Personal Growth

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. 

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. 

Overcoming Darkness: Shift Your Focus to Turn on the Light

This February, I’ve been writing about different kinds of adversity. And regardless of what type of adversity you face, it is hard. It can make you feel depressed and discouraged and turn your mood dark. 

I know this because, as I write these words, I am struggling with a persistent sinus infection and an even more persistent headache. Meanwhile, my sister just emailed me, letting me know that her good friend is losing her battle with cancer. I find myself feeling sad, discouraged, and on the verge of an epic pity party. Maybe my daughter has room on the couch to watch Disney movies? 

Despite this, I got up when my alarm went off this morning. I dragged myself to the gym in the dark and finished what I had started. Now I am at work facing my biggest question of the day: Where is my focus going to be? 

Is my focus going to be on the difficulty of my situation? 

Or, is my focus going to be external to me? 

Will You Choose Darkness or Light?

This question is a choice. I can choose to spend my time analyzing my sinus discomfort, wondering why the antibiotics don’t seem to be working, and even Googling potential alternative treatment options courtesy of random bloggers — we’ve all done it! I can let my sadness about the awfulness of cancer drag me down into a pit of despair. There is something comforting about wallowing there because it is socially acceptable. It’s justified. It’s allowed. 

But I have another choice available: I can choose to get outside of my head. I can start this by surrendering what I cannot control to God. To some, that might sound like a bumper sticker — but I’m not talking about any cliches or quick answers. I am talking about understanding reality. 

And in reality, there is little I can control. I can’t control the pace at which my body heals. I cannot control the brokenness of humanity and the sad reality of disease. I can’t control much much of anything, so I surrender. 

I found myself praying this prayer on the way from the gym to work: “Lord, let your will be done. Even if it is contrary to mine. Especially if it is contrary to mine.” 

Now my head may still be pounding, but I am free to turn the light back on. And the only way I know how to do this — when it is dark inside me — is to focus that light externally on others. 

This sounds cheesy, I know. 

But it’s how it works. 

An Indescribable Transformation

When I stop focusing on all the junk inside me and start focusing on being a light to others, something indescribable happens. My emotions are uplifted. My life is refocused. My purpose is reestablished. 

All of this is true, although my circumstances have not yet changed. But what has changed is my mindset. Instead of a wallowing, discouraged, and semi-depressed person, I am transformed into an others-focused, encouraged, light-sharing person. 

I have purpose, passion, and a renewed identity. 

In the moment, this is hard to do. But as I say regularly on this blog, the things worth doing in life are always hard. The easy path is wide and leads to where most people end up. The hard path is narrow, and it leads to abundance. Choose wisely. 

Please hear me when I tell you that this is a constant struggle for me. My self-absorption sometimes takes over and I wallow in self-pity. That darkness can run deep. 

But I recognize that I am at my best when I turn on the light let it shine for others. It is in those moments that I am someone worth following.

Battling the Yips in Golf and Life

Last summer, I participated in a golf tournament at my local club and failed. While I hit the ball well, I had a severe case of the putting yips. If you golf, you know that you aren’t supposed to talk about the yips — the nervousness that causes one to miss a putt — but I take ownership of what I experienced. The golf tournament was not that big of a deal, yet my body indicated that it was a huge deal. My hands shook, and even short putts were treacherous. 

Having played competitive golf in the past, my experience was surprising. And it was also embarrassing. While I learned later in the fall that there was a medical explanation for what I experienced — a lack of B12 due to the acid reflux medicine I was taking — the experience left me with feelings of shame and embarrassment. I remember driving home with a barrage of negative self-talk in my head that I am too embarrassed to share here and asking myself, “Isn’t this supposed to be fun?” 

My weekend golf adversity might seem different from the adversity one faces during the work week. Yet, in my mind, at that particular moment, it seemed the same — it felt like a big deal. Granted, it should not have been a big deal because I do not make my living playing professional golf. But that is not how the mind works; the mind makes things that one cares about a big deal. 

Golf Scores and Self-Worth

Let me pause and explain why golf is so important to me. The first thing I think about when I think about golf is my dad. My dad was an accomplished amateur golfer: First-Team All-American at Purdue, US Mid-Amateur Champion, Walker-Cup winning team participant, and Masters invitee. Did I mention he worked full time as well? 

On the other hand, I had a largely successful four-year stint in high school golf, but got entirely burned out by the end of my senior year. So instead of pursuing golf in college — I had the opportunity to walk on at Purdue or pursue scholarships at smaller schools — I stopped golfing entirely. For the next several years, I barely played. I eventually picked the game back up in my mid-20s, almost out of compulsion. I was headed into sales and was advised (not by my dad, but by others) that I should play golf. I still had some talent, so it became a “thing” to do. 

Since then, I have somewhat redeveloped a love for the game. I say “somewhat” because I still derive too much of my self-worth from what I shoot — hence my shaky hands in a somewhat meaningless country club weekend tournament. Let’s be honest, no one cares who wins that tournament, so it’s foolish I got so worked up over it! It is even more foolish to think my dad would evaluate my game and be embarrassed that I didn’t make a much-needed five-foot putt. To be fair to him, he has NEVER voiced or acted in a way that should lead me to think that. But it is buried somewhere deep in my subconscious, perhaps because I surmise that is what others think when they see it happen. 

When Golf Isn’t Just Golf

If you are still with me, is it clear in what I’ve shared that there is more than golf going on? This is why golf can lead me to a feeling of the blues in the middle of the summer. Adversity can come there, at work, and everywhere else. To be human is to be full of adversity. 

So, where do we go from here? The day this happened last summer. When I returned home, no one else was there, and I could feel myself growing really mad. I was angry that I allowed myself to be overcome by emotions on the golf course. Then I said to myself aloud, “Alex, you can be mad all you want. You can be embarrassed. You can feel like a piece of s**** (I told you my self-talk was not healthy!) You can ruin this whole day if you want. Or you can pick yourself back up and keep going on.” 

I know it sounds melodramatic. I am not proud that the above deals with a golf event. But, I am being real here. Reality was kicking my butt. 

Overcoming Adversity

I then remembered a few keys to overcoming adversity that always help me. If you have stuck with me until now, here is your payoff. These will help you the next time you feel like you are succumbing to your adverse situation. 

  • Simplify: I always need to remember to simplify things when adversity arises. This feels counterintuitive, especially in golf. The day my putting went whacko, I tried multiple grips, focused on different routines, etc. I was doomed from the start! I putt best when I think least.

    Similarly, when relational conflicts arise at work, I am at my worst when I analyze every aspect of the conflict and get “technical.” I perform better when I simplify things and see the big picture. In relational disputes, I do this by prioritizing the relationship over being right.
  • Take Action: After identifying what I need to simplify, I determine what action I need to take. I ask myself, “What is the next best thing I need to do?” In relational conflicts, this may mean affirming the relationship over the dispute. In my golf example, this meant going back to the golf course and practicing putting.
  • Continue: Pastor Craig Groeschel has said, “Successful people do consistently what other people do occasionally.” His statement is an affirming belief that I can rally around. Crag’s statement jibes with me because it reminds me that no matter how large my failure feels in the moment, I can continue to show up and get better.

Just sharing my putting yips experience in this post gives it less power over my future. I commit to continuing to show up, working on my putting and the rest of the game, while recognizing that my golf score is only one aspect of my life — and NOT where I derive my self-worth. Nor does it have any impact on my dad’s view of me.

Overcoming the Sunday Night Blues

Have you noticed that weather predictions are more extreme than they used to be? Living outside Chicago, it is common for meteorologists to predict that just about every winter storm will be the “storm of the season” these days. Yet, many of the dire predictions turn out to be wrong. 

It seemed like things were the exact opposite when I was growing up. While there was the occasional dire prediction, most of the time meteorologists predicted only a “dusting” of snow. Yet, many of the 2-3 inch predictions turned out to be 8-12 inches of snow, with wind and dangerously low temperatures! To be fair to meteorologists, it is best for us to be prepared for the worst when it comes to the weather — it is much easier to adapt to milder conditions than it is to quickly ramp up to deal with conditions that were harsher than we anticipated. 

All of these predictions and forecasting got me thinking about a topic unrelated to the weather: my weekly schedule. I have discovered that I often do the same thing meteorologists do when I forecast the upcoming week: regardless of what the calendar says, my mind tends to prepare for a “storm.” By late Sunday afternoon, I begin to feel my heart rate quicken and tension starts building in my body. I start feeling the Sunday night blues.

It is hard to accurately describe the feeling. Is it anxiety? Nervousness? Or simply anticipation? Medically speaking, I do not know. What I do know is that I do not dread going back to work. Nor am I worried about what might or might not happen. I do, however, feel a rush of cortisol (known as the “stress hormone”) and find it hard to wind down on Sunday evening. This often leads to me having difficulty getting to sleep on Sunday nights. 

Can you relate to anything I am describing above? If so, here are a few thoughts that may help you beat the Sunday night suffering. There are a few specific things that I am going to do to have better Sunday nights in 2022. 

  • First of all, like the weather, the more I allow myself to fixate on what I am feeling, the worse it tends to become. This is counterintuitive because, as humans, we tend to want to think about and then resolve problems. However, fixating on or even trying to resolve the tension I feel typically just revs up my adrenaline.

    So, the first thing I do is simply acknowledge exactly what I am feeling. I know this may sound strange, but I simply say to myself, “I feel you, adrenaline.” By accepting its presence, I leave behind denial. And by acknowledging the feeling, I can also get past any shame I feel about having the feeling. Shame is often the subtle voice in my head that says I should not get anxious about work because leaders should always have their emotions under control. THIS IS A LIE! Feeling and controlling emotions are two separate things. All humans experience emotions; acknowledging them can be the first step to gaining better control over them. Like the snow in January, emotions are simply part of the human journey. 
  • Next, I have begun using my mind as a weapon. One of the most impactful books I read in 2021 was Craig Groeschel’s Winning the War in Your Mind. In it, Craig encourages readers to write out positive declarations that retrain the brain to think differently.

    At first, this sounded crazy to me. But then I remembered something from my past that humbled me: I wrote out a positive declaration of how I wanted to play golf during my senior year of high school, and I read it before every round I played that year. I have no record of what it is on it, and I can’t remember 20+ years later, but I would pay someone a LOT of money for a copy of it since that was the best golf I ever played in my life. In fact, that season, I overcame the inevitable valleys to any golf season more productively than I had before or since. This is the power of the brain thinking positively!
  • The third thing I do when unpleasant emotions arise is practice gratitude. While gratitude is often cited as a key to perspective gathering, I have found that I usually need it the most when I least feel like practicing it. For me, this usually starts with gritted teeth. As an example, here is how I might practice gratitude when these feelings arise on a Sunday night and I cannot sleep: 


“Thank you, Lord, that I am alive to feel the adrenaline that is present. I feel other emotions as well. Thank you for life! Thank you that I have a job to go to tomorrow morning. Thank you that our business has been sustained (by You!) during this pandemic. All the meetings, tasks, and conversations ahead are good in the long term, even if they don’t feel like it today. They are good because I am alive, have work, and it is meaningful work to do. I cannot control when I go to sleep, so I will lay here be grateful regardless.”

Notice that my example of gratitude was both a positive declaration and an acknowledgment of what I was feeling. 

My hope is that by acknowledging your feelings, creating positive declarations, and practicing gratitude, you will be able to combat unpleasant emotions that come on Sunday or any other day. Some days will bring rain or snow, while others will bring the warm sun. To be someone worth following, we have to be the kind of people that accept whatever comes our way, maintaining perspective and an attitude of gratitude.

Goals Worth Living For

This month’s theme is intentional living, and so far I have written about how time can be your enemy and how you can decipher where to go in ‘22. Today, I’ll cover another aspect of intentional living: Setting goals.

Careful readers of this blog might have noticed that last week I shared that I create quarterly goals in pursuit of my overarching vision for the year. I will repeat that this is what I do, but it is not what this post is about. 

Rather, this post is about getting REAL about your long-term future. 

Did you notice I capitalized the word REAL? 

These are not the goals you are “supposed” to make. 

These are not the goals you think others would want you to make. 

These are not goals given to you by well-meaning people in your life. 

These are REAL goals.

These are YOUR goals. 

I know this sounds super cheesy. But, these are the kind of goals that are deep within your heart. 

Trust me, they are (still) there. 

I know that the last two years have been filled with so much stuff that your heart may feel callused and cold. Or is that just me? 

Honestly, it was me until a Friday morning in December. With the aid of some good coffee, a closed door, and quiet, I asked myself a simple yet profound question: 

What are the REAL goals that exist deep in my heart? 

I turned to a blank page in my notebook, took a deep breath, and began writing. 

About an hour later, I had 20 goals on the paper. They were the kind of goals that came to my mind immediately. In other words, they were not premeditated. Nor were they ones that I thought I “should” write down. 

They were simply real. 

For example: 

  • I want to be known as a Christ-follower that lives according to God’s word.
  • I want to have the best marriage with Sarah possible. 
  • I want to have healthy friendships with our kids when they are adults. 
  • I want to be known as someone that is ruthlessly generous. 
  • I want to live my full allotment of years so that I impact my GREAT grandchildren’s lives. 
  • I want to help lead Hoffer Plastics to 10X growth during my time here — for those on our team, I can share figures! 
  • I want to help set up family governance that ensures G4 and G5 success at Hoffer Plastics. 

This is a sampling of seven of my goals. Notice that they are aspirational in nature. They are heart goals, meaning they might not check off every aspect of the S.M.A.R.T. Goal framework. But they are inspirational and real. 

They are the kind of goals WORTH LIVING FOR. 

Here is what I know: the road ahead will not get any easier for you or me. There is no such thing as “normal” until events change again and you refer to whatever this is as “normal.” 

Read that last line again. 

Time is short. 

Live intentionally. 

Start by spending a few minutes this week dreaming about what you want to accomplish with the time you have left. 

Just be REAL. 

And then live it. 

Choose To See The Sun

It is a cold, sunny November morning as I write these words. It will be January before this post is published. Another month, another year. 

Three things are on my mind as I contemplate 2022:

  1. I write these words precisely one year after our friend’s daughter lost her battle to cancer. 
  1. I write these words two weeks after attending a conference where one of the exhibitors did not get out of bed in the morning. 
  1. I write these words as I enter my fifth decade. 

Time moves quickly. And there are no guarantees we, or those we love, will be here tomorrow. 

Time will march on nevertheless. 

So, the question then becomes, what are we going to do? Are we going to celebrate because “life is short but sweet for certain?” Are we to hunker down and do work that matters? Or, are we to leverage the time we have with the people we love? 

Yes. 

I point out the brevity of life to invite you to contemplate what matters. 

There has been a lot of STUFF infecting the limited time you and I have the past two years. 

Political divisiveness. 

COVID-19 commentary.

Mandates. 

News. 

Social Media.

Entertainment. 

Alcohol.

Drugs.

Consumerism. 

The list goes on. 

No lecture forthcoming. But, what jumps out to you? Has any of the above robbed you of the necessary headspace to live intentionally and well? 

What is important but not a priority? 

What is both unimportant and emotionally taxing? 

Do any offer a positive ROI on energy spent? 

No lecture. I trust you to decide. 

I have discovered that most of the items I have gotten worked up about are not worth getting worked up about. Further, most of the “fixes” do not offer the ROI required.

And I have discovered that time marches on regardless. 

So, here I am back on that November morning. I’m aware of the brevity of life. I am aware of the pain around me. I am aware that the clock is ticking for me too. 

I feel alive. 

I feel hopeful. 

Scroll back to the top. What did you notice in the first sentence? November? Cold? 

Or, did you notice that the sun was shining? 

The sun is shining.

It is still November, which means it gets dark too early in these parts of the country. 

It is cold, which is self-explanatory. 

So, 2/3 of the equation is negative. 

I am seeing the sun regardless. 

Are you? 

The clock is ticking. So, this month I am going to share thoughts on intentional living. Whether it is our individual lives or our leadership lives, intentional living is paramount in its importance. 

Intentionality starts with setting a direction. 

Next week I will dive into that. 

In the interim, choose to see the sun.