Special Post

An Uncomfortable Post to Write

Last week, I shared a post about the importance of taking your shot. My goal with that post was to reach someone waffling on a decision and encourage them to take their shot. 

And now, I’m going to take another shot — even though it feels uncomfortable and awkward — and tell you about something I’m proud of and excited about. It feels odd and self-promotional (something readers of this blog know I avoid like the plague), but at the risk of being accused of “tooting my own horn,” I’m stepping outside my comfort zone just like I suggested you do.

First, a little background: MAPP (Manufacturers Association for Plastic Processors) holds an annual benchmarking conference each fall that has positively impacted my team members and me. Since 1997, MAPP has brought plastic processors together in various forums to learn from each other, challenge each other, and grow relationally. In short, it is an organization that embraces authentic leadership — the process of doing things with and through other people. 

I have been blessed to speak several times at MAPP’s annual benchmarking conference in breakout sessions — intimate Q&A sessions with 10-50 people in a small classroom setting. This has been a great experience where I learned as much as I taught — the audience’s insights and encouragement meant I left the conference feeling fired up to get back to work! 

Out of My Comfort Zone

This year, MAPP has asked me to do something out of my comfort zone. Instead of speaking in a breakout session in a small classroom, they requested I give a talk on the main stage in front of hundreds of attendees. Admittedly, their ask made my heart beat a little faster — and it still does as I write this now! But, I am taking my shot. 

I am taking my shot because the topic I will discuss — shared leadership — is near and dear to me and something I think will help the audience rethink their views about leadership. 

Influence and Leadership

Leadership is the process of doing things with and through other people; it always involves others. And when a leader realizes that their leadership is based on influence — and that no one has a monopoly on influence — their eyes open up to the possibility of other leaders. External factors like experience, title, and status, become irrelevant, and influence takes precedence. 

As I have learned at Hoffer Plastics, a college intern and upcoming retiree may not have much in common, but both can and should influence our organization. We are better when we listen to both. We improve through shared leadership. 

A Question of Legacy

Of course, I have a lot more to say about this topic (and I will at the conference!), but I want to leave you with one parting thought on shared leadership for today — and it’s a question of legacy. When you’re at the end of your life, what do you want to be known for? Is it some arbitrary list of accomplishments? Or, is it something else? I have a clear idea of what I want my legacy to be, and I’ll start my talk at MAPP’s benchmarking conference with that thought. In the meantime, thank you for indulging me in this moment of self-promotion, and I hope you can join me on October 5 and 6 in Indianapolis.

Dear Papa

Over the past few years, I’ve written a letter to my Grandpa Hoffer around the date of his birthday. It occurred to me that my other grandfather, Papa, has also significantly impacted my life. What follows is a letter to my mom’s dad, my Papa. I include it on the blog this week because his birthday, July 5th, is smack dab in the middle of summer, and summer is often a time when leaders slow down and take stock. 

I hope this letter encourages you to remember your past. How has it shaped who you have become today? And how can you honor your past in your leadership going forward? Above all else, I hope “remembering” recharges you as it has for me. 

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Dear Papa, 

I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about what I might write to you. To start with, I miss you. Since you passed in 2005, my life has changed in so many ways — it feels like a lifetime ago. Yet, when I think back to our time together, the days of yesteryear are precariously close. The only plausible explanation for this feeling is that my fondness for those days goes deep. Those days shaped the man I have become. 

When I look at my three kids, I can’t help but think how much you would love them! I imagine you watching baseball late at night with Will and me. He has somehow inherited your love for sitting quietly and watching baseball. I‘ve told him (more times than I can count) that he has inherited this love from you. Like you, he is willing to put team allegiances aside to celebrate good baseball. I have also told him that you were the only person I knew who saw Babe Ruth play in person. His eyes always grow wide in amazement. 

Meanwhile, Ben eats like you — which means he eats everything, something I’m sure you’d be proud of. I have taken him to a few Cubs games this year, and he has demolished the buffet in our seating area! Ben has such a curiosity for life that I am sure he would tire you out with questions. He specifically wonders about your war experience. You would appreciate the gentleness of his soul. 

Sadie is something else entirely. She is tough, sweet, and a princess — all in a matter of minutes. As you would be able to tell quickly, there is a reason her middle name is Jean. In fact, I call her “Momma Jean” when she is barking orders at her older brothers. But most of all, you would love her hugs. There’s nothing like them on this planet. 

As the years have rolled on, I have always remembered our long Evansville summer days, with their oppressive heat and occasional thunderstorms. I am reminded of lunches we had at Don Mattingly’s restaurant, followed by our movie of choice at the theatre next door. I cannot remember many of the films we saw, but I always felt like those days were the best. Especially when we somehow got to sit inside the boxing ring at Don Mattingly’s! 

I recently gave the boys some of my old Don Mattingly baseball cards. I cannot describe how much I missed you at that moment. 

I’ll never forget one of the last serious conversations we had in your garage. It was the summer of 2004, and I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. You patiently listened to me as you smoked your pipe. I went on and on about all the potential paths I could go down, and I asked you what I should do. You just looked at me and said something along the lines of, “Ah, I am sure you will figure it out. Work hard, and your parents will be proud.” I was admittedly annoyed that you did not give me any kind of concrete guidance. But now, all these years later, I realize the wisdom in what you said. Sometimes the simple approach of working hard clears the path to which path is best. You knew that a person’s identity isn’t found in a particular path but in the ethics of the person on that path. 

Your identity will always be Papa to me. You were steady, consistent, loving, and fun.  

What I would do to have one more dinner at Evansville Country Club with JJ, you, and Sarah. 

Oh, how you would enjoy meeting Sarah. 

I miss you. 

Love, 

Alex

Living Your Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Lord. 

I love you, Sarah. 

Celebrating Sarah

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

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

Appreciate Everything

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

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

Get Outside Yourself

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

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

Hard Work Outside of the Limelight

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

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

Sarah’s Wisdom

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

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

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

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

The True Gift that Comes from Giving

One of my core beliefs about work is that it should always be done for the benefit of others. Whether it is the creation of a new product, service, or the way you conduct a B2B relationship, in my opinion, the fruits of your labor should positively impact other human beings. This brings purpose to every endeavor. 

Having said this, I also must set the record straight that I take Jesus’ words very seriously in all endeavors, including giving. For those not familiar, Jesus once said, “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4). My experience has born this out in surprising ways — ways that I’m not going to share here because doing so would diminish the joy found in secrecy. 

That disclaimer aside, I am going to share one cause I am particularly passionate about. I am doing so for three reasons: To illustrate the strategic thought needed for giving, to show giving’s best fruits, and to unabashedly introduce this incredible organization to you, the reader. Before proceeding, however, if you sense any pride or self-importance in what follows, it is not my intent.

Strategic Giving

Like anything else in life, giving aimlessly is better than doing nothing, but still not wise. To this end, I want to give to causes that align with my passions and worldview. As someone that follows Jesus, I am commanded to take care of the orphan and widow (James 1:27). Jesus himself said some striking things as to how far someone should go in serving the poor (Matthew 19:21). So I aim to be intentional in my giving so that it serves the poor, widows, orphans, and everyone else in need. 

The Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons (PAACS) is an organization I was introduced to by my father-in-law when I married Sarah. PAACS is a strategic response to the surgical need in Africa. As any generic Google search demonstrates, the need is great. In some areas of Africa, there is only one surgeon for 250,000 people — and other areas only have one surgeon for 2.5 million! 

PAACS trains new surgeons and then sends them to underserved areas in Africa. In the context of Christian organizations, what differentiates PAACS is that it is what I call an “and” ministry, meaning it addresses both physical AND spiritual needs. 

A favorite story of mine is when a PAACS surgeon operated on an ISIS soldier. Confused, the ISIS soldier asked why a Christian doctor would operate on a Muslim? The doctor explained he could do nothing BUT operate because Jesus is at the center of the organization. 

To be clear, there are thousands of incredible organizations locally and nationally, and I do support many. But, the need in Africa has always pulled at my heartstrings because it feels like a forgotten place. More so, I want any success at Hoffer Plastics to also be good news for someone in a place like Africa. Given that just one trained surgeon can help 55,000 people over a twenty-year career, investing in PAACS strategically addresses this need. 

Giving’s Best Fruits 

Just giving dollars to an organization is one thing, but my involvement in PAACS has given me something so much deeper that I want to share it here. I am sharing because if you can also find this in your pursuit of giving, you will be blessed beyond belief. 

What am I referring to? A relationship. 

When I decided to become a PAACS giver I asked if I could be matched directly with a surgeon in training. Why not help someone directly, I thought? In addition, I wondered if there could be an opportunity to get to know them personally. Although my request was new to PAACS at the time, they worked with me and made it happen. 

Enter Asaph

Asaph is the first PAACS resident from the country of Chad! I say this with excitement, because once Asaph is done with training, he will head back to Chad to help address the surgical need there. Asaph currently studies at PAACS’ Bongolo Hospital in Gabon, Africa. Coming full-circle, Bongolo Hospital is the same hospital that my father-in-law has volunteered at once a year for approximately the last two decades. 

Asaph

Because of my father-in-law’s involvement at Bongolo, I was able to FaceTime with Asaph in early 2020. Since then, we have kept up an ongoing dialogue. We share thoughts, short videos, and prayer requests. I always send pictures of Chicago winters as they are unimaginable to Asaph. In short, we have become brothers. I always look forward to hearing from my friend. Our relationship was unexpected, yet is truly the best gift of all.

Discover the Something You Need to Do 

I am not asking you to give to PAACS. Frankly, I believe God will move the people he needs to give. But I am asking you to think strategically about your giving. Is there an organization out there that you can help? Better yet, is there a relationship you can form?

What I know is that leaders are worth following because their care runs incredibly deep and they are very intentional about addressing the needs around them. The point of today’s post is to encourage you to do something. What that something is, however, is up for you to discover. 

As for me, I am thankful for the amazing work PAACS is doing and will continue to support it, as well as many other unnamed organizations I support, starting with my local Church. 

Finally, I look forward to the day that I finally meet Asaph in person because our relationship is the greatest gift that giving to PAACS has provided me. 

No Better Kind of Love

In the Bible in One Year app, I recently read a commentary that shared an amazing story about Mother Teresa. Her feet were so deformed that some wondered whether she had leprosy. One of her sisters explained, “her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet.” As the commentary concluded, “years of loving her neighbor as herself has deformed her feet!” 

In this blog, I have continually defined leadership as the art of being someone worth following. And given the example above, it’s no wonder Mother Teresa was adored by millions. Her love was based on others first. She was fully loved by Jesus, so she was able to share out of her abundance — and there is no greater love than this! 

The World’s Greatest Demonstration of Love

This week is Holy Week in the Christian calendar. It is the week where Christ-followers across the world mourn on Good Friday and celebrate the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning. It is a time of reflection, worship, and Sabbath. Most of all, it is the world’s greatest demonstration of love. 

My commitment to you, the reader, has always been to maintain transparency and authenticity. I want to be transparent about my life, even to the point of vulnerability. If you have read this blog for any amount of time, you should see a demonstration of my many imperfections shared through these posts. 

You should also get a sense of what makes me who I am. I have not been shy about sharing my love for Jesus. My identity starts and ends here. While I am always honest that there is much I cannot explain, I can attest that my life utterly changed when I began following Jesus. 

My late teens and early twenties were characterized by a pursuit of popularity and pleasure. I was centered on myself, and I hurt some people along the way, including myself. Over the years, the darkness became less figurative in nature. By the time I was in college, the nights seemed to increase in length. I was “living my best life,” as some like to say these days, but all the parties and hookups left me feeling hopeless. It was not what I had signed up for. As I would come to read later in the Bible, I was gaining the whole world but losing my soul in the process. 

God is Closer than You Think

Then I saw the light. This time I mean it figuratively, as I did not actually see a light. But through the encouragement of a girl I was trying to date in my early twenties, I started attending a church in the Chicago suburbs during one college summer break. At the first service I attended, the pastor wrote on a flip chart the phrase, “God is closer than you think.” He then said that regardless of what was happening in our lives, God was closer than we thought. This statement shocked me. “No he isn’t,” I thought. Yet, I could not shake it. So I started a process of seeking.  

I kept going to that church. I also began reading the Bible. While I grew up in a Christian household and thought I was a “Christian,” reality was different. I may have been quasi-religious, thinking that if I did “enough” good things, maybe I would be accepted? But in reality, I was not following Jesus. Please note that I am not saying this from a place of judgment —  I am just saying that I was like the student sitting at the back of the lecture hall. I knew a few of the bumper stickers phrases, but I was not putting them into practice, or even putting them on my car. I knew of Jesus, but I was not his student. I was checking the religious boxes at Christmas and Easter, but I was living my own life. I was Lord — He was not. It’s no wonder I did not feel worthy because my life was not adding up to much. 

I know this may be sounding too spiritual to some but stay with me. The reality for me is that I soon found Jesus. This was the light, per se. Finding Jesus meant that I did not have to do “enough” to be valued, I was good enough already. This did not mean that I could or should continue to go on living life the way I had. After all, that life had led to some painful experiences — I later realized that while God always loves us, he does allow us to experience the consequences of our actions. And I thank God that He allowed me to do that, because I did not want to live there! 

As I began reading the stories of Jesus’ life in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John my life began to change. The world had been telling me to pursue my own success and my own kingdom, and find pleasure wherever I could. While I cannot speak for any other reader of this blog, this equation was not working for me. 

All Can Come In

What struck me about Jesus was how countercultural He was and is both then and now. He said that in order to find your life, you have to lose it. It is better to turn your cheek, build others up, and go the extra mile with someone even when it costs you. His way is the narrow path, not the wide path. 

Moreover, He was (and still is) the only one who says ALL can come in. There are no preconditions. He lifted up women, people of different nationalities, the poor, and children — in short, everyone. It is indescribable in totality. It is amazing in its depth. It is inclusivity in totality. 

It was what I fell forever in love with. 

He is the ultimate one that I want to follow. 

But what about that empty tomb? Do we just have to “trust” and go on “blind faith?” That sounds pretty foolish to me. If someone can prove the tomb was not empty I think we should all have a talk. 

But having said this, I also think history leaves even more puzzling questions for us to consider: Like, why would Jesus’ most trusted apostles propagate a lie that would (and most cases did) cost them their lives in painful and brutal ways? Remember, they did not claim to believe in the resurrection, they said they had seen the resurrection. I can understand people dying for something they believe in, but dying for a lie? I guess I do not have the faith to believe that, but you have to make up your mind for yourself. 

Before closing, I try to go to great lengths to be open to ALL readers of this blog. I do this because I think that is what Jesus would want me to do! ALL are welcome in King Jesus’ kingdom! There are no “infidels.” There are only sinners like me that have been redeemed and freed to love others. There is no better love. Hence, please consider the above nothing more than my adoration for that love.  

My story culminated with a public baptism in August of 2005. My sister Charlotte and I were baptized in the waters of Lake Michigan. I share this because I often think of how different my life is now, compared to then, when I fly back to Chicago over the lake. Jesus’ love for me is bigger than even that! The same can be said for you. 

This is what Mother Teresa knew to be true as well, which is why her deformed feet were such a small price to pay for the love she knew. Similarly, I pray that we model this kind of love for others because there is no better kind. 

robert hoffer

Letter to My Grandpa (Part 2)

Read the first part of my letter to Grandpa here.

Dear Grandpa,

It’s me again. And you’ve still been on my mind. I’ll tell you, there have been some tough moments in the last two years. I suppose some of those moments will be present every year, pandemic or not. But, the difference in the previous two years is how the challenges have invaded all walks of life. There have been divisions even in places where unity should be ingrained — like the local church. It is almost as if people are looking for something to meet all of their needs. And when it isn’t there, they leave or stop persisting. 

I have grumbled, struggled, and gritted my teeth. But I have persisted. There have been many others who have too, so I am not special. You would be proud of how people have shown up at the company you started. Some of those people worked alongside you, while others have no idea who you were. But your influence is still palpable in the building, as is the influence of others who have since moved on. It’s true: there is a part of us in every piece. 

Persistence is something that your WWII generation knew a lot about; you had to persist to survive. Ironically, after decades of abundance, comfort, and relative safety, it is something that I’m finding now has to be cultivated. This lesson is not lost on me — over the last year, I’ve found myself reading books on your generation, so I’m reminded that what I am being asked to do is minimal in view of history. As we say these days, our problems are of the first-world variety. This perspective is needed to persist. And I will persist. 

“I want my life to be about impacting others, helping them succeed, and hopefully forming lifelong relationships.” 

I keep a small vial of sand from Omaha Beach in Normandy on my desk. While you did not serve in Europe, I keep it here to remind me that sacrifice is necessary to preserve peace. What we are doing at Hoffer Plastics is on a much different scale, but I recognize that it is similarly important in impacting the lives of those it touches. To this end, I want my life to be about impacting others, helping them succeed, and hopefully forming lifelong relationships. This is the intersection of meaning and fun. It is the focus I need to keep showing up and persisting. 

It is also one of the things that I think about when I drive by your old house on Wing Park Boulevard. Bigger and better are not always bigger and better. More is sometimes less. Focus allows me to grasp the things that matter and let go of the vain pursuits of yesteryear. 

And when the day is over, I go home, walk into my house, and see my wife. And as corny as this sounds, I often think to myself that I am the luckiest man in the world. Then my kids do something annoying to snap me back into reality. I later remind myself that I will miss that “annoyance” very soon. I hug them and regain my perspective all over again. 

I also think about how much fun you would have had with them. Gosh, I wish they could know you. 

Moments of beauty and moments of chaos, followed by moments of more beauty. 

A renewed focus. 

Renewed persistence. 

I have never stopped thinking of you when I walk our production floor. To be honest, I go out there to remember you. 

I loved you, Grandpa. And I still do.

I’ll write you again next year. Until then, I remain your loving grandson.

—Alex

robert hoffer

Letter to My Grandpa (Part 1)

Dear Grandpa,

Hi, Grandpa. Happy birthday in heaven. Every March 3, I think about you — and as I have for many years, I wanted to take a moment on your birthday to commemorate you by writing you a letter. 

You may not believe it, but I turned 40 last year! 40 is a milestone. I am old enough to realize that much of what I already chased was vanity. Yet, I am young enough to correct my course in profound ways. But, as I do in my prayer life, I need to start with a confession. 

This year, I have wanted to give up multiple times. I know other people will be reading this letter and I probably shouldn’t admit that. But it’s true. I have felt constantly burdened by the stress of leading a family business. I have seen others leave to do things that seem more fun and less of a grind. I have occasionally felt stuck. The world says, “follow your heart.” But what good is that when your heart is ever-changing? My buoyant mood Monday morning often turns grumpy by Monday afternoon. It changes like the wind, but my responsibility for this business remains constant. 

I know this may sound like I’m whining, and maybe I am. But if I am not honest about my thoughts, they fester. When I write them out, I can assess them, recalibrate, refocus and realign my thinking to my goals. 

My last two years have been about regaining my focus on what matters and persisting when I felt like giving up. 

“Bring Grandma flowers.”

I know I’ve shared this with you before, but I often find myself thinking about one of the last moments I saw you on this planet. 

Lying on your bed, you told us to bring Grandma flowers. This struck me because, after almost nine decades of life and success, you came back to that one relationship. There were a plethora of things you could’ve said — about the business, about your success — but you didn’t. Instead, you pointed to the most important human relationship you had. 

And while it was not your intent, I’ll tell you that it had a huge impact on the development of my character. Sarah and I have observed the same unwavering commitment in our parents’ marriages, and now we continue with ours. We are stronger today than we were pre-pandemic. This has not happened by accident —it has happened because, regardless of how hard life has been, we have ended each day the same way…talking, praying, and then talking some more. Sarah is always on my mind. I can confidently say that I understand why you were thinking about Grandma to the end.

With my home life on stable ground, I have been able to weather the storm at work. Results have been good, but there is much more to it than P&L — or at least there is in a family-led business. This year, there have been times that I have needed to shift my focus from the “burden” of the business to the “privilege” of the business. While business matters sometimes stress me to the point of affecting my sleep, the privilege of seeing other people thrive is greater. 

I cannot emphasize enough the word “other” in the previous sentence. The beauty of the business you founded shines through in the people who made it thrive: Al, Fred, Rocky, and too many other people to mention. They are countless. 

Oh, and I figured you’d want to know that Lap retired in January. You would be so proud of the man he is, the family he leads, and the contributions he made. Sure, occasionally he was a jerk to me, not holding back on letting me know how he thought I was doing. But I became so much better for it! I already miss him and his “performance reviews.” On his last day, he came to my office. We hugged, and I fought back tears. It was probably embarrassing to us both. 

alex with client
What a privilege.
What a moment!

Grandpa, I need to close for now, but I still have much to tell you. I’ll write you more later this week.

Love, Alex

A Letter From Future Alex

September 30, 2061 

Dear Alex,

I will start with good news about being 80…It is the new 60. Perhaps, even 50 if you get enough sleep. After all, Tom Brady just hung it up a few years ago. 

I’m not going to give anything else away about the future. Rather, I want you to be concerned about the things in life that really matter. What follows is some advice towards them…

Nurturing your marriage with Sarah is the most important thing you can do from a human relationship standpoint. Invest in it. Work at it. Be intentional about it. Do not settle. When you entered marriage in 2007, you were passionate about never settling. Do not lose this passion and do not lose the passion you have for her. Trust your gut that relationships are never stagnant. Therefore, continue to work at it so that your marriage blesses others. This will sound idealistic to some, but so be it. Most of all, make her feel loved daily. 

Stop caring about what most think. That statement sounds weird, so let’s unpack it. Stop caring what 90% of the people out there think. But, care deeply about what 10% of the people in your life think. You will know whose opinions matter by their love. And love is not some fuzzy feeling. Rather, it is devoted action. Do they love you enough to tell you when you are full of it? And let’s be honest, you sometimes are full of it. Surround yourself with a group of people that give a damn and back it up with their actions. Similarly, do whatever it takes for them in return. Act sacrificially, just as Jesus did. 

Do not be lukewarm. Be all in or all out. You cannot do it all, especially at work, so make sure that the few areas you put your toe in the water are areas that you create ripples. Dabbling is for the insecure and the fakers. Be gutsy. Be real. 

Remember that later is longer. To this end, be a parent. Say the hard things to your kids. Hold them accountable in a loving, but direct, way. Allow them to reap what they sew. Do not save them, but always protect them. You will know the difference. 

Remember that everything I just shared in the paragraphs above applies to leading others. Be passionate for people. Be known as someone that implicitly lays out expectations, holds people accountable, and works with them to help them succeed. Your proudest moments will be doing this and seeing others win big.  

Be someone that gives second, third, and even fifty-eighth chances. Jesus does this for you.  

Continue to be a steward. God blessed you with a lot through the family you were born into. Honor your parents. Honor the team at Hoffer Plastics. Give aggressively and passionately. But, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Close the door. Don’t be an actor. It is never about you. It is about Him. Always. 

Be unashamed of the Gospel. It will become less popular in our culture for a time, but stand firm. Jesus transformed everything about you, how you live, and what you value. So stand up for your Faith. Stand with the poor, the refugee, the orphaned and the forgotten. Stand especially with any group the world declares as less than. In all ways, honor God. 

Always be willing to listen to other opinions, and always be welcoming to those that come to Jesus. Life’s biggest surprises will transpire right here. And all heaven will rejoice! 

Show up for your kids’ events. They won’t be in counseling if you don’t, but don’t miss them unless you absolutely have to. You will miss these events in the years to come. Okay, maybe not the grade school sing-a-longs. Go to those just to make Sarah happy and go with a fun spirit. 

Play as many rounds of golf with your Dad as you can. Listen to his stories about the company as many times as he tells them. The day will come when you will miss these more than you can describe here. 

Care less about your golf performance, and play more golf. This sounds like competing goals, but they are not. Your golf performance will never define you. Let the past go and be your own man. Use golf to build relationships, enjoy nature, and enjoy the best game on the planet. 

Speaking of performance, stop beating yourself up all the time. No one would follow your self-talk (especially on the golf course). It is often filled with shame. Knock it off once and for all. 

Own who you are in Christ Jesus. This again sounds weird to a world built on seeking fame, greatness, and happiness. But, these things never satisfy. You have sought them all at various stages of your life, only to come full-circle to the upside-down reality of the cross: You have to lose your life to find it, give away everything to have it all, and there is nothing you can do to earn any of this. 

Revel in his grace. 

Hug your mom! 

Have fun. You have the “take life seriously” thing down. Make it more fun the next 40 years. 

Allow yourself to grieve. Never shy away from saying the emotional thing. Shed tears when life calls for it.

Just be real. Just don’t ever say it on text, email, or social media.

Keep writing and have fun with it. 

Aim to encourage others in all you do. At your funeral, you want others to say that you were the person in their life that encouraged them and made them feel valued. That’s the you to strive for.   

Learn to ask great questions. And by all means, when you don’t know, say you don’t know! 

Life is short, so lean into it. Share your wine cellar with guests and let them pick whatever bottle they want. Do this on a Tuesday just because life is a gift.  The point is to never wait for the special moment. Create it. 

If all goes as planned, you will still have another 40 years left when you get this. So, keep on good terms with most. 

And above all else, love Jesus, love Sarah, love your kids, and love the team you work with. 

Don’t strive to be the best. 

Strive to be the most real. 

Sacrificially real. 

Live well. 

It is a great 40 years! 

Reflections on My First Decade as a Dad

10 years ago today, I became a father. 

10 years ago today, I held a baby boy in my arms while I watched the Chicago Cubs on T.V.  

I wondered whether any of it was real? 

Two days later I drove us all home. I could not believe the people in charge allowed us to leave, but they did. And, for some reason the ten minute drive to our house took twenty minutes. 

A day later we went back to the doctor’s office and forgot to bring diapers. Our newborn then did what newborns do. 

We learned our lesson then and have been learning everyday since. 

Six weeks later Starbucks reported its fiscal Q4 results for 2011 were up significantly. Coincidence? 

Nah… 

Over the years, God blessed us, and our son, with two wonderful siblings, another boy and a princess, or at least that is what she tells us she is these days. And she will always be one in my eyes. 

As Will celebrates his tenth birthday today, I could not be prouder of the man he is becoming. Much to the credit of his mother, Will has taken on responsibility of many of the household duties these days. I have observed that this is what leaders do: they pass on authority to others and let them develop. Will is one who his siblings follow because he is gentle, kind, and loving. I have learned much from observing him. In fact, I sometimes follow his lead. 

The scariest moment came when he broke his arm for the second time in a matter of months. Weeks later we were at a doctor’s appointment at Lurie Children’s Hospital ruling out all the scary things. By the grace of God, none applied. Years later I can attest God has protected Will in ways that I cannot adequately describe. May the Lord protect him these next ten years in the same fashion. 

I also realize, all-too-well with friends close to us, that not all have the same experience as we did. Our friends’ scary moment led to an even scarier diagnosis, a battle, and the loss, at least in this life, of a little girl. They have courageously proclaimed God’s goodness despite the brokenness of this world, a brokenness they have felt all too well. As I continue to mourn with them, I am reminded to take no moment for granted. 

While the last paragraph may feel out of place, the reality is that it is not. If parenting has taught me anything, it is that there is no single path in life and you have control over virtually nothing. All amounts of goodness, tragedy, and everything in between are present in this today broken, someday perfect, world. This is the world and everything in it. 

I vividly remember one day growing up playing outside from sun-up to sun-down with my best friend at the time. We must have been around Will’s age now. We played everything from football to baseball, and closed the day going fishing. The Fall sun was radiant as it began to go down, and I vividly remember longing for that day to never end.

But, life does not work that way does it?  

Many of those moments have since come and gone. And I suppose if I were to compare Will’s childhood to that day, his time is already in the early afternoon. God willing, his life has many days left, but his childhood’s “day” is already waning. There is a part of me sad about that. But, just like I had to accept the nighttime those many years ago, I have to accept that Will is going to leave the house one day. And that day will be a good day, despite the sadness I will most assuredly feel and the tears that I will probably shed.   

In the interim, I am going to continue hugging him every night before he goes to bed. Especially when he starts to hate it in his teen years. I might just hold on a little longer then. My mom did that to me after all. And like most things, she was right in doing so. 

I know that my readers come here to learn about personal development and leadership. So, here is the best advice I can give on both… 

Hug your kids. 

Hug your spouse. 

Get that right, and you will always be someone worth following. 

Cherish life and celebrate each moment. 

Happy Birthday, Will. 

I love you more than words can tell.