Swedish Perspective - “5 years in Sweden” article


I had no idea that last Sunday’s article “5 Years in Sweden – No place I’d Rather be…BUT” (see link on right under articles) would elicit such a strong reaction! It was one of my most read articles since I began this blog in March 2008. In addition, many wrote to me personally to give their opinion which I enjoyed and appreciated.

Some felt sad while others could instantly relate whether they lived in Sweden or only visited. Very view disagreed, some totally agreed and others thought it was negative. One person called Sweden fantastic. The opinions came from Swedes and Americans who have lived abroad.

One viewpoint was from a friend I have known only a year. She is Swedish, 37 and has extensive experience living abroad. What she wrote surprised me and may shock some people. I learned a lot about her and those who don’t know much about Sweden will get a full plate of knowledge. She paints her picture below.

Following her words are a few other interesting Swedish perspectives. Further down, you will find links to three insightful comments from Americans who have visited Sweden on numerous occasions.

My intention was not for my story to be positive or negative. It was not to have my readers agree/disagree or feel sad/hurt. My purpose was to INFORM and EDUCATE people about George’s experiences, particularly those foreigners considering a move to Sweden. Unfortunately, negative points of view can sometimes overshadow the positive aspects.

Hopefully, my words last week can put a step in everyone’s stride in lending a helping hand to foreigners who want to work. Many Swedes have helped me adjust to Sweden and gain employment and I have helped both Swedes and foreigners. We can all do something even if it’s only a tip about a job you have heard of. Maybe one day in the near future, Swedish employers will start to think differently and realize that it could be smart to hire qualified foreigners despite the discomfort that it may cause.

If we care, let’s direct that energy to those individuals who can’t find a job, simply because they are not welcome or given the chance.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Swedish Woman, 37 – Lived abroad and currently lives in Sweden

George. It's weird, but it's like I could have written those words myself - I feel EXACTLY the same way - with the weirdest part of course being that I AM Swedish!
But I'm telling you, I've been gone for "too long" and no one will even give me a chance to get hired here. I loved that phrase "comfort over improvement" because that's exactly what it is. I must have applied for at least 50 jobs during the last year and have not been asked to a single interview at a Swedish place of employment. Not one.

I have had 2 interviews, (both of which I actually ended up having multiple meetings for, one even 7 interviews) - but they were both for international organizations. I didn't get them, but I was close and I was given a chance - and they were both for advanced positions.

How could it be that I can't even get asked to come to an interview for entry-level jobs here?

I'm telling you, I feel for the Iraqi immigrants with "foreign" names and educations, because if I can't get an interview, in spite of having a Swedish name, Swedish upbringing and obviously being a native Swedish speaker. And why?

It seems to be because I’ve never worked in Sweden (moved the day after graduating from high-school, at the age of 18), or perhaps because I only have foreign educations (US University degree, from UCLA, no help that I graduated Summa Cum Laude, top 200 students of 36,000, and from the University of Madrid) etc. Again, why? It seems, simply because the Swedes seem to "not being able to relate".

Plainly spoken, I guess I seem too odd. Too different. Don't fit in. Think too differently. You'd think that international experience would be considered a positive thing - hey, after all we are living in a "global" world and economy right - shouldn't this be a positive rather than a negative?

I speak several languages fluently, I know how to interact with people from various national, religious and cultural backgrounds, I'm open minded, entrepreneurial, and I have quite a lot of decent work experience. I'm not saying this to toot my own horn, but it's pretty darn discouraging when I can't even get called in for an interview for a secretary/receptionist/assistant position. It's certainly not very good for my self-esteem, or should I say... it's sort of soul-killing, really. Maybe it's the economy, maybe it's me, who knows, but you'd think I'd at least get to go to one interview...

I don't mean to write so many negatives, it's just hard to understand how it can be so hard to "break in" and to get employment here. And, honestly, it seems that the best odds to get a job here is not through applying, but to know someone. Everyone I speak to say that they got their jobs through knowing someone, not from answering job ads. Sure, it's always good to have contacts and it works like that to some degree everywhere, but not like in Sweden. Here, it seems they would rather give the job to someone they know rather than someone who may be better suited for it.

It's sort of a paradox really, because on the one hand it seems that there's a bit of a "meritokrati" here - God forbid you don't have an actual education from the Informatörslinje from a Swedish university - you couldn't possibly know anything about communication or building networks or running projects then, could you?
(Never mind that you've actually started and successfully completed international projects everywhere and did all the marketing and PR and website building for it...)

And on the other hand it's like merit doesn't count as much... or at least not as much as knowing someone, or at least have the decency to fit in. Having gone to the same schools, going skiing to Åre for sportlovet, and having a summer house in the archipelago etc. Watch melodifestivalen, and of course, agree with everyone else and the status quo. Anything but different. Nor too enthusiastic! That's apparently a no-no too.

The most honest person I met lately was a lady at Arbetsförmedlingen (agency for the unemployed) last week. She said, when I read through your CV before our meeting, I must admit that I didn't know how I would speak to you. You're so different from me, having done so many things, lived so many places, had your own businesses, ran these international projects, in the US, in Malawi, in Brazil... I've always lived, studied and worked in Sweden - always as an employee, always in a myndighet, I would rather hire someone that I knew I could relate to and that I wouldn't feel intimidated by - so I can understand that you don't get called in for interviews. You seem too different, too foreign; I wouldn't know where to place you.

So, she advised me to tone down my past. Pretty much as in not hardly even mentioning that I've lived abroad and much of my whole adult life, or even that I've been self-employed, or that I've worked with international projects. Her advice was to simply say "I am looking for a change in my life and due to my personal life and priority being a mother and having a family it would suit me well to work as an employee, locally, so that I can enjoy a more stable everyday life with routines and colleagues." She said it would be easier for an employee to relate to that, than to my presentation speaking of what I had done previously etc.

She also said that I should write about my kids, including names and ages, what I like to do on my spare time (i.e. hobbies), and my age. (WHAT?? Can you imagine starting a letter like that in the US, hahaha, "Hi, I'm --------, 37, and I would like this position as I would like to prioritize my kids and family - have a stable environment as an employee so that I may enjoy my private life to the fullest - I love nature, photography and yoga. I also like to travel and spend time with family and friends. I look forward to getting to know my new colleagues and like to have fun at work..."

I'm exaggerating of course, but the fact that they even RECOMMEND this approach is actually quite hilarious and goes to show you how little I know my own country and people.

I do know however that I will never become a true Swede again. I'm too Americanized. Or perhaps, too much of a global citizen really. Anywhere but here, this would probably be considered a good thing. But here, you have to fit in to be accepted. Not stick out from the crowd.

Last week I had my exhibit in Rio - at a conference with participants from over 80 nations. I could talk to ANYONE, one day having breakfast with someone from Nepal, lunch with some folks from the Congo, dinner with people from Argentina, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Canada. I never felt awkward or that there wasn't anything to talk about. I actually thought about how I felt more at home than I do here, which of course, is my home. Even others didn't get that I was Swedish. "Why are you going to Stockholm" they'd ask. Uh, cause I'm from there and I live there (and it says so on my name tag here even). And I noticed that people from pretty much everywhere are actually quite similar, you know - the basics, you greet, you look each other in the eye acknowledging the other's existence, you say sorry and excuse me and thank you... But not here, here it's considered normal to bump into each other, to look through people as if they didn't exist, certainly NOT say hi! And the funny thing is that people here think that THEY are the norm and that the Swedish way is THE way. It's mind boggling.

OK - enough Swede bashing for one day - it's probably because I'm so frustrated about the job search thing that I'm venting. But each time I leave, I'm secretly wondering why I live here when I return. I was in the US in Feb and Brazil in March/April and I do feel more alive elsewhere. I feel more like ME.I My spirit thrives on the human interactions, the courtesies, the friendly jokes, the "have a great day now" comments. There's something to the coldness and the rudeness and the closed-offedness, even though that's not a word, that's very unhealthy for your spirit.

So - having meant to only write you a sentence or two - I guess in brief what I wanted to say is that I'm with you, it's amazing for kids, but not all healthy for adults who have lived other places and "know better" haha. But I'm also very aware of the great, unique and amazing things about this place too. The health care, the child care and schools, the nature, the pretty healthy social structures and values, a certain honesty of the people, and all that. So, I too am very grateful to be here and have no intention on going elsewhere, at least not until the kids are older - but I think that it'll be healthier for me if I stop trying to FIT IN cause guess what, I won't. And I'm not even sure that that would be a healthy goal, haha.

Instead, it may be better to create our own little sub-culture and to enjoy the people that we can relate too. Enjoy the greatness that Sweden has to offer, and mix in some of the good stuff from elsewhere and create our own little Universe and reality. Your friend's idea about starting up our own things instead of trying to get hired is a pretty good one.

The other day, when coming back from Brazil, I had the most interesting conversation with an immigrant taxi driver. He said "now you know what it's like for us - it's not normal, it isn't..." and then he says "you know what, I've been here for 10 years, and I have never had a conversation like this with a Swede before. Not once." Hmm. His sister, a doctor and PhD, couldn't get a single job here, in spite of speaking Swedish. She was tired, moved to London and instantly got hired to teach at one of their top Universities. Sweden is losing out by being so exclusive, by not welcoming diversity, by choosing not to learn from it.

Sweden's great, sure, but it's not the only way, and hey - have you ever thought about the fact that "osvenskt" actually has positive connotations even to Swedes... "Han är osvensk", that normally means, open, friendly, outgoing. If people actually learned from other cultures, at least that life becomes more enjoyable if we start acknowledging each other by saying hi and maybe even smile once in a while - I bet even Swedes would feel less depressed and more connected to a oneness. I hope this will happen in my life time, no, I hope that it happens a lot sooner cause I don't want my kids to grow up thinking that it's "normal" to be rude.

And I hope I get a job :-)
Or, even better, create my own - HERE.

Thanks for your thoughts. Sorry that mine got so long-winded. Now I guess I'm going back to my job search.

Swedish woman, late 30’s – Lived abroad and currently lives in Sweden

George, this was strong reading...it made me sad, understanding your Swedish experience and also how we Swedes are: Why are we so ignorant and social incompetent......Believe me, even Swedes suffers from this.

Anyway glad to hear that you right now think: there is no better place than Sweden.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, feelings and experience,

Send my love to the rest of the family as well.

Swedish man, 40ish – Lived abroad and currently lives in Sweden

Thoughtful reading, George....more than sometimes I wonder what I’m doing here myself! :)

Have a super Thursday – you’re worth it for sure!

Swedish woman, late 20’s – Lived in Norway and currently lives in Sweden

Hej George

Hmm, you make us Swedes sound very dull. You are used to something because you are from the states. We are maybe subtle but not dull. I for one am very open and like to talk to all sorts of people. I can talk to someone anywhere and I am not afraid to start a conversation if I find someone interesting. It fells like you are judging us to hard just because you are used to something that we are not. There are also a lot of fun things to do here if you just make the effort to find it.

I am happy that u and your wife decided to live here because you are the sweetest people I have met. She is a wonderful woman and you are so lucky to have her. You are very handsome and funny. You are also loving to your family and I am jealous of you all, but in a good way :)

Hope you will enjoy it here, we enjoy having you.

(and you Americans shouldn’t just assume that everyone wants to talk English all the time just because some of us can, not all. One should always learn the language as you know now) :)

3 American men ages 40-45 – All have lived abroad and visited Sweden

For their comments, you can click on the article (link is below) and scroll down to comments at the end.

Blog: Gswede Sunday
Post: 5 Years in Sweden - No Place I'd Rather be...BUT
Link: http://gswede-sunday.blogspot.com/2009/04/5-years-in-sweden-there-is-no-place-id.html

Diversity outside or inside the workplace is a beautiful thing - A Swede living in Spain / An American living in the USA / A Swede living in Sweden / An American living in Sweden

5 Years in Sweden - No Place I'd Rather be...BUT

This past Thursday, I celebrated my 5th year in Sweden. As an adult, I have only lived in one other place for a longer period; New York City (NYC) where I spent a decade. I never compare any city to the Big Apple because it wouldn’t be fair as I can’t imagine a more fulfilling city! Living in Stockholm, Sweden has been frequently interesting, sometimes disappointing, often intriguing, at times wonderful and in many ways sour and sweet. As the title indicates, life is good...BUT; we will get to the “BUT” part later.

I will touch upon 4 main areas as I paint my picture for you; 1) Opinions about Sweden, 2) Advice I was Given, 3) My Expectations/Experiences and 4) The Reality Now.

1) Opinions about Sweden

Before coming to Sweden, I did my homework and talked to people living here, those who had lived in Stockholm previously and Swedes living in NYC. Most of the Swedish people were positive on my move although I was more concerned with the thoughts of ex-pats living here since I was making the move as a foreigner. What I heard surprised me.

The ex-pats I talked to were consistent in their message about how difficult it would be for me to find quality work as they found the business environment to be anti-foreigner. That was disappointing to hear but I believed and remembered it as that same theme would be the focal point of every conversation. One time, the Swedish wife of an American ex-pat said, “don’t be so negative” when he was talking to me on the phone. I actually appreciated his honesty as I wanted to know the reality. With every conversation, the tone of voice changed when the subject of finding work came up. There was no doubt in my mind that the career I had carefully and successfully built in America would take a blow.

During the job hunting process in my early years, I rarely received an interview from a Swedish company. When I did, it was clear that I was not going to be a finalist for the job. Ironically, one of the few and best interviews I secured occurred before I moved. It was from a top non-profit organization that did fundraising work with corporations, much along the lines of the fundraising work I was doing in NYC.

I was excited even though I had those ex-pat voices spinning in my head. I had the interview when my wife and I visited one month before our move. It was pleasant, enjoyable and obvious that I was the most qualified candidate. The VD (CEO) of this very well known organization said after, “You have more experience than all of the other six candidates combined”, which was nice to hear. He later said, “I can’t hire you because the employees wouldn’t be comfortable with a non-Swedish speaker”. Keep in mind that everyone spoke English. That was a bitter pill to swallow as I could have helped them immensely despite the language discomfort but they were more concerned with what I call “Comfort over Improvement” in hiring; something that occurs far too often here in regards to employing foreigners.

This mindset has become prevalent in some American Companies in Sweden as well. I asked an American CEO (over 300 employees) a few years ago if he would ever hire a person who didn’t speak fluent Swedish. His reply was “I could never do that George because my employees would never accept them”. And he was the boss! There are companies (Swedish and non-Swedish) in Sweden that do hire workers that don’t speak the language but mostly out of a real need as their business is international.

Always an optimist, I battled on hoping to find fulfilling work. I had some interesting consulting projects along with a few jobs that I was overqualified for. I also had the opportunity to work as a substitute teacher (typical work here for foreigners) which I really enjoyed. One of the best experiences was being hired by UNICEF Belgrade for a two month fundraising job in Serbia. After viewing my qualifications, the Belgrade office hired me within weeks. With UNICEF in Sweden, I have barely made any progress and it is not for lacking of trying. Fortunately, I was hired by a British company in 2007; just in the nick of time as I needed a quality job for my well-being and to build a meaningful life. It is no coincidence that the company I work for currently is one of the strongest in its field despite the economic crises. From the colleagues I know, their hiring process is based on merit and not comfort level.

2) Advice I was Given

I wanted an international experience and now that I have it, I firmly believe that when one lives in their home country for a lifetime, they miss out on one of the most rewarding and precious gifts; experiencing another culture. In addition, after ten fabulous years in NYC, most American cities wouldn’t have been the least bit enthralling.

I received good advice from a dear American friend living abroad, who told me to “be yourself, don’t try to be like them and embrace the culture of Sweden”. Her advice was not anti-Swedish; she was only telling me to appreciate my uniqueness and be open to the lifestyle which I’ve done. I have never tried to be anyone else but George and that has usually worked well for me.

Like most people moving abroad, one usually has some doubts and I had my moments of uncertainty as NYC was so intoxicating. My wife and I were visiting a friend (and mentor to me) in Washington, DC when the doubts were swirling in my head. When we had some private time, I asked him what he thought about my imminent move as I value his opinion immensely. Knowing me well, it didn’t take him long to answer the question. He looked at me, smiled and said “You have to do this George; it will be a great experience”. His simple and honest words comforted any small doubts remaining.

Two close friends told me to learn the language as soon as possible although they had it easier in their ex-pat experiences as English wasn’t spoken much in their country. In Sweden, one can get by without uttering one word of Swedish as English is taught at an early age. While I am disappointed that I am not fluent yet I am pleased in being able to hold a conversation and occasionally a meeting entirely in Swedish. The smart move would have been to do what a Canadian acquaintance did; she focused solely on learning Swedish in her first year.

3) My Expectations/Experiences:

I expected Stockholm to be an easier life and it has proven to be. Even though it is a big city to many Swedes, it is similar to a small town in my view. The subways and buses are great, getting appropriate Swedish papers was a breeze, healthcare is wonderful, the air is fresh, cultural activities are plentiful, the city is beautiful and there are abundant areas of forest and water surrounding Stockholm. In addition, numerous friends and family members have come to visit us.

Other than the aforementioned, I didn’t have any expectations as I hardly ever do. I wanted the city of Stockholm to come to me and have nothing clouding my experience. One thing I do remember is sleeping extremely deep in the first months as the city was as quiet as a mouse in our part of town, especially when you come from noisy Manhattan. It was hard to wake up in the morning! The weather outside of summer is generally crappy and sometimes the sun is not out for weeks. The darkness in winter (15:30pm/3:30pm pitch black at times) has never affected me although it does disturb many people.

Socially, Stockholm needs a major makeover. The best times I have had were events that I created or were a part of organizing. Even though the Swedes I know are likable and interesting people, one might never discover that as they tend to socialize with their friends primarily and not with Swedes outside of their circle or foreigners. I wanted to break that ice a bit and show them how to network and enjoy the company of new and different people. We have had some great nights mixing a variety of cultures in Stockholm, one being our 2006 Halloween party which people still talk about.

In my opinion, for a city to shine socially it needs to sizzle on its own without events being put together or having close friends nearby. Most of us could have fun with friends and people we know anywhere in the world! I need to feel a city without any easy comforts. One should be able to walk into a bar, jazz club, restaurant or nightspot and feel the vibe, meet some new people and get a bit of electricity in your body! Stockholm lacks that thrill socially unless you are 18-24 and like the mindless sizzle of primarily drinking.

To put things in perspective, I had more fun SOCIALLY in Belgrade, Serbia for two months than I have had in 5 years in Sweden. With the history of Serbia, I never thought the capital city would be so alive and open to other cultures. It was one of the best times of my life. Stockholm could learn a lot from Belgrade.

One of the main reasons we moved here was to have children. My Swedish wife and I knew it would be easier and more enjoyable to raise kids in this social welfare society as it is very pro-family. The system of day-care is efficient, has a low cost and is open to all toddlers. The government gives each family a monthly monetary amount (per child) which essentially covers most day-care costs. In addition, my wife is on her second maternity leave, this time for 1 year while I will be taking my second later this year. I was off full-time with my son for five months in 2007 and expect to do the same in 2009 with my daughter. My friends in America cannot even comprehend a man having time off with their kids and one is in disbelief every time we discuss it. I loved it as you get to know your child so intensely and get a sense of what mothers go through. I can’t wait until my daughter/father bonding time later this year.

I must thank Sweden for increasing my reading knowledge and sparking my entrepreneurial spirit. The years of inconsistent work gave me a chance to do things I might have never done. While I’ve frequently read books, I never would have read over 150 books in a 3 year period! The weekly blog you’re reading arose in this country and is the passion I enjoy the most. In addition, my “American Basketball Coach in Sweden” program began in 2005 and is in its 5th year of impacting youth utilizing basketball as a tool.

4) The Reality Now

I am a happy man and first and foremost, a family man. It would be hard to beat Sweden for the family-oriented luxury it provides working men and woman especially in this economic crises. We get to enjoy a family summer home located a stone’s throw away from the sea and sandy beach; an absolute treasure for our children. Most importantly, my kids are healthy, my wife is exceptional and I have a strong network of Swedish and international friends; I am grateful for that.

I like living in Stockholm. I can go outside my back door and go running, see horses, watch volleyball, enjoy hot air balloons in the sky, take a bike ride, see boats breezing by, have a picnic and go sledding with my kids in winter. How many major cities would that be possible in? Socially, one can only hope that things will improve especially for the 32-55 year old crowd and not just be a bright spot for giggly and unfocused youngsters.

The sour taste that will remain until improved is the dire straights that many decent and competent foreigners find themselves in after moving here. I know people who would compromise fiercely to find a job remotely close to their level of experience yet the sad truth is that most will never get the chance.

Americans surprised me as well as many people in Sweden when we elected a qualified and admirable minority man to be President of the United States. Times were tough and we were not afraid to do something extraordinary; something that probably would not have happened if economic times had been good.

The question I am wondering about is this:

If the good times begin to fade (already begun) for Swedish companies, will the leaders of these organizations do the extraordinary; have the wisdom and courage to break away from their comfort zone by embracing diversity and hiring foreigners who can help the business improve? Being an optimist, I remain hopeful. Not only is it the right thing to do but smart business as well in our increasingly diverse world.

A creative American who has lived in Sweden for over a decade wrote to me about the opportunity for qualified foreigners which included some wise advice:

“The phrase “wisdom and courage to hire” is foreign to the phrase “Swedish-owned businesses”. The inherent tradition of “not sticking out” aka Jante Lagen, discourages winners and subsequently the business community at large. The key to success for foreigners is to network; money is for the privileged so establishing a relationship is the only means of survival”.

Finally, these parting words:

There is no place I would rather be with my wife and two children than Sweden


If we didn’t have children, Sweden would be near the bottom of my list of countries to live in.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

One of many activities outside of Gswede's home in Stockholm!

Remember, You're the Parent

I’ve been observing parents for as long as I can remember. The parent/child relationship was fascinating to me before I had children and is even more intriguing now that I am a parent. Sometimes, it is difficult to tell who the child is and who the parent is.

Two examples of witnessing the child as the parent:

1) After a basketball game with my toddler, I watched in amazement as my friend was attempting to put his child of a similar age into his car. She was hysterical and adamant about not wanting to get in! I wanted to leave yet the noise level kept me glued to the scene.

He asked me, “do you have any candy”, and fortunately I did. Soon thereafter, she was in the car effortlessly. Who was the parent? Clearly the daughter as she controlled the situation by keeping herself out of the car until she was bribed with candy. In my opinion, he should have put her in the car confidently despite her actions which would have given her two important lessons:

a) That she has to listen to her father and go into the car because that is what he wants.

b) That dad is the parent or person in charge.

2) This is a general observation since I have witnessed this scene on numerous occasions.

Whether in the grocery store, at home, in the park, or picking a child up from day-care, the puzzling scene of seeing a parent RUSHING to appease the actions of a child instead of leaving on his/her terms, makes me wonder, “What are we so in a hurry for”.

Normally, the child is not happy for whatever reason so the parent goes up a notch in speed thereby making the child and the situation rushed! Often a parent leaves quickly to avoid what others may think. What are we teaching our children when we rush to accommodate their misbehaviour instead of talking to them or gently calming them down? Impatience comes to my mind.

There are countless things wrong with rushing, not the least of which is that accidents occur more frequently when one is rushed. In addition, the child is controlling the parent when the parent is the one who should be in control.

Gswede and Son on Easter Sunday

Two examples of witnessing the parent as a parent:

1) A toddler was having a mini-tantrum at a birthday party, jealous or annoyed at the lack of attention she was receiving. Something had to be done as all eyes were on this child. What happened next was a powerful lesson for me and a moment I won’t forget.

The father firmly and calmly removed his daughter from the scene and into a private room. They were absent for at least 15-20 minutes. During their talk, I mistakenly walked into the room and witnessed a focused toddler listening intently to her father. I was impressed by his touch as the girl was only a shade above two years old. When she returned, her change in demeanor was the difference between night and day! It was obvious who was in control of this situation.

2) I took my son (under two at the time) to an indoor swimming pool and he was unhappy. Although he likes the water, he hadn’t been in a pool for quite some time. He whined and yelled until we were the focus of everyone’s attention.

I knew I had to immediately take control so instead of rushing out due to embarrassment; I calmed him down by EXPLAINING that we came a long way to go swimming and reminded him of our positive times in the water. It took every ounce of my calming nature to make him feel comfortable and have a few splashing moments! He never became fully relaxed although he did enjoy himself.

A friend of the family had invited us to the pool and she learned an important lesson that morning. She told my wife how impressed she was at my calmness and admitted that if it were her child, she would have left immediately.

What would I be teaching my son if I let him take control just because he was uncomfortable? It would have been different if he had never been swimming or was screaming violently but this was not the case.

There is little doubt that effective parenting is one of life’s biggest challenges. It takes a multitude of qualities; with one hopefully being that the parent was raised lovingly, taught well and shown positive values. If not, being an effective parent could be elusive.

We can only do our best as parents and hope that our children adhere to the lessons taught. Most of us won’t know how effective we were until our children become adults and begin to take on the world. In the interim, there is one thing that is in our control and that is the leadership of being a parent. One cannot be afraid of how others view us or a screaming child in public. We should be concerned with what we are teaching our children in their mini moments of crisis.

If you have small children like me, it will be another two decades before the fruits of our parental labor manifest in a bitter or sweet way. Until that time, we should embrace the privilege and blessing of parenthood. Our children are looking to us for guidance, discipline, strength, love, wisdom and support particularly those under 5 years old which many believe (me included) are the crucial developing years. If one is not the parent in most situations, the lessons learned could hinder their success in life.

A dear friend has 3 children and seeing them together frequently gives me a high dose of inspiration! He interacts with them in a firm and fair way while at the same time listening to them. He then explains his actions so that they understand why he is acting in a certain manner with a particular issue.

It is crystal clear who the parent is whether he is with one child or all three. His children should be better adults for his wise actions although they might not realize it now.

I find that most parents love being parents; some do it effectively, others do it fairly well and far too many shy away from what it takes to succeed. Whatever level you find yourself at, we can attempt to always be the one in control and keep the important line below close to our heart.

Remember, You’re the Parent.

Hope you had a wonderful Easter and Happy Gswede Sunday!

"March Madness" Office Pool - Tips for Winning

Most avid sports fans in America would agree that there is nothing quite like the excitement and drama of March Madness, the NCAA’s college basketball 64 team tournament. The festive competition begins in March and a National Champion is crowned in early April.

According to Reuters, 18 percent of American workers participate in an office pool:

In addition, a big thrill for me over the years has been filling out a bracket sheet and participating in a variety of office pools. In a typical office, each person picks who they think will win the games in each round and chooses a National Champion. Each round is assigned points and the winner is the person with the most points. For those not familiar with this tournament, please see the link below for more information.


Most office pools have an entrance fee (per sheet) and monetary prizes for the top winners. Prize money is determined by how many people participate. I have been participating with a New York City group since the early part of the decade and I LOVE the competition!

The following three points are why I want to share some tips:

1) Since 2003, I have won the top prize in the NYC pool 4 times in 7 years. This year, I was once again in position to win with over 90 sheets entered.

2) I played Division 1 Basketball at the University of Vermont for 4 years which gives me a big advantage as I know college basketball better than most.

3) I approach the competition very strategically with little or no allegiance to any one team.

Gswede (above) loves the excitement of March Madness!

Below are some tips to help you win in your office. While this advice won’t guarantee you success, it can help you to place amongst the top 5 participants.

A) During the college basketball season, watch as many games as you can. If not, follow the teams (especially the top 25) via newspaper or Internet.

B) Before filling out your sheet(s), do as much research as you can on the regular season and the season ending conference tournaments. I typically spend 3-5 hours reviewing all aspects of the season as well as reading the opinions of experts who I respect.

C) Make sure you know ALL the key injuries to players especially on the top teams. If a star player is hurt and will miss several or all games, that fact should be a main consideration while filling out your sheet(s).

D) Enter more than 1 sheet. You want to make sure there is a backup in case one of your sheets does poorly.

E) The first round is crucial even though the points per game are the lowest. Know which teams are likely to upset higher seeds and look at past performance. If your college team is playing, NEVER pick them unless they are a top notch program. My college was in the tournament 3 years in a row and I didn’t pick them even though they upset Syracuse one year. If you don’t know the teams well, picking all higher seeds (only in round 1) will usually give you a good first round score.

F) Because the top programs often get the best high school players, only 8 -10 teams generally have a chance to win the national championship every year. Make sure your sheet(s) reflects that.

G) Always respect past champions. I was shocked this year because only a few people in my office pool picked the University of Connecticut to win the championship even though they have won it two times in the past decade.

H) Be strategic with your picks. I cannot reveal my strategy but I can tell you that EVERY pick on my sheet is thought about carefully and strategically. My formula is consistent year after year thus I am able to perform well. In addition, I always have one sheet I fill out from my gut. This year, that “gut feeling” sheet was the only one of my sheets that had a chance to win the top prize.

I) Look for the coaches and teams who have been rising throughout the years. Villanova is one of those teams, having been successful over the past 8 years yet never making it to the Final Four in that span of time until this year.

Before the Final Four teams began play yesterday, there were only 8 scenarios for a national champion. My sheet was guaranteed to win the top prize in 5 of those 8. Another player was guaranteed to win in the other 3. After the remaining four teams are known each year, it is my goal to be in position to claim the top prize (not the lower ones) and I usually am.

Even though I had better odds to win, it will not happen this year because the University of Connecticut lost to Michigan State yesterday thereby making it impossible for me to have the winning sheet. I will take home a prize though; 5th, 6th or 7th place depending on the combined final score in the championship game.

The man who won this year had a phenomenal sheet and thwarted my chance to win the pool in consecutive years since I won in 2008. I congratulated him today via email as he deserved the #1 spot.

It is never fun to lose yet I have a great time competing and this year was no exception. I am looking forward to 2010!

Who will have their “Shining Moment” on Monday night? With the firepower that North Carolina brings to the court, it will be extremely difficult for Michigan State to beat them.

Good luck in your office pool next year.

Happy Gswede Sunday!