2 of my Mentors - Their Profound Impact

This past May brought a rare treat with two of my mentors visiting me in successive weeks. Steve was first, here for the 5th year of my youth basketball program which was a smashing success and our best year ever. He taught me the game of basketball and shared his wisdom about life at the crucial ages of 10-18. My Uncle Byron came next and it never fails being a pleasure when in his company. He was responsible for giving me my business start in New York City which was the foundation for my career success. In addition, he has been a wonderful source of inspiration and guidance and one of the few people I never tire of talking with. My life would be very different had these two good men not been in it.

Gswede listening to Steve's basketball wisdom in Stockholm


I met Steve when I was 9 years old. He was my first (and best) basketball coach. While I don’t remember much from those early days, I do recall him fixing my shooting style which lacked a solid technique. I didn’t know then that my new jump shot would be the catalyst for my basketball and life success.

I liked him immediately (as most kids have) and could sense that he could be a positive force in my life. He was only my coach for two years but those times enhanced my skills immensely and gave me the confidence to know that I could be a very good basketball player. In addition, I spent countless hours after practice or on weekends - a) playing basketball with him (with older or college aged kids) at his former high school and b) going with him to basketball games. In both instances, we always talked about life, girls, his experiences, race, goals, basketball, etc. I soaked up all I heard like a sponge as I knew he had a wise and sensible mind and cared for me.

As I dominated high school basketball in my area, I am sure it was comforting for him to witness the success (4 year college basketball scholarship) he had been instrumental in creating. Like my mother and father, Steve was never boastful or swept up in my success like some mentors/parents were in my town. He was only concerned about me doing well in school, being a good person and improving my basketball skills. My mother and Steve kept my head and attitude level when it could have easily swollen with arrogance due to the never ending admiration of being a high school sports star. I am grateful for that.

Steve has been married for 25 years and I played a small yet critical part in it. Knowing he was ready to meet a good woman, I invited him to the pool where I was a member since there were a plethora of lovely ladies there. He met a nice lady one day and within weeks they were a couple. I have gotten to know Donna well over the years and she is a kind and loving person. In addition, she was a school teacher in the inner city which is admirable and has shown me a lot about her character and values. As Donna often says, “we have a great marriage”.

Steve and I kept in touch throughout the years and I would frequently visit him on my trips back to my hometown. In 2004, I had the idea to bring him over to Sweden to help teach basketball to a country sorely in need of improvement. The concept was simple: I would raise the funds to pay for his trip to Stockholm and he would provide his basketball expertise to youth and/or coaches. I knew it would work well although I didn’t expect the obstacles in Sweden to be so high. We overcame those and just completed the 5th year of “The American Basketball Coach in Sweden” program. (http://www.gswede.blogspot.com/). The organization we worked with in May has already asked us back for 2010.

After a wonderful evening in Stockholm - Byron & wife Paulette



My first recollection of my Uncle Byron was around age 8. My mother and I went to a party at his house and I was impressed with the size of his home and the fine display of food available. I even remember those succulent shrimp which may have been my first time tasting seafood. It was obvious that he was living well and I never forgot that night.

During my summers throughout college, he paved the way for me to work at IBM, which was a terrific job and invaluable work environment for me to experience at a young age. When I was looking to make a move to New York City (NYC), he once again provided me a golden opportunity; an interview with a top publisher of sports magazines. I got the job and took my first bite of the Big Apple. That start was the beginning of a new life for me with the highlight in NYC being my years selling sports sponsorships at Madison Square Garden.

Since my teenage years until now, we have consistently stayed in touch or visited one another. Whether it was at his mother’s house, a Tina Turner concert, one of my college basketball games, in our hometown or at his Connecticut home, his company along with his wife and/or family was always pleasant. Byron is enjoyable in the sense that he is a truly interesting person – never boring to talk with or be around which is rare in my world. His career has been stellar and it was wonderful for me to hear about his experiences, motivation and wisdom as he climbed the corporate ladder. In addition, he consistently kicked my butt in tennis over the years - a sore spot being the competitive person I am.

His wife Paulette is tender and loving and she welcomed me with open arms the first time we met. It’s easy to feed off of her positive energy and soothing warmth. I lived with Byron and Paulette for a few months during my first year working in NYC. I appreciated their hospitality and it was nice to get to know them better. I was fortunate to witness their family life along with the ups and downs of daily living. I learned a lot then and continue to learn from them. Byron and Paulette have been married for 3 decades and have three interesting and lovely daughters.

Two trips with Byron I think of often as it was just the two of us. First, he took me to a Chicago Bulls vs. Los Angeles (LA) Lakers NBA finals game featuring Michael Jordan and my favorite professional, Magic Johnson. As a former college basketball player, this was pure excitement! It was my first time to LA and we had superb accommodations and enjoyed a festive few days. Second, we shared a couple days of serenity playing golf in Vermont where we had the chance to golf by day and enjoy find food with good conversation at night. It is also one of the rare times that I have played golf well which was an added bonus.

While I never thought I would reach the heights (most people don’t) that he did in corporate America, I consider myself fortunate to have a non-parental family member who I like and admire, who inspired me as a young kid, who has provided quality insight about family and work life, who provided the platform for my career in sales and who continues to be a person I look up to and want to be around. I am so glad he and his wife made the trip to Stockholm.

Mentors are extremely important to have and they don’t necessarily have to be older. My mentors vary in age with some around my age and a few being younger. I have others who are 8 to 37 years older. What is invaluable to do when you find a good one who you like and respect is a) to make sure you keep them in your life, b) to utilize them for guidance, knowledge, inspiration and career help.

It is very difficult to navigate the tricky waters of life without consistent and strong mentorship. With the world economic crises in full bloom, finding and keeping quality mentors may become a necessity particularly in the area of locating and/or keeping a job. Don’t wait until the need for a mentor is pressed upon you; go find one now! Quite often a mentor will be right in front of you yet you might not be able to see it for a variety of reasons which can include “wanting to do it alone”, being afraid to bond or not being comfortable in asking for guidance.

In my experiences, I have found that most caring and trustworthy people have been more than happy to mentor me or others. The crucial part is keeping them in your life on a consistent basis. Maybe you cannot always see them during the year but you can surely make a phone call or send a few personal notes to them during that time. I have greater respect for the people I mentor who make an effort to keep in touch with me as it shows that they are thinking about me.

Steve and Byron have had a profound impact on my life and it’s a true blessing to have them in my world. I couldn’t have asked for or dreamed of a better pair to have as mentors.

Happy Father’s Day Steve and Byron. Thanks for caring.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Really cool reflections, George. Good for guys to be able to say these things.