready for dinner. And the food is always great! More than this, thanks to her hospitality, her home feels like home to everyone who comes there. 

My mother- and father-in-law regularly welcome a staggering number of guests to their house — a true testament to their generous spirit. I am blessed to have the mother-in-law I have! 

My Wife

Then, there is my wife, Sarah. The day I met her, I said she was amazing, which was an understatement. Besides being brilliant, she is one of the kindest, gentlest, and most humble people I know. She cares deeply for others, especially our three kids. When the COVID-19 pandemic came, she embraced it with possibility thinking, “What does this make possible?” For Sarah, it made homeschooling possible. 

Sarah didn’t just dip her toe in the water with homeschooling — she dove in! Now our kids are several years into the homeschooling journey. Not only are they having fun with it, but they’re making a lot of progress. For example, our two boys are reading at a level I didn’t achieve until much older! I credit Sarah fully for that. 

Complicated Relationships

Reflecting on the amazing mothers in my life, I remember that not everyone shares in such positivity. Sometimes human beings get it wrong. 

So if you don’t have positive memories of your mother, just know that a Heavenly Father still loves you beyond human understanding or ability. 

Further, as Sarah has reminded me through her Tuesday morning Bible Study, there are women out there who can form the bond of sisterhood that approaches the level of intimacy one has with their mother. It can never replace it, but it can certainly help. Sarah’s leadership of this group is another thing I admire about her.   

Thank you, Mothers!

Happy Mother’s Day to all. Happy Mother’s Day to the mothers working from home or balancing careers and motherhood like my two sisters and our VP of Sales! Happy Mother’s Day to those I will never forget, like the memories of my two grandmothers and those you are thinking of as you read this post. 

Happy Mother’s Day!

Leadership Failures Part Four: Failing to Lead from the Front

Today concludes my four-part series about leadership failures — here are parts one, two, and three. As a reminder, this series stemmed from thinking about my leadership failures in 2022. I am sharing them because I think the lessons are relevant to all leaders, and I hope this series will make you think about your own leadership and what you can do better.

Part 4: I Fail To Lead From the Front 

It’s crucial to find balance as a leader — not only making decisions, doing hard things, and serving as the leader — but also allowing those you lead to do those things. This dichotomy is something that leaders (including myself) struggle with, which was why I was delighted to read former Navy SEALs Jocko Willink and Leif Babin’s book about this topic, which helped influence and solidify my thoughts. As Jocko and Leif point out, every leader needs to follow at some point. 

Golf Caddy v. Head Coach

One of the things I encourage readers of this blog to do is to get to know themselves, their tendencies, and what they gravitate to. For example, my leadership style is more golf caddy than head coach — I like to set up a game plan with those who follow me (see the KRA mentioned in Leadership Failure Part 2) and then let them do the work or “hit the shots.” 

This is different than a head coach approach in several ways. Unlike a golf caddy, the head coach is there every step of the way. They might call a time-out and change strategy mid-game. They may critique performance during the game. They are much more hands-on in every regard.  

My golf caddy leadership style works well when the person I’m leading is a high performer, but not so well for those who need more constant input. So I need to get the hiring process right (something I’ll cover another time). 

What Does a Leader Do From the Front?

What I discovered in 2022, however, is that there are MORE potential weaknesses in my leadership style. I realized this by leading high performers. None of my direct reports performed poorly in 2022 — in fact, I would argue they performed very well! But this experience helped me clarify what my role needs to be going forward in the C-suite, surrounded by good leaders. (Note: even if you aren’t part of the C-suite, the three things I mention below still apply.) 

Think about this: If a leader is someone worth following, and leadership is the process of doing things with and through other people, what does a leader do from the front?

That depends. If the leader is surrounded by low performers, s/he could easily go back to doing the work. And this is tempting for leaders because “doing the work” is what they used to do and probably helped them earn their leadership position. But when you’re surrounded by high performers who are already doing the work and doing it well, what is a leader to do? 

Daily Vision

I’ve learned that my top priority is casting the vision. I know — many of my readers are saying, “Well, duh!” I said the same thing myself a year ago! But I’ve learned that I need to change the frequency of how often I cast that vision. I need to do it daily. 

Yes, daily. 

I need to cast vision every single day, and if you’re in senior leadership, so do you. The “Where are we going?” and “Why are we going there?” questions are the most important ones we need to answer on a daily basis. 

This is a more specific answer to the advice, “Work on the business and not in the business,” which sounds good but isn’t that helpful until you understand precisely what you need to work on. 

Leader-Only Activities

Next, there are activities that only you, the leader, can do. My executive coach shared with me the criteria that Dave Ramsey uses: 

  • What is broken? 
  • What is new? 
  • What is the brand? 

These “buckets” are out at the front, and the front is exactly where you need to be! Now this doesn’t mean you come in on a white horse when there’s a problem. You are not the hero — the heroes are the people doing the tasks. Your role is to be at the front, shielding the people from the blows. 

What does that mean? 

It means that you play the role of David against Goliath — you go to the battlefield first, willing to take on the giant’s wrath. Think about yourself as the Chief Relationship Officer: you meet with the disgruntled team member, the ticked-off customer, or the concerned community member. You shield your team from these things so they can spend time doing the work. 

This is neither easy nor glamorous, which is why many leaders give in to the temptation and go back to doing the work. The work feels better and is easier to measure. Constantly taking on Goliaths is harder to measure, harder to do, and harder to endure. 

But it’s what you need to do leading from the front. 

Affirm from the Front

Finally, a reminder that you need to affirm from the front. Giving affirmation may feel soft, but it’s one of the most challenging things you do when surrounded by good leaders. You may assume they don’t need encouragement or affirmation, but in reality, they probably aren’t getting it from anywhere else in the office. I make this statement because they, too, are leaders. So unless their followers are genuinely telling them what they are doing right, who is? 

You need to be that person. 

It is what makes you worth following. 

I’m not saying you say something that is not genuine or true. I am simply saying that thanking someone after they spent a week overseas visiting customers goes a long way.

In conclusion, leaders are out at the front, exposed, and willing to do the hard (and sometimes awkward) things. 

It is not glamorous. 

It is leadership. 

Leadership Failures Part Three: Failing to Affirm

Leadership Failures Part 3: Failing To Affirm  

Today features part three in our four-part series about leadership failures. Our topic? Failing to affirm. 

Part 3: I Fail To Affirm 

This winter, our family made Sunday night “movie night.” But instead of watching a new movie every week, we have been watching “The Chosen.” The Chosen is a mini-series that depicts Jesus through the eyes of those that met him. Not only is the series extremely well done, but it also leaves you with the desire to drop everything and follow this Jesus. 

As I’ve watched the series, I have become convicted by the example of Jesus’ affirmation of those who followed him. His gentleness to Mary Magdalene, his acceptance of Matthew (the series does a good job of showing how vilified tax collectors were, and Matthew was a tax collector!), and too many other examples to share here. In all cases, Jesus affirmed the person whether they were outcast by society, cursing God for their plight, or just strong-willed like Simon Peter. I simply cannot get enough of this Jesus and want to be compassionate like him. 

The Last 5% of Affirmation

This series has made me look anew at my leadership, and I have to be honest, the realization I’ve come to is that I don’t affirm those I lead enough. There are no excuses for this, and this isn’t intended to be one. I am task-oriented with goals to conquer, and while I regularly spend time with those I lead, I fail to say the “last five percent” of affirmation.  

The last five percent are oftentimes words that the heart feels, but the mind says, “You can’t say that because it’s awkward.” Allow me to give a few examples — and ask yourself, when was the last time you said something like this to someone you lead?

  • You mean a lot to me. 
  • I appreciate having you on the team. 
  • Your presence on the team makes my work life better, and everyone in my life appreciates it. 
  • I am proud of the work you are doing. I see it. You are crushing it. 
  • There is not a day that goes by that I am not thankful to have you on our team. 

When was the last time you said any of the above? Maybe the words I used aren’t the words or phrases you would use. That’s fine — create your own. Make them your own. Unveil the real you, the “last five percent” you.  

Work is Human

I am not advocating that you do anything against your HR policy. Nor am I suggesting you do something that comes off as not genuine. I am simply suggesting that work is human, and humans crave affirmation. This has always been true, and I believe it is even more true now in our increasingly divisive society. 

Leadership is about doing the hard things because that is what makes you someone others want to follow. Affirming other human beings is one of those hard things. It shouldn’t be hard, but somehow it is. As awkward as it feels, push past your hesitation and open your mouth up. Tell people how much they mean to you. 

Say it from your heart. 

Share yourself fully in support of others. 

Doing this won’t guarantee business success, but it will make you the kind of person others want to follow. 

Leadership Failures Part Two: Failing to Give Direction

Today continues a four-part series about leadership failures that I started last week. The focus of today’s post? Failing to give direction. 

Part 2: I Fail To Give Direction 

Today’s lesson is so basic that it is easy to discount. But it’s at the heart of the biggest organizational issue I hear repeated time and time again: communication. Whether I am in a benchmarking group surrounded by other business leaders, in an interview with a prospective candidate, or working on strategic planning with our executive team, communication is the culprit most point to in terms of organizational problems. We keep talking about it because we are not good at fixing it — fixing it is so basic we fail to do it. 

Allow me to explain with an illustration. 

More Important As Time Goes By

The day after I met my wife Sarah, I called her to try to arrange our first date — I wanted to make sure I acted quickly. Unfortunately, she didn’t pick up the phone when I called. So I did something I’d rather not admit: I left her a completely rambling voicemail. And I know this will sound cheesy, but at some point in my rambling, I told her that I thought she was amazing and unlike anyone I’d ever met. 

Thankfully, she called me back and didn’t think I was crazy. In fact, she told me months later that the word “amazing” got to her (note: this is probably the only time in my life I’ve ever left an effective voicemail!) 

At some point along our path, “amazing” turned to love. When we crossed into the “love” threshold, we used that word all the time  — as I’m sure you did when you first fell in love! We’d hang out on Tuesday nights, then would have to wait until Friday afternoon to see each other again. We counted down the minutes in between, surviving on phone calls. And, of course, each conversation ended with us telling the other how much we loved them. (Gosh, this is sappy — even I’m rolling my eyes, so I’ll totally forgive you if you’re doing the same.)  

Fast forward to the present, and we’ve been married for many years. We still say we love each other, but let’s be honest — it isn’t exactly the same as the “puppy love” stage of infatuation.

But here is my point: saying we love each other is just as important today as it was way back in the early days of our relationship. In fact, I think it may be even more important as time goes by.  

How Leaders Communicate

How does this relate to leadership? At some point along a leader’s journey, they become convinced that there are things they no longer have to communicate to others. For example: 

  • Affirmation (we will cover this in part 3) 
  • Direction 
  • Vision

And the list above is only the start. The temptation is to believe that the people we lead are smart enough to affirm themselves, know what to do, and understand where we’re going. We have this temptation because if we have hired correctly, the people we lead ARE SMART ENOUGH to know these things. 

But we still need to tell them — just like we need to tell our spouses how much they mean to us. 

Leaders Don’t Insist on Mind Readers

Words matter, so leaders use words. 

Leaders do not rely on their followers’ ability to read their minds. 

The failure above is why so many people point to communication being our biggest organizational issue. 

Just as I would be a fool not to tell Sarah how much I love her still, I would also be a fool for not telling my direct reports what is important and what isn’t. 

Putting it Into Practice

Last year, we lost one of our teammates to their father-in-law’s business. The best candidate to replace them was a very bright individual already working with us — and he’s done a terrific job so far in his new role. Yet, when I was reflecting on his first year, I realized I had failed to formalize a KRA (Key Results Area) with him. To be sure, we had talked through a lot of the things I would have included, but there was nothing formalized. 

I had failed to give adequate direction. 

So we met and talked through the first year. Kudos to him; he had done a terrific job. Our team was moving in the right direction, projects were completed on time and under budget, and his peers praised him. Put bluntly, he had outperformed my leadership. 

Clarity + Affirmation = Effective Communication

As we talked about 2023, however, we co-created a KRA for the year. The way I do this with executives is I allow them to create the initial draft, and then we meet to talk about their three strategic initiatives for the year. Because of our weekly check-in meetings, his three strategic initiatives aligned precisely with what I thought was the most important. Still, this process gave us space to validate it formally and gave us both clarity that this was the direction we were going. Before leaving my office, he commented that he was doing the same exercise with his direct reports. 

Clarity and affirmation are two of the most important seeds of communication. Plant those seeds, and the harvest is plentiful. To this end, a leader must use their words to clarify and affirm. It is not rocket science, so it is tempting to think, “I don’t need to do this.” 

But just like you should tell your spouse you love them, you should clarify the most basic things for your followers. Assuming they know will not only be hurtful but also a failure of leadership.

Leadership Failures Part One: Stop Pursuing When Others Lean Out

Today begins a four-part series about leadership failures. The content that follows the next four weeks is based on my thinking about my own leadership failures from 2022. I am sharing them on this blog because the lessons are relevant to all leaders. I hope this will lead you to think about your personal leadership and what you specifically can do better. 

Part 1: I Stop Pursuing When Others Lean Out

A leader is someone worth following. Leadership is the process of doing things with and through other people. These definitions are important when considering lesson one because lesson one is all about relationships. Said succinctly, the leader cannot tire when the relationship sours. Instead, the leader needs to lean in when things, relationally speaking, become difficult. 

This lesson came to me after reflecting on a relationship with someone in our business. At the start of 2022, I began meeting with this individual even though they were not an immediate direct report. Their job was essential to our organization’s success, and they also led other team members. Therefore, I wanted to get to know them better and encourage them in their leadership journey. 

Our monthly conversations were generally good. Admittedly, we didn’t see things exactly the same. But differences of opinion are a healthy sign of organizational life because they help broaden thinking. Our meetings helped me consider a different perspective than my own, and they also helped me get to know this individual better. It was a win-win. 

At some point in the year, however, these meetings stopped happening. At first, it was just because our mutual schedules did not align. Then, it became clear that this meeting was not a priority for either of us because we could never find time for it. 

Stopping one-on-one meetings is not a failure of leadership. However, in this case, it was due to several factors. First, the functional area this person led was one that shaped our organization. Given that I have oversight in operations and sales, I should have an ongoing relationship with this individual. Secondly, there was sometimes a disconnect between operations and their functional area. Our meetings were helping to bridge the gap, so letting the meetings dissipate was, in hindsight, unhelpful to the organization.

Lean in When Others Lean Out

What I learned about leadership from this failure was that I need to lean in when others lean out. Notice that the example I shared doesn’t involve anything nefarious — my sense is that this person just had a lot going on, and so did I. The point is that this is always the case in the modern workplace, so it is not a valid excuse!

A good leader is someone who pursues people. After all, leadership is about doing things with and through others. It is not about you! So again, a healthy leader pursues people because those relationships are how things move from one point to another. 

Manipulation ≠ Leadership

I need to clarify one question that often comes up when I speak about this publicly. The question is, “Isn’t this manipulative?” The answer is absolutely not, but it can be. I acknowledge that someone could, in theory, manipulate others by creating some kind of false relationship and trying to do things “with and through” them. I confess this may be possible. 

However, is a person who would do this the kind of person worth following? And using history as our guide, aren’t these people eventually found out? Once they are, isn’t their credibility destroyed? To be crystal clear, manipulation is not leadership. So that is NOT what I am referring to. 

I am referring to the human ability to bond with other human beings and create relationships that move things from one point to the other. Therefore, a leader should always pursue other people, especially when others lean out (even for legitimate reasons like a busy schedule). 

Followers don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. What turns you into someone worth following is being someone who cares, someone who builds relationships, and someone who values other human beings. 

You and I need to lean in when others lean out. Doing so helps us build the kind of relationships we need to do the things we will turn to in Parts 2-4 of this series. 

Hope Springs Eternal

The end of Jesus’ life on earth was filled with alienation, pain, and mocking. As Matthew recalls in the 26th chapter of his Gospel, “…the men stepped forward, seized Jesus, and arrested him” (26:50). The first reaction of Jesus’ disciples was violence (verse 51), but Jesus said no protection was needed from his friends (verses 52-56). This was, after all, the plan. As crazy as that sounds. 

Before long, however, Jesus was alienated and left to fend for himself. Peter gets picked on by modern readers, so it is important to clarify he was not the only one that left Jesus. All did. But Peter did deny that he knew Jesus (verses 69-75). Later on, this was all forgiven, and it serves as a reminder that we can always come back home to Jesus (John 21:15-17). 

Next for Jesus was physical pain. The soldiers “…spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him” (Matthew 26:67). A “crown of thorns was set on his head” (Matthew 27:29). “They struck him on the head again and again” (verse 30), and led him away to be crucified. Crucifixion involved the nailing of irons into his arms and legs. It was a brutal and unimaginably awful way to die. 

Yet, this was not the end. 

Besides the alienation of his friends and the pain he endured, Jesus also dealt with mocking. Early on, it came from the soldiers: “Then they knelt in front of him (Jesus) and mocked him” (verse 27:29). Later on the cross, it came from two rebels who hung beside him. Then it came from the religious leaders watching all the events take place in front of them: “…the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him” (27:41). 

The end seemed to be now approaching, but it was really just the beginning. 

You Are Not Alone

Do you feel alienated? 

Do you struggle with physical pain? 

Do you feel mocked? 

Do you feel like the end is coming? 

You are not alone. 

“After the Sabbath…Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the Tomb” (Matthew 28:1). If you were going to make up a story two thousand years ago, your last choice of witnesses would be two women. Women were not considered credible witnesses in that culture, yet Jesus’ resurrection starts with women because everyone matters to Jesus, and all are welcome. “Suddenly Jesus met them. ‘Greetings,’ he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him” (verse 9). 

Have you come to Jesus? The invitation is for everyone and anyone! 

But the religious leaders were not done yet. “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘you are to say, ‘his disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’” (Verses 11-13). 

What are we to make of this? Did the same disciples who alienated Jesus come and do this? Did they somehow manage to overcome Roman guards and move a large boulder guarding the tomb’s entrance? Or is this whole story just made up? 

I cannot speak for you, but I find it hard to believe that these disciples – the same ones that just alienated Jesus – would turn-around and come to spread the message of Jesus’ resurrection. Not only that, but that they would do so with such fervor that ten of them eventually would be martyred for doing so. That is, unless they were doing so from a place of being certain of what they had witnessed!  

But you have to decide on your own. 

The Hope of the World

In a world lacking hope, and in a world full of ridicule, alienation, and mocking, maybe it is time to reconsider the Hope of the World. 

Jesus is the one I follow because he is the perfect example of truth, love, and hope. He is my Savior. In fact, there are not enough words to describe him in the dictionary! My entire life changed when I discovered the Hope found in him. And there is nothing blind about it. It is there for anyone to see if they look for it. 

If anything written above tugs at your heart, maybe you should consider reading the book of Mark. You can read one chapter per day for the next 16 days and learn what Jesus says on his own. His words are better than mine! 

What I can say is this: 

Jesus welcomes all. 

You can set your bags down. 

There are no qualifications needed. 

Your past is just that, your past. 

You are home now. 

Easter morning is here. 

Hope springs eternal because of Jesus. 

Applying What We Learn

In recent years, one thing I have felt convicted about is my continual pursuit of more learning. Admittedly, this sounds silly on the surface. Undoubtedly, learning can’t be a bad thing, right? The reality that I’ve discovered, however, is that there are two dangers in continual learning. 

First, it can lead to pride. This can lead you to believe that your self-worth is tied to reading books, listening to podcasts, or learning from Ted talks. It might even tempt you to think that you are superior to those who fail to read or pursue improvement. None of these attitudes are healthy for a leader. 

Secondly, and more to the point of today’s post, continual learning keeps one moving from one thing to the next. There are always more books, podcasts, and potential pathways to self-improvement, especially in our current information age. But what happens when “more” is just that — more?  In other words, what happens when the information just stays as information? 


I am passionate to continue learning. But I’m also passionate about ensuring that my learning is accompanied by some application of what I’ve learned.

I use the qualifier “some” intentionally because not all information needs to be actionable. For example, I might read a book on a subject like bald eagles just to learn a few things about them and to engage in a subject that interests my 11-year-old son. Of course, this doesn’t mean I need to apply the learning directly and become a zoologist.  

But there are areas in my life, like leadership development, where I need to be a little more disciplined in terms of what I am applying. To do this, I need to remember, reflect, and respond. I’ll show you how to do this below using my blog homepage


This post is the 13th I’ve published since the start of 2023. I have covered a variety of topics that one can review by quickly scrolling. Does one jump out? For example: 

New Year, Same Old Mechanic (Spirituality) 

My New Year Promise (3 questions to start the new year) 

One More Question for A New Year, New Perspective (Attitude) 

The False Self Series 

The point of remembering is to reengage your mind on the material you have previously learned. 


Here is where you go deeper. It is also where you have to look within yourself. The question is, what jumps out at you? I heard the most feedback from readers about this post: The False Self Series, Part 6: Beating Myself Up about the Past. Maybe this post spoke to you? The point here is to listen to your gut, reread what jumps out, and reflect on how you need to implement it. 


After remembering and reflecting, here is where you apply the material. If you chose the post about beating yourself up, one application could be to find an accountability partner that you can meet with weekly. For example, I meet twice per month with my accountability partner and one of the areas I report on is how I talk to myself about myself. I’ve discovered that trashing myself indicates a lack of faith because my negative self-view of the past doesn’t align with Jesus’ current view of me. 

While I have used my blog as an example today, you can use the remember, reflect, and respond technique on just about any material you are studying. The point of today’s post is to encourage you to do so. This ensures that your head knowledge becomes heart knowledge, and I believe this will help you on your journey of becoming the kind of person others will want to follow.