Special Post

scrabble pieces spelling rest

Spring BREAK

Growing up in the 1980s, I played a lot of “The Oregon Trail” video game. For those not familiar, “The Oregon Trail” was a simple game where the player assumes the role of a wagon leader and tries to guide settlers from Missouri to Oregon. Being able to play the game was usually an award for finishing some homework assignment in grade school. My buddies and I always raced to see who could make it first to Oregon. Unfortunately, I do not think I ever made it.

My character always died because I pushed him too hard and ignored the warnings about disease and malnourishment. In fact, as I was retelling this to my wife, not only could she not stop laughing, but I found out her character (supposedly) always made it to Oregon. She claims her character was probably an hour or two late in leaving Missouri, but I digress.

The reason she was laughing is because “little Alex” (as she likes to refer to the 1980s me) already had that get-up-and-go mentality. “Video game me” would push onward, even when my character had a snakebite or dysentery. Predictably, death would soon follow. Thank God it was only a video game!

Pivot to the present. One gift COVID-19 has given me is perspective. Being forced to slow down has showed me how much my life has been built on adrenaline. While this realization did not sit well with me at first, I came to appreciate it for the gift it is. And as a Christ-follower, I came to treasure the Sabbath for the gift it is as well.

Taking a break is often the hardest thing for a leader, like myself, to do. Tell me to hit the gym harder, read more books, or fly to the next sales meeting in Europe and I am on it! These things are actually easy for me to do. But, tell me to rest and do nothing, I immediately start to have heart palpitations.

Nothing?

I actually have a coach in real life because I am such a mess. He once told me NOT to read any books for a month. I laughed at him. He smiled back, but before he could say it again, I did it.

My self-worth is built on achievement, and achievement necessitates a never-ending “go-go” mindset.

Can you relate?

The reality, however, is that rest is needed to maintain health. It is needed for me, and it is needed for you.

So, here is the obvious formula for today’s post. Pay attention to it, so you do not miss it………

The only way to get rest is by taking a break.

That’s it. Take a break this week and rest.

If you are like me, you might need a few pointers. So, here are a few ideas I think about each week during my Sabbath. The list is not exhaustive, and meant to start priming your pump on what might work for you:

-Have fun by doing the “I get to” things, not the “I have to” things.

-Do not think about work, do work, or even mention work, for 24 hours.

-For the golfers, play an afternoon 9 without keeping score (or don’t keep track of whatever hobby it is that you enjoy. Do it only for the love of it!)

-Read fiction

-Get outside, look around, and explore

-Take a long walk without headphones or other distractions

-Nap

-Drink the “I am saving this bottle for a special occasion” wine

-Hug your spouse and kids

-Grill some good food

Your list can be entirely different. Just make sure your break is different from every other day or time in your normal day-to-day life.

And be sure to give yourself one before your real-life self begins to develop health problems.

robert hoffer

Dear Grandpa: Here Is What I Have Learned the Past Year

The first week of March always reminds me of my grandfather because he was born on March 3, 1919. What follows is a letter to him.

Dear Grandpa,

Little did I know on your birthday last year how much things in our country would change. The past year has been unlike any other that I have lived, so I thought I would share some of the lessons I have learned while leading the company with my two sisters.

COVID-19 brought a countless number of challenges with it. I would have to write a book to explore them all. Suffice it to say, I have thought a lot about your values, and how you lived your life, when making COVID-related decisions this year. For example, my sisters and I thought you would be slow to take out loans so we did not. Nor, did we have to, thanks in part to decisions you made decades ago. This reminded me how decisions I make today can, and probably will, impact future generations.

You would be amazed at the technology we have these days. It allowed some on our team to work from home early on in the Pandemic. But, I suspect you would caution the reliance our society has on technology. In fact, your example of walking the production floor daily motivated me to mask up and do the same, even when the Pandemic was at its worst. I suspect you would also advise that if our people on the plant floor are working, we better be there to support and show appreciation. So, that is what I, and our entire Executive Team, did.

I mentioned masks in the last paragraph and I should clarify that you have to wear them everywhere these days. I am not a fan because I do not like how they fog my glasses, and how they can make it harder to breath. But, I wear them anyway because I want to set an example. When I was an intern working on the roof cleaning air conditioners, you reminded me that everyone would be watching. That “lecture” made it easy to push my preferences aside and lead by example with regards to masks, temperature checks, and other personal protective equipment requirements we must adhere to these days.

Some of our team members still tell stories about what you would put up with, and often, the many things you would not! The latter has challenged me this year as a leader. Too often the human side of me, the one that wants to be liked, wins over and I fail to do a good job leading. You seemed to balance this better than me, or that is how it appears so many years later. Regardless, the topic of leading others, and nudging them out of their comfort zone, are the topics I would want to talk to you about if I had the chance.

Here are two things you would approve of:

Our rally cry during the downturn last year was to save as many jobs as possible. To that end, we did not lay a single person off!

We will go back to meeting face-to-face with customers when it is allowed. “Get your butt out and sell” is still an unofficial motto.

And, here are two things you would not approve of:

We often wear jeans to work. Even my dad occasionally!

The office is often quiet and we rely too heavily on technology to communicate.

While the former is going to stay, we are working on the latter. We are still a family, which means that relationally we have to be together in person.

A week ago I was driving home from an appointment and went a little out of the way to drive by your old house. Grandma and you lived there from 1953 until the end. This was a shining example of contentment. It struck me that you were always content at home and never content at Hoffer Plastics. I hope to model this in the year to come.

I miss you.

Signing off to go walk the floor.

Love,

Alex

alex hoffer

5 Actions I am Taking For Civility

The last week has been momentous for America. Naturally, I found myself having several conversations during the week about what was transpiring. Therefore, I am pivoting from my original post for this week and writing this post on January 8th. To be sure, what follows is not about politics. In fact, I started taking these actions long before last week. Division, in my opinion, is so prevalent that as a leader I need to have a plan. So, below is my plan. The challenge, as always, is for you to create your own. Without civility, leadership wanes and eventually dissipates because no one follows uncivil leaders for long.

Action 1: I am flooding my mind with the Bible.

I have always been disciplined about reading the Bible. But I am upping the ante this year. Why? Simply stated, we live in an era dominated by information so I want to ensure that my mind is filled with God’s word more than anything else. To do this, I am using the app “Bible in One Year” from Alpha. I invite anyone needing some hope to join me. With regards to civility, it leads to Action 2.

Action 2: I am praying more.

Prayer, understood properly, is a means of ACTION that connects us with God to see the world in the way God sees it (i.e., as it is unveiled in his Word, the Bible). My prayer starts with confession where I spend time identifying all my messes. It then leads to repentance, or when I ask God for help to walk in the opposite direction of those messes. I then praise God using attributes in the Bible (forgiveness, sovereignty, and countless others!). Then, I move to praying for others and myself (more on that in a second). Finally, I finish with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving reorients my life to what good is happening, even on weeks like last week.

So how does prayer lead to civility? Prayer is always more about changing who you are —becoming the person God wants you to be which is always, among many other things, more loving—rather than about “getting what you want.” So, I spend time praying for others, especially those I disagree with. I do this because it helps me see the world from their perspective by thinking about what they might need from God. This inevitability grows my love for them. For example, I once prayed so much for a customer who was giving me a hard time that I started loving them six months into it (it took about six months for me to overcome my lack of love!). A year later, after this customer had been fired from their own company, they called me first. This is not to brag; it is just an example of what prayer does: Praying increased my love for this person. And prayer always does this! To this day I think fondly of this person, despite some of the harsh things they said to me before I started praying for them.

Action 3: I am limiting my news intake to the A.M. only.

Are you still with me? If so, stop participating in the 24/7 news cycle. Seriously. STOP. It is unhealthy for everyone. Instead of doing this, I am reading two newsletters from the Wall Street Journal and a few articles in the paper that I find interesting. Then I stop, go to work, and actually work instead of being consumed by the news. When I get home at night, I unplug from the news. It will all be there in the morning. How does this help civility? Rest from the news gives one perspective and time to think. What would happen if individuals in our country thought more about what was happening rather than reacting on the spot to everything?

Action 4: I have eliminated all social media but LinkedIn.

I wrote about this last month, so I will make this brief. Social Media has positive elements so I am not going to say that it is all negative. But, my experience of it has demonstrated that people —including me! —are willing to post things on it that they would otherwise not say in public. This is not healthy. Combine it with the comparison game, or in my case, my temptation to make myself look better than I am, the right choice for me was to stop using it. If you are getting worked up reading what others are saying, either those you agree with or those you disagree with, it is time to get off of it. Let me repeat, it is time for you to shut your accounts down! Staying on, to quote Dr. Henry Cloud, is akin to having someone pee in your cereal and you complain how it tastes. Social media influences your brain and heart, and you need both to be civil. Use the time you used to spend on social media to do number 1 above, and number 5…

Action 5: I am reading more history books.

At the risk of over-generalizing, it feels like our society has lost perspective. History always gives perspective. What our country is facing right now is both similar in some ways, and different in other ways, from challenges in the past. It takes a thorough understanding of history to assess to assess what is really going on and why it matters. So, why not spend twenty minutes a day reading history and learning so that you can put what is happening in its appropriate context?

For leaders this is particularly important. If we are charting the course for others to follow, shouldn’t we have an understanding of the past? Furthermore, as it relates to civility, shouldn’t we be reading books about the wrongs of the past (like slavery and racial injustices) that grow our compassion and understanding for people not like us? And wouldn’t that time be far more impactful and more useful than reading what our high school “friend”- who we have not seen in twenty years—has to say about what happened last week on social media?

Civility is still possible.

Let that sink in because I know to many it does not feel like it.

It is going to take leaders, people that are worth following, to forge the way of civility. I am not waiting for politicians to figure this out.

Rather, I am going to be civil right now.

More aptly, I am going to love because I am loved by a heavenly Father. Thanks be to Jesus for that.

Will you join me?

woman typing on laptop in factory

3 Not So Obvious Reasons Why Manufacturing Matters

According to the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturers accounted for 11.39% of the total output of the economy, and employed 8.51% of the workforce in the year 2018. Another 2018 study done by PRNewswire-USNewswire found that family-owned businesses create 78% of new U.S. jobs and employ 60% of the workforce (obviously this accounts for more than manufacturers). While I am admittedly biased to the importance of these numbers given that I have grown up in a family-run injection molding business, I resoundingly believe in the importance of manufacturing for multiple reasons that extend beyond the reasons already mentioned (economic output and job creation). Here are three not so obvious reasons why manufacturing matters.

Manufacturing provides dignity to large segments of society that are not offered legitimate opportunity elsewhere. CBS news reported in December 2019 that “about 40% manufacturing workers now have college degrees,” but this means that more than 50% do not. To this end, manufacturing offers many job opportunities to people with only a high school degree. Manufacturing jobs also shield many from unnecessary debt. Given that by November 2020 the average borrower owed $37,172 in student-loan debt, manufacturing can be a better alternative than attending four-year universities for some. While this is not a plea that four-year education as we know it is finished, nor is it a suggestion that four-year degrees are not worthwhile for some fields, it is to say that manufacturing can offer job opportunities that are not available in other fields. Further, manufacturers are often willing to pay for trade schools, and in some cases, four-year degrees through apprentice programs. These programs not only provide jobs at their completion, they also shield enrollees from unnecessary debt. What makes this all-the-more important is that manufacturing cares little about race, gender, or any external marker. Admittedly, this was not true historically, but the times have changed. At Hoffer Plastics we are observing women working in the traditionally male-dominant tool room, and minority workers in automation, maintenance, and various other programs. This is an awesome development!

In addition to giving human beings dignity, manufacturing provides for the upward mobility of the worker. While some continue to point to the historical injustices of the past, and assume they are still prevalent today, my experience suggest these stigmas are no longer true in manufacturing. My personal belief stems from the relationships I have had at Hoffer Plastics with individuals that have advanced all the way to the top of our organization from the “ground-level.” One man, for example, rose from an entry-level worker to General Manager, and another woman rose from an entry-level inspector to the Director of Quality. Both of these individuals have since retired, but we still have examples to point to like a first-generation immigrant leading our Tool Room, and several Plant Managers who began their careers as 18-year-olds in entry-level positions. In talking with leaders at other manufacturers, our experience is hardly exceptional. This is because manufacturing continually needs more people than generally available in the job pool. Therefore, manufactures are incentivized to grow people within, and subsist on a meritocracy based on equal opportunity. Upward mobility of the worker will be our collective lifeblood going forward.

Finally, in addition to the dignity and upward mobilization of the worker, manufacturing impacts the local community in multiple ways. First and foremost, manufacturing provides jobs to communities that depend on them. What I mean here is jobs in rural places where other job opportunities are sparse. Our business, for example, has taken me to cities in North America, Europe, and Asia, that would be otherwise off the beaten path. Without manufacturing, one could question how the people living in these communities would make a living? Further, manufacturing supports local communities through charitable giving. Admittedly, this various from manufacturer to manufacturer. But, I have been personally reminded of this during the last twelve months as non-profits have reached out to us for assistance during these trying times. While other manufacturers may have a different world view, we believe that any success of ours leads to good news for those in our community. To that end, we want to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with by giving back and hopefully blessing others. This may sound idealistic, but it is what we have done for almost seven decades. We applaud those who do the same, and there are many!

While this post differs in content from the usual discussion on leadership and personal development, I start off 2021 with it because advocating on behalf of manufacturing jobs is a large part of my professional why. I am continually challenged when I walk our floor and converse with team-members of various ethnicities, faiths, and just about every kind of belief system imaginable. Yet, despite all these differences, we have collectively come together through the reality of manufacturing. As our society continues to have serious conversations about all these matters, and as tensions have continued to rise, manufacturing can be part of the solution. Simply put, manufacturing done well is a place where people come together to make things that benefit others. So, leaders, our desire for the improvement, advancement, and the value of human beings can never be questioned.

In the professional context, my advocation for manufacturing jobs will never tire because human beings, all human beings, matter to God. Thus, they matter to me. So, to that end, let’s utilize manufacturing and all work for the betterment of human beings and community.

alex hoffer with family integrity service and trust in background

Special Post: Health, Humility, and Faith.

Occasionally, I pause from leadership topics to write a more personal post. This is one of those. What follows may seem fictional, but I can assure you that it is not. My ask is that you share this post with someone if you think it will give them encouragement.

My story begins with a small pain, the kind that is both not that noticeable, but never fully gone. After living with this on-and-off again pain throughout the Summer, I mentioned it to my doctor during my annual physical. Is it a hernia, I asked? She was not concerned, but referred me to a surgeon just to be sure.

Before using her referral, however, I wanted to make an appointment with another surgeon I knew personally from my golf club. So, I called his office and tried to make an appointment. The switchboard, however, asked me several questions, and I ended up being told I needed to see someone else altogether. While this sounds immaterial, it later became important because it forced me to see the surgeon my doctor had ultimately referred me to.

A week later, the day after my birthday no less, I discovered I needed double hernia surgery. While this surgery was needed—eventually—the doctor gave me the option for “watchful waiting.” So, over the course of the next week or so I prayed and asked God for some guidance as to what I should do. While I did not feel an “epiphany,” I did come to terms with the peaceful feeling that October 23rd would be my surgery date and the best time to get this taken care of. Health first, I thought.

Little did I know how much the health first lesson would be driven home in the following weeks…

The surgery day came and the procedure went seemingly well. That is until I tried to walk post procedure. I immediately felt a pain that I had never had before. I felt so nauseous that I almost passed out. The nurse assured me that this was normal, probably a side-effect of the anesthesia. A few hours later, Sarah and I were at home eating a small dinner.

It was the last meal I would eat for seven days.

The next morning began with more serious pain. I felt bloated, tired, and simply uncomfortable. The doctor had told me prior to surgery that I would be okay to walk the neighborhood the day after surgery, but that felt like a pipe dream. Tomorrow, I thought.

Tomorrow came but it was much worse. This led Sarah to call the doctor on call, and I will spare you the details of what the doctor suggested that I try to alleviate my symptoms because they were the kind of measures too embarrassing to share here. “If they don’t work,” the doctor said, “then you need to come in.”

By 8 p.m. I was admitted into the emergency room. This led to a quick CT scan and the emergency room doctor telling me that I was going to be admitted after they inserted an “NG Tube” into me.

Objective Pause 1.0

What is an “NG Tube?” A nasogastric tube (NG tube) is a special tube that carries food and medicine to the stomach through the nose. In other words, the only way in is up through the nose and down into the stomach. I asked the nurse how long “this fun” (I used those words) would take, and she said that it would be the “longest” two minutes of my life. With that, I told Sarah to take a walk, and the three of us (another nurse was present) started the weirdest “fraternity” party of my life —I call this a “fraternity” party because one nurse yelled for me to “chug” water through a straw while the tube went down my throat. This was to ensure that it went into my stomach and not my lung.

I cannot find any two minutes that capture 2020 more than these two.

The days—not hours—to come were complex. The first day featured a litany of tests that confounded my doctor because I passed them all. Could this simply be that my stomach was “slow” to wake up post-surgery? In hopes that this was the case, the doctor ordered a test where a “dye” was injected into my IV. The goal was to see whether it could make it all the way through my system. While this is a little gross to put in writing, it is important to share because a few hours later led to the closest thing I have ever experienced in terms of a dark night of the soul.

It was about 8 p.m. in the evening, or about 5 hours after the test had begun, when the pain went from a “5” to a “10.” I was writhing in pain by 8:30 p.m. I am not too proud to admit that I began crying out God. This is no figure of speech either, I was so uncomfortable that I was literally talking aloud in my hospital room. By 11:30 p.m. the pain was so intense that I was asking Jesus to take me home.

Objective Pause 2.0

There is much to say about pain and why God allows pain in our lives. There is a lot to say even about sin, the fallibility of man, and theology in general. I am happy to go into more detail of what I believe in person, but suffice it for now to say that I have gone astray in my personal life. I am a sinner, meaning I often choose “my will” and preferences, over God’s. Further, I often think “my way” is best. But it never is. While this does not fully explain pain, the reality is that one day I will die because death is the natural consequence of separation from God (the source of life). So to a certain extent, the pain I was feeling in this instance may not have been “fair,” but it was certainty not “unjust.” In fact, it is only because of amazing grace that I don’t experience more pain in my life.

Objective Pause 2.5

I would also be remiss to say that even though I have had moments in my life where I felt God speak in one way or another, this moment was not one of them. That said, and as events would play out, I still never felt alone. This was admittedly an odd juxtaposition. But, spiritual life is not simple or explainable. So, I cannot adequately explain any of this and make note of that reality here.

By the mercy of God, the pain eventually subsided throughout the night. The next morning I began circling the hall of my hospital floor pushing my IV. I was encouraged to do this by the doctor in order to get my system moving. The nurses cheered me on as I walked lap after lap (about 380 feet per lap). I would end up totaling over 100 laps over the course of the week, an accomplishment that the fighter in me is proud of!

For the sake of time, the next two days were a mixed bag. There were moments when my system seemed to indicate that I was on the path to healing. But, these were quickly followed by the harsh reality that something was still very wrong. By 5:00 p.m. on night four in the hospital, the surgeon looked at me and said that he thought he needed to operate the next morning. I fully agreed.

Objective Pause 3.0

As the surgeon told me, you never want to be the “odd” medical case. Nor, do you want to be the case that stumps the surgeon. Nor, do you want to be the case the surgeon needs help on. Nor, do you want to be the case that delays all the other surgeries the following morning. As luck would have it, I was all of the above!

I awoke early the morning of October 30th and did my Bible reading. Afterwards, I spent time praying for the nurses, staff, and doctors that would take care of me that day. I cannot explain how or why, but I had a sense of confidence. The one thing I wanted to avoid was MORE surgery, yet over the course of the previous five days, I had surrendered to God’s will. In fact, I told God, “I do not like what is happening, but I trust you Father. I do not get it, but I know you are Good. My hope is not in this surgery being successful, but in an eternity with you.” In fact, the more alone time I had that week, the more I realized how vain my hopes often are: business, success, political outcomes, material things, etc. These things are not bad, they just are not as important as I often make them. I also thanked God for how strong my wife is and was through all of this. What a blessing it is to have a rock, human speaking, in times like these! I am blessed beyond belief!

As I lay on my bed awaiting surgery, I observed how beautiful the culture is at Delnor Hospital. Nurses hugged each other, doctors gave each other fist bumps, and everyone treated me with respect. My surgeon was ALL-IN throughout the week and met me before 6:30 a.m. on surgery day. Having sported a University of Iowa headband during our first surgery, the historian in me joked that today, “we are all Hawkeyes,” which made him laugh (look up President Reagan’s exchange with his surgeon in 1981 for context).

The good Lord took it from there. Here are the two texts Sarah sent our family to summarize how my surgery went:

“Surgery was a success! Praise the Lord. Apparently there was a small tear in the periteneum (sp?)—thin layer between muscle and intestines. This happened during surgery or after. We don’t know. But a small piece of the small intestine got caught in it and caused an obstruction. Dr pulled it out—intestine is totally healthy so he put it back in place and sewed the hole shut. (This is my layman’s understanding lol!). Bottom line is he will be fine!!! Hopefully going home tomorrow or Saturday. Thank you for your prayers. God is so good even when things are hard. And we are so thankful for the community of support we have!

Another cool god thing is that the surgeon said in 25 years of practice he’s never seen this happen. BUT recently there was a virtual surgery conference and he happened to click on a session about post op complications that showed exactly this. It’s what gave him the nudge to do surgery and it was exactly what he found.”

Objective Pause 4.0

I am thankful that I somehow was directed to this surgeon, even when I tried to make an appointment with a different one. I do not have enough faith to believe this was happenstance. Rather, I believe it was the divine hand of God.

5 Lessons

As I write these words, six days have now passed since my second surgery. My health continues to improve, and I am walking about 3 miles per day outside! Here are some thoughts to end this post:

  1. In manufacturing, and apparently surgery, things happen. It is not a matter of “if”, but rather a matter of how you react when they do. I thank God that I had someone who worked the problem with me. This is what leaders do! (And, in case you are wondering, as unfortunate as my situation was, I hold no ill-will or blame towards anyone.)
  2. I spent seven days not eating, most experiencing the pain of my small intestine breaching an abdominal wall. Still, my self-talk during this week often revolved around calling myself names for not being a “man” with pain. This is a humble lesson to learn. Negative self-talk does not help anything. Further, I will take pain a lot more seriously in the future.
  3. While this blog will continue to talk about leadership and personal development, this experience teaches me that my priorities are: God, health, Sarah, kids, and everything else. Why that order? Because without health I am of little good to Sarah, the kids, and Hoffer Plastics.
  4. While I was in the hospital, Hoffer Plastics had an AWESOME October. I am so replaceable it is both funny and awesome. This is just one more reason to take health seriously…(Great job team!)
  5. While I cannot speak for anyone else, my hope is rooted in the eyewitness account of the resurrection of Jesus. Nothing else matters.

In closing, I suppose if 2020 has taught me anything, it is to keep the faith when life gets hard, humility is a virtue we should all strive for, and always expect the unexpected.

thankful sign on wood

Thanksgiving 2020

2020 has been a year unlike any other, except, there HAVE been years like 2020. Wait, how can that be? In reading John Barry’s, The Great Influenza, I discovered how the influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 was horrific in ways unmatched since. Racial, and even political divisions, have also been greater in our history – years like 1860 and 1968, come to mind. Further, the economic recession this past Spring does not even compare to the Great Depression. While these may be considered “small wins,” in the year of 2020, they are not even that. They just simply are. And, they point to the need for a collective perspective.

Perspective is rare these days because discontentment, anger, and rage have never been more in vogue. The point of this post is not to dwell into the necessity of societal change — my position is that it is, to some degree, needed —but rather, to take a time-out from such dialogue in order to gain perspective. I submit that leaders are worth following when they get above the fray, look onto the horizon, and remind their followers not only what they (still) have, but also what they have received. With the time remaining in this post, I will do just that.

Perspective always leads to thanksgiving. For me, this is true because perspective always begins with the realization that I am not God. Therefore, all that I have is not “mine” necessarily. I did not arrange to be born into my family of origin, have the upbringing I had, nor the amazing hair genes that I have! But, I am truly thankful for all of this.

While the 18 year old version of me —dyed blond hair no less—thought to a certain extent that I was god, something transpired over the following 7 years that changed me from the inside-out. While this transformation may provoke eye-rolls, I found that doing life with Jesus has been entirely transformative for me. I am not embarrassed by that or Him, hence my inclusion here. I am so thankful I am His.

I am thankful that I met a girl named Sarah in 2005 at a church event at Joe’s Bar off North Avenue in Chicago. Marrying her continues to be the best human decision I have ever made. I am thankful she has not grown tired of me yet, especially this year when I have been extra moody on occasion. I am, and always will be, thankful for Sarah.

Will, Ben, and Sadie, are amazing blessings that continually remind me of my fallen nature. They know exactly how to push my buttons, which always reminds me how much I have to grow in terms of patience. That said, we have a lot of fun together and I could not have asked for better kids. I am thankful for them.

I spend an inordinate amount of time at work and I am thankful every Monday morning that I have a job. You might find this hard to believe, but I started 2008 unemployed as a high school substitute teacher – one course short of a Master’s degree. That humbling experience taught me to value every day that I am employed. It also taught me that my “professional why” is largely based on using the skills I have been given to ensure that people have jobs. Therefore, I am thankful for work, even when it is really hard like it has often been in 2020.

I am thankful for the 400 plus people at Hoffer Plastics that I consider my family. While 2020 has been difficult, I am continually amazed at their hard work, dedication, and willingness to show up no matter what. We never closed for COVID-19 and yes, they showed up. I will never forget walking the floor those early days of the pandemic. It was a demonstration of everyone being all-in. It is always “us,” and never “me,” here. So, I am thankful for every one of “us.”

Finally, I am writing this post in the middle part of October — long before the Presidential election has been decided. Don’t worry, I am not going to pivot politically here. But, I am going to point out how thankful I am for different perspectives, free speech, and free religion. I am at my best when my mind is open to the perspectives of people that I do not necessarily agree with, don’t share my political or religious affiliations, or sports rooting interest. In fact, I contend that to be a leader worth following deeper into the 21st century, I am going to need to grow in my ability to be more accepting of those differences. I suspect the same can be said for most leaders.

I close by citing the opening paragraph of Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 “Thanksgiving Proclamation”…….

“The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and even soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.”

Lincoln wrote these words towards the end of the bloodiest conflict in American History.

Perspective was as rare then as it is now.

Let us all lean-in to being thankful this holiday season, especially when it seems so difficult to do.

covid 19 model

Special Post: What I learned from having COVID-19

This is the second post I have tried writing about my experience with COVID-19. I discarded the first because it felt inauthentic. There is a lot to say about COVID-19, my experience with it, and what I learned. What follows is just me being real.

Most people want to know how serious my case was and I always tell them that it was somewhere between mild and moderate. Thankfully, I did not have major respiratory problems. The next thing most people want to know is where I got it? COVID-19 is not something you pick up at the grocery store, although you can accidentally pick it up there. I think I got it coaching kids baseball, but does it really matter? Finally, they want to know if I passed it on to anyone? While this is never asked so bluntly, I kind of wish it were because there are no reasonable answers to the question. You simply cannot know for sure, so let’s not dance around it. What I think I know, however, is that my wife and kids never got it.

At least not yet.

It sort of feels inevitable given the world we are living in right now.

If I were to sum the lessons I learned from having COVID-19 into one line it would be this: Have more grace for what other people are going through, and have more grace for their opinions about a global pandemic.

We simply do not need to be this divided over a virus.

My experience with the disease was manageable. My experience of others with me having the disease was often depressing.

Some called to offer support.

Others called to voice opinions, pile on, and even critique past decisions.

Sarah and I are book nerds, so I told her it felt like I had a “scarlet letter” around my neck.

All this again pointed me back to grace. I continually told myself that those voicing opinions, piling on, and critiquing me were all stressed and scared. Upon self-reflection, I realized that I led poorly when stressed or fearful. So not only could I relate, but I also forgave the hurts these opinions caused. This was only accomplished through daily prayer as prayer guided me from resentment to grace.

“I don’t need your prayers,” some say. Others shame anyone who even offers to pray. Well, I need all the prayers I can get and I think our world would be better with more of them. In retrospect, my prayer life carried me through the uncertainty of the entire experience of having COVID-19.

I also realized that I need rest. Can you relate? Maybe we all need to sleep for a few days straight while turning our phones and T.V. Off? A 24/7 blackout for a few days might be what we all need to function again…

During my isolation I spent a morning drinking coffee, listening to an audio book, and watching the field outside our house getting plowed. It was peaceful until I realized I had accomplished nothing. Then I realized how much my identity can be based on productivity and achievement. This is a “watch out” for me, and one both my Executive Coach and an accountability partner help me with. This realization also reminded me that I need give myself grace as well. Perhaps you need to give yourself some too.

My wife, on the other hand, always shows up for these kinds of moments. And she did again! She also had a few moments where she freaked out. She probably won’t like me including that here, but that is 2020 in a nutshell: You keep showing up for the big events, eventually you freak out, and then you go on with living.

Speaking of living, one of the best moments came the first Friday after I tested positive for COVID-19. My friend told me he was coming over to hang. Before you turn us in, we sat more than six feet apart and were also outside. We cracked open a beer and talked about God, life, and everything happening in 2020.

It was a new normal.

Like 2020.

I am healthy.

I am thankful.

I am more graceful.

Hugging my 3-year-old daughter after isolation might be the best moment of 2020…

covid 19 model

Special Post: WHOOP and COVID-19

WHOOP exists “to unlock human performance. We believe that every individual has an inner potential that they can tap into if they can better understand their body and their behaviors. … We summarize your sleep, your recovery and your strain, and we look at everything through that lens.” (Author’s note, I changed the personal pronouns in the above and copied it from the WHOOP website).

Thanks to my teammate and friend, Justin Markel, I have been wearing a WHOOP strap for about two weeks now. I have a LOT to say about the positive impact it is already making on my life, but will save that for a later post.

I am writing today because of this podcast: Podcast No. 80: Pro Golfer Nick Watney on How WHOOP Warned Him of COVID-19

To be someone worth following, you have to be healthy. WHOOP gives one the ability to monitor real-time health data and make activity decisions on the data rather than relying on feelings and emotions. In Nick Watney’s case, this meant getting tested for COVID-19 rather than playing one more round of tournament golf. His heroic action safeguarded many from COVID-19 exposure.

If any of the above intrigues you, try WHOOP out for free with the link below.

Get a free WHOOP strap and your first month free when you join with my link: https://join.whoop.com/#/635A14

BONUS: If you decide to try WHOOP out, feel free to join our group: “Hoffer Plastics and Friends” where we can spur each other on to better performance.

closeup of woman's eye with tear running down

I Do Not Know…

Growing up in suburban Chicago I had the mistaken notion that racism was a thing of the past. When a long-term friendship with someone from a different race morphed into a dating relationship, I learned how mistaken this notion was. The first time we walked into a restaurant as a couple, people glared at us. It was almost as if they wanted to ask what the two of us were doing together? In sharing this experience with a peer back at Purdue University a few days after it happened, they commented, “Hoffer, I would never date a black girl.”

I could not believe what I was hearing.

My peer had grown up in a different part of the country and did not represent the countless people I encountered at Purdue University with views of racial equality. So, their ignorant, especially hurtful, comment notwithstanding, I pray that given the vantage point of twenty more years of life experience they would take a “do over” on what they said that day.

Why share this experience today? Well, like most of the country I have been saddened by the events that have transpired the last seven days. Like my experience walking into the restaurant, I thought we were past this in our country, but I have come to realize all over again that we are definitely not.

A few years after the incident above, I found myself student-teaching at Sullivan High School in downtown Chicago. Those few months exposed me to everything from illegal immigrants (such a callous phrase when said person works harder than all the other kids you teach and was brought to the country as an infant). There were also new students from Africa, and countless African American kids from the inner-city. As every High School teacher can attest, I learned more from these kids than they did from me. And as I have mentioned on this blog before, the sight of Mercy, one of the new students from Africa, tasting chocolate for the first time is one that I will take to the grave.

This experience taught me that life is more complex than CNN or Fox News (or whatever you prefer) makes of it. Topics like racism and illegal immigration are more complex than a short blog can dwell into, the point is that their complexity helped me come to a life-altering realization: It is better to say “I do not know what so and so is experiencing” rather than trying to argue, condemn, or offer tweet-sized rationales of what is happening.

The fact is that I do not know.

This blog is about leadership. To be someone worth following, you need to be open to the other side. Openness involves thinking, listening, and understanding. How much better would things be if some of are leaders did that? What if they read voraciously about civil rights and talked directly with generations of people who have experienced racism? Would their thoughts and words change?

This week has reminded me of my own need to do all the above. And I commit to doing so.

I am obviously not an African American. So, I do not know how I would feel if I were an African American right now.

As a white American, however, I can say that I am mourning with those who mourn.

I am incredibly sad.

As a follower of Jesus, I can say that this is not what God intended. Disunity is always from the dark side and never from God.

I suppose that what I have written so far might turn off some of my readers. My intent with this blog is to share leadership insights that encourage you to be someone worth following. You don’t have to buy-in to my faith in Jesus –all faiths are welcome – but I would ask for you to be open and respectful towards others. We can learn from everyone!

Similarly, you do not have to have the same passion or zeal for racial equality that I do. But I would ask you to be open and interested in race relations because this world needs more people bringing people together.

We need justice.

We need to bring order out of chaos.

We need to mourn with those who mourn, and rejoice with those who rejoice.

These are the things that real leaders do…

group of young children

Time for Action

As the West’s experience of COVID-19 continues into another month, I have begun noticing patience growing thin. I have noticed myself becoming more critical of decisions being made by governmental officials, and more annoyed at the inconveniences of sheltering in place. The economic decline, and potential repercussions, add to the already immense stresses of the health situation. It all feels overwhelming.

That said the extent of my personal suffering can be characterized by a slowdown of business, inconveniences at home, and various other inconveniences abroad. While I do know a few whose experiences are far worse, I would guess that approximately 95% of the people that I am close to have had experiences similar to me.

This post is for the 95%, not the other 5%.

In WORLD magazine’s May 23rd issue, there is a story about how refugees and displaced people in other parts of the world are dealing with COVID-19 (the story is entitled, “Stalling Tactics” and written by Mindy Belz and Onize Ohikere). Reading this story taught me the following:

  • 26 million refugees live outside their home country
  • 40 million are displaced in their own country (There are 6.2MM displaced in Syria alone).
  • Refugee camps are almost everywhere: Africa, Europe, and Asia.
  • Refugee camps are dense. Population density for one camp on the Greek Island of Lesbos has a density of 204 people per 1,000 square meters. Compare this to the now infamous Diamond Princess Cruise ship that had a density of 24 people per 1,000 square meters, and you see the potential for tragedy (For comparison: 712 people tested positive on the cruise ship and 9 died).
  • Most of these camps lack the medical infrastructure to handle a global pandemic. One camp in Africa, for example, has one intensive care unit with 10 hospital beds and no ventilators.

And I thought I was overwhelmed?

The point of this post is perspective, education, and a challenge to do something.

My point on perspective is NOT the following, “see, things are not so bad here.” Rather, my point is that there is a larger, potentially more impactful, COVID-19 problem that many of us are not even aware of. I was not until I read the aforementioned article. This reality gives me perspective that I am dealing with “inconveniences,” not “life or death” situations.

I am also sharing because this is a leadership blog. To be someone worth following we not only have to be aware of what is going on in the world, but we also have to care enough to act.

This means the last two things: education and action.

We need to expose ourselves, and our team, to the plight of others in this world. Doing so increases our capacity for the “other,” which is the cornerstone of leadership. Caring for the “other” inevitably carries us to helping solve their problems. In the COVID-19 sense, our “first world problems” should lead to “first world innovation.” Our excess in capital, and medical supplies, could save lives.

The question is whether or not it will.

This leads to the action…

My invitation to you is to think through what YOU can do. Can your company invent something that can be used in a refugee camp? Can it help in any sort of way, even in a small way? Or, can you personally contribute to an organization already on the front line? While there are many worthy organizations that are doing this kind of work, Samaritan’s Purse is one that I recommend and support.

The point is to do something.

“They will survive on their own resources, or they will die in droves,” Steve Gumaer of Partners Relief stated.

Let’s do our best to help save lives.

Let’s put actions behind our words because that is what true leaders do.