Gswede's Holiday Message

Feliz Navidad from the warmth of San Miguel, Mexico.  The temperature is absolutely perfect and I’m grateful to be relaxing in the comfort of family.

My holiday words are simple yet very important to one’s well being.

The message:

In 2012 and beyond, try to do the things you enjoy in life. Don’t put off the travel or passions or whatever you desire.  Put yourself FIRST (if only now and then) thus being better able to enjoy the beauty of life and tackle its challenges.

Embrace the family and friends who enhance your life NOT those who lessen it.

Keep the struggles of those less fortunate top of mind along with those dealing with the hardship of the global financial crises and the brave soldiers (throughout the world) fighting for freedom.

In addition, give of your time or money in whatever capacity you can.  Try to mentor our youth in some shape or form, whether they are a family member or someone close to you. Lending a helping hand to only one young person could change that life forever!

Be thankful for what you do have even if it is not what you desire. I love this quote:

“Be Grateful for Life”
“Be Grateful to Life”

Remember to evolve or enhance yourself in the new year, like being more patient.  One who doesn’t consistently evolve throughout life can miss the wonderful moments revolving around them.

Don’t forget that nothing is more important than your health. Nothing.

Finally, HAVE FUN! If you’re not having fun, you’re not living life.

Have a great holiday season and a vibrant 2012.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

The pool view from our condo in Mexico!

Friend to Friend – The Truth Hurts (and Helps)

Friends should be honest with each other, especially with those who are LAZY or not showing enough GRIT in life or MISGUIDED or UNPRODUCTIVE or NOT living up to their potential.

For years with one friend and recently with another, I've attempted to provide a 'wake up call' since they haven’t come close to fulfilling their potential.

The first has taken the constructive criticism and advice well over the years but not the second man.

I have very little faith left in the first man as he has shown zero progress despite good counsel and love from many.  He has had well over a decade of going further and further into the abyss, often chasing one misguided dream after another. He is a dear friend to me and a few in my inner circle although I believe most are getting tired of his unwillingness to find a normal path in life.  His pattern has not worked for a long time so a change is much needed.

It’s important to note that he’s had major success as an American living in Europe - one of the first to move abroad in our core group.  I saw the sizzle daily when I visited him in the 1990’s. It was one of the best European weeks of my life!  Ever since he returned to the USA, that high life has evaporated. It’s a shame as he had what it took to survive and thrive in Europe (not easy to do), yet those qualities have failed to bloom in the USA.  I’ve written about him on several occasions and you can find the articles at the links below:

The second man lives in Sweden and is a good friend who has helped me in several projects. He’s smart, charming and good with kids. In addition, he has a kind heart. By his own admission, he didn’t focus in high school as a star athlete, which probably cost him a top sports scholarship. One of his coaches thought he could have been a professional baseball player.

He’s had success in various European countries with his sports background although I haven’t seen the high energy, supreme focus or effective networking in Sweden – character aspects vital to success in this country. In my opinion, he needs to show more grit and embrace the Swedish culture better than he has. He doesn’t seem to give people a chance to see those qualities other than those close to him.  It’s almost as if he puts up a protective shell when in the company of Swedes or those he doesn’t know.   Without networking well in Sweden or showing one’s true character, it’s almost impossible to succeed at a high level.

It was tough for him to read my recent emails although all the correspondences were sent because I care and want to see him do better. He will understand this more clearly over time.  I expected his defensive reaction as he has never taken kindly to constructive criticism, which probably means he never had much from those close to him.

I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind to a friend, push them to be better, give advice or tell them when they were wrong. Fortunately, my close friends have treated me the same way. Although nobody would say (I hope!) that I am not living up to my potential, there have certainly been moments where the GRIT wasn’t good enough or the effort wasn’t as strong as it should have been……. and friends let me know about it.

There were a few who boldly got in my face and told me to “shape up” or sometimes used harsher words, which was exactly what I needed.  If not for their concern and love, my success in life might have been much less. Their timely input was spot on each time and I’m wiser because of it. 

Friends need to push each other to be better because if not, who will? Do you tell your friends things they don’t want to hear?  The truth often hurts…BUT don’t be afraid to tell it to your friends or anyone you care about, particularly if they are not living up to their potential or not going about life in a productive manner.

These two men should be “shining lights” and they have had some moments in the sun. The first man is only a flicker of light these days, sometimes barely seen. The second has a chance to climb to the brightness only if he is bold enough to show more grit, come out of his shell, embrace Sweden and work harder than he ever has to find a quality job or start his own business. The world is his oyster.

It all comes down to choices.

Will they choose to have a HO HUM life or choose to let that inner beauty flow and live life at a minimum, close to their potential?  I’m optimistic for the latter.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

A wonderful cheese store in Lund, Sweden.

Salespeople - Make that Last Extra Call

Not long ago, I had two productive days on universities several hours apart.

It was late on the second day and my train was departing in 35 minutes. I thought about talking a lazy walk to the train but then said to myself, “why not make one final call?”

I picked a random door and knocked.  The woman I met was affable and glad to see me despite the time.   I quickly uncovered her main need – an entrepreneurial textbook for hundreds of students. An added bonus was that this meeting was the most enjoyable one of the day.

She wasn’t happy with her current textbook (my main competition) so I presented her with a few options. After further investigation back in my office, I later found the perfect book for her needs and sent a copy immediately.

She has a few weeks to make her decision and wants to consider all of her options, yet if I didn’t make that final call, I would have missed a golden opportunity. As a salesperson, one never wants to miss any chances to gain business, especially new business.

While sharing my story with a colleague, he described his ultimate “last call” via email:

Great news on that last call!!! I am a big believer in making that last extra call. I will never forget waiting outside of a guy's office in Stockholm (economics dept). There were lots of students outside his office all day, so I knew he must teach a big course but he wasn't in the database. Finally at just before 5 I stopped by again and the students were gone. He was still there and I knocked on the door. After a brief intro he said "you are either psychic or very lucky because I was just given a new course today for 350 to 500 students and we need to use 2 books." It was a microeconomics course for law students so they picked two of our books;  I DHL'd him the books and that was that. So sometimes that last call can be the best of the day! Great job giving that extra effort! I hope you get this one!

We (salespeople) should try to make that last call as often as we can. One never knows what great success may be waiting behind an unexplored door.

I made my train that day with only a few minutes to spare. Even if I missed it, the opportunity I gained would have still been worth it!

Although I didn’t close the business on the spot like the aforementioned colleague, my chances are high to gain this NEW business – business that would make a strong impact for me in 2012.

In my experience, last calls are rarely the best calls of the day although like in basketball, “if you don’t take the shot, you have no chance of scoring”!

Take that last shot.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

My wife Matilda and I before a July summer party in the south of Sweden

Life is What We Make of It

In the last few years, I was fortunate to come across the words of my friend Bryson.  As a writer, he is prolific and I appreciate his talent and dedication.
I particurlary like the passage below from his work called, "Life is What We Make of It":
Life doesn’t have to be so complicated and deep that we don’t enjoy life
Life is simply living and not existing
Enjoying every moment and everything that life has to offer
And learning from the many lessons that life will give
Some good and some bad
A combination of the joys and pains that we experience in our journey
But even with the not so good and those life experiences that sometimes hurt
Life is what we make of it
Let's make sure we enjoy the moments, all moments.....each and every day.  Life is INDEED what we make of it.  The entire writing is below. 
Happy Gswede Sunday!
Life is What We Make of It

It’s often said life is what we make of it
We spend much of our early life
Dreaming of what we would like our life to be
And then we spend the rest of our life trying to make those dreams come true
Dreams of living life to the fullest
Dreams of having the perfect life
Dreams of having the perfect job
Dreams of having the perfect love
Dreams of life becoming the perfect dream
Sometimes dreams are fulfilled
And they become that perfect reality
And sometimes those dreams that we had envisioned our lives to become go unfulfilled
And takes us down roads we never thought we would have to travel
And introduce us to experiences we never thought would become a part of our life story
But dreams fulfilled or unfulfilled doesn’t mean life cannot be all it can be
Because life is what life is and life is what we make of it
Life doesn’t have to be so complicated and deep that we don’t enjoy life
Life is simply living and not existing
Enjoying every moment and everything that life has to offer
And learning from the many lessons that life will give
Some good and some bad
A combination of the joys and pains that we experience in our journey
But even with the not so good and those life experiences that sometimes hurt
Life is what we make of it
We must understand there is chemistry with the many characteristics of life
We must realize that even work and play can be one of the same
There shouldn’t be a difference in the observation of work and play
There shouldn’t be a difference if you are working versus if you are playing
You should do one as easily as the other
And work and play should bring both comfort and joy
You should do both with a commitment, passion and seriousness that defines who you are
In work and play you should see what makes you the person you are
And most of all you should see a passion for what you do
Whatever you do should be a reflection of you
Whether you are working or playing
A true picture of you should be revealed
Find who you are in all that you do
And never allow anything to compromise the person you are 
Understand that whatever you do, can be one in the same if you focus on finding satisfaction in what you do
And through a satisfaction in all that you do
You can learn to reach your full potential and live life to the fullest
And you will realize that life is what we make of it
 My friend Bryson

Reading to Your Child is Fundamental for Success

I believe most parents would agree that we never stop learning. This insightful  article (quotes and link below) from NY Times columist Thomas Friedman offers some good advice for parents regarding education.

First, a sad fact about America's young people. A quote:

"Every three years, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or O.E.C.D., conducts exams as part of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, which tests 15-year-olds in the world’s leading industrialized nations on their reading comprehension and ability to use what they’ve learned in math and science to solve real problems — the most important skills for succeeding in college and life. America’s 15-year-olds have not been distinguishing themselves in the PISA exams compared with students in Singapore, Finland and Shanghai."

Another quote on why the big differrence:

For instance, the PISA study revealed that “students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child ‘every day or almost every day’ or ‘once or twice a week’ during the first year of primary school have markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents reported that they had read a book with their child ‘never or almost never’ or only ‘once or twice a month.’ On average, the score difference is 25 points, the equivalent of well over half a school year.” 

Reading to your child may come naturally and its benefits could seem obvious although it's clear from the study that many parents aren't reading to their children on a regular basis.  I know several educated parents who admitted to me that they rarely read newspapers, online articles or books, which surprised me. It's doubtful they are frequent readers to their young ones.

One of the reasons I'm a competent writer is that my mother and father were big proponents of education. On the nights I didn't have homework, my mother often gave me her own homework. In addition, I love to read and much of that stems from my parents. Because of their care, educational success was made easy and it sparked my curiosity about the world..

Currently, America is in a lot of pain, with millions unemployed and a bad economy. One way to bring back some of the pleasure is to make sure reading stays front and center in as many homes as possible. As this article suggests, one's background isn't necessarily a barrier in helping your child to succeed:

The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background. Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.” 

Additional insight:

“Monitoring homework; making sure children get to school; rewarding their efforts and talking up the idea of going to college. These parent actions are linked to better attendance, grades, test scores, and preparation for college,” Barth wrote. “The study found that getting parents involved with their children’s learning at home is a more powerful driver of achievement than parents attending P.T.A. and school board meetings, volunteering in classrooms, participating in fund-raising, and showing up at back-to-school nights.” 

In our busy worlds, it would be beneficial for parents to sit back now and then , reflect and make sure we are giving our child the best possible opportunity for success. Reading more is an easy way to do that. 

The author's final point:

To be sure, there is no substitute for a good teacher. There is nothing more valuable than great classroom instruction. But let’s stop putting the whole burden on teachers. We also need better parents. Better parents can make every teacher more effective. 


Happy Gswede Sunday!

The beauty of Barcelona, Spain in November.

Synchronized Sunning

I'm frequently at a college university for my job.  The professor conversations, walks around campus and energy of the students are often inspiring. In addition, the occasional flow of memorable college flashbacks (25 years ago) brings a smile to my face.

One particular moment was exquisite. It occurred late one afternoon after my last sales appointment. I was about to enter a taxi.

Before I got in, the taxi driver and I simultaneously saw two extraordinarily beautiful women walking across the parking lot. Any man or woman would have looked at these college students as they were a stunning pair and would dominate any scene.

The moment was enhanced by the late afternoon sun and a pleasant autumn temperature of 10c (50F). In addition, the warm and perfect light dancing off the concrete, combined with the surrounding reflections and distant foliage was lovely.

And then it happened.

They stopped (as if choreographed) in the middle of the empty parking lot and turned towards the sun. As they pointed their faces upward and closed their eyes, they simply basked in the glow of the sun for what seemed like forever although it was probably only 15 seconds.

It was the essence of harmony.

If this was an Olympic Sport, it would be called “Synchronized Sunning” and this tandem would have easily taken home the Gold!  I’ve never been a fan of the actual sport (Synchronized Swimming) yet I can appreciate its beauty.

I had the urge to pull my camera (always on me) out yet I couldn’t take my eyes off this beautiful scene. The taxi driver was just as enthralled as I was.

After the ladies left, the driver and I simply smiled at each other and nothing was said. Nothing more needed to be said.

The moment was (in the words of poet John Keats), “A Thing of Beauty”.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Gswede catching some sun at a lovely park in Barcelona, Spain.

To Stretch or Not to Stretch

Below is a quote about stretching:

If you’ve never stretched, though, don’t feel obligated to begin now, Dr. Herbert says. “There is little evidence that stretching does anything important,” he says, “but there is also little to be lost from doing it. If you like stretching, then do it. On the other hand, if you don’t like stretching, or are always in a rush to exercise, you won’t be missing out on much if you don’t stretch.”

Although it seems as though stretching doesn’t do anything beneficial, consider this scenario:

At a New York City party in SoHo over a decade ago, a good friend casually mentioned to me that he was playing basketball the next day.  I didn’t think much of his comment at the time as the party was lively and festive. As I was leaving, I said for all to hear “Make sure you stretch your achilles”.

He laughed it off having never been seriously hurt and only in his early 30’s. The next day, he tore his achilles tendon.

Do you think he stretched? Of course not. When I’ve asked those who have torn their achilles if they stretched beforehand, there was rarely a positive response.

My friend might have been injured anyway although stretching in this instance may have prevented 2 months on crutches. I could only chuckle when I saw him limping around after since I did give him ample warning.  I’ve always stretched my achilles before playing basketball or any other sport and I believe it is one of the reasons I’ve never injured it.

As a former division 1 basketball player, I was taught early on to stretch and do a light warm-up before taking the court. The stretching frequently made me feel better and more limber. Surely, there has to be some benefit to that.

The real key to avoiding an injury with running or sports in general is to know your body, compete within your limits and be careful not to injure yourself because of carelessness. Below is a quote and link from a previous article:

A message to all 40 something’s or older – stay within your abilities or comfort zone when competing athletically and don’t try to act as if you are twenty again. I have seen numerous people injured (often with pain for years) simply because they trained or competed as if they were still in college. A woman in my hometown was playing softball and ran the bases as if she was a track star; she never made it to home base and died. If she had run easily and comfortably, she might be on this earth today. Quality of life should be important and as we get older there needs to be a focus of sound judgment in any chosen athletic endeavor or you could have an aching knee or bad back for the rest of your life.

There has never been a moment in any type of sport/activity where I wasn’t aware of my body and competing in the proper way, especially with regard to my knees and back – areas if injured, can limit one’s life in a major way.

I’m less than three years from 50 and my body has rarely felt better.

One final thought on avoiding injuries in your day to day life; a quote from my article called “Avoid Injuries Due to Your Own Actions:

Remember the following story the next time you find yourself near ice:

In 2003, Dr. Atkins was enjoying the moment particularly because his controversial weight loss philosophy was finally getting the respect he thought it deserved. He was in his early 70's and life was good.

As he was walking down a New York City street, he slipped and fell on ice. He suffered a severe head injury and never recovered. He died just as the glory was shining upon him. What a shame.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

The October Foliage at our country home in Sweden.

CYA (Control Your Agenda)

Most of my life, I’ve followed a path of my choosing and made it a priority to do the things I enjoyed in a responsible manner.  In addition, helping others has been and always will be important to me.

I’ve never been afraid to make choices that were good for my being or pursue a direction that interested me.  Sometimes those decisions were delayed although eventually I got on the proper course. 

It’s what I like to call CYA or “Control Your Agenda”.

The Best Man at my 2003 wedding talked briefly about my CYA philosophy which brought a smile to my face.  Our life is made up of choices and each one of us has the opportunity to use them to our own benefit and/or the benefit of others.  

Since our time on earth is so short, why not control the flow and rhythm of your life?  Isn’t a life on your terms the most worthwhile? 

I realize it can be a tough road to navigate as often people think they know what’s good for you, when in reality they are trying to persuade you to think or be like them. Sometimes, your inner voice is the one to adhere to.  One can still listen to and/or follow the wise advice and counsel of others (I have and still do) as long at they have your best interests in mind.

Some didn’t think moving to New York City was the right move for me. I appreciated their concern but I wanted the sizzle, challenge and excitement that only the Big Apple can provide.  It was a GREAT ten years and invaluable, both personally and for my business career.

Often, one’s journey makes it impossible to live a life desired although in my experience, bad choices and/or irresponsibility are the main culprits in that regard. If one is prudent and responsible (not easy to do in our world of temptations), doing what you want in life is usually within your control. Irresponsible choices can put a severe damper on an otherwise bright light.

Or sometimes one makes a good decision too late, thus wasting precious time/years in life or relationships. I spent four years in Boston although that was almost cut in half as two years was enough for me. I didn’t listen to the wisdom of friends and my inner voice. It was the only period where I wasted time living in a place too long. Fortunately, it’s been rare when I wasted time in a relationship.

We've all known numerous people who haven’t been bold or courageous enough to control their life in the manner they desire – some going with any flow or the opinion of another, while others let life control them.  In addition, those who pepper their conversations with “should have” or “could have” can frequently be guilty of not fulfilling their dreams.

Below is a list of “Controlling Your Agenda” aspects I’ve admired, embraced or lived; with many emanating from people close to me who exemplify “being the author of their own life”.

CYA aspects of life including but not limited to:

--    Living life on your terms, NOT for others like a parent, friend or family member
--    Choosing a life of Responsibility over Irresponsibility
--    Doing a job you like or are passionate about
--    Having daily or weekly “Me Time” – undisturbed time for yourself to do whatever you enjoy
--    Embracing life like a child occasionally
--    Having a least one passion or hobby outside of your day job
--    Not living “solely” for your kids and neglecting your needs
--    Helping others
--    Putting yourself FIRST in order to serve others best
--    Standing up for your beliefs
--    Not living vicariously through others or your children
--    Embracing music, nature and the unknown
--     Having a pattern of healthy relationships NOT toxic ones or NOT those that waste years of your precious time
--    “Choosing Wisely” for marriage and NOT being with someone who only makes you feel good
--    Not falling victim to any type of addiction
--    Having good friends who enhance your life, not those who dampen your spirit
--    Having a yearly men’s/women’s weekend – no spouse, no kids...only those friends who you enjoy spending time with
--    Embracing the good values taught by your parents
--    NOT being controlled by a bad or non-caring parent
--    Embracing a life of healthy eating and moderate exercise
--    Passion, Enthusiasm, Boundless Energy, Positivity and Gratitude
--    Knowing how to relax and taking time to relax
--    Being focused, having a direction and setting goals
--    Loving deeply
--    Having of the most important 
--    Teaching one's children with love, discipline and boundaries
--    Living outside of your birth country for a few years

The aforementioned list is not the “bible” of what one should do nor does one have to embody the entire list.  In my opinion, embracing some or many of these elements can help one lead a balanced, low stress and enjoyable life – the kind of life that leads to longevity.

You may have a different set of criteria or not even care about CYA. There are different strokes for different folks.

Also, one can find many ways to effectively lead the life they envision or desire…but it’s hard to implement if you’re not controlling your agenda. And it’s almost impossible to reach one’s dreams if one doesn’t have a goal or direction.

Some final questions:

A)    Are you in the “would have, should have, could have” crowd?
B)    Are you leading an unfulfilled or complacent life?
C)    Are you not living up to your potential?
D)    Is your world uninspired?
E)     Are you unhappy?
F)     Are you unmotivated in your job?

If you can answer NO to all of the questions, keep doing what you are doing.

If you answered YES to any of the above, chances are that you are not adhering to CYA, or in simple terms, NOT knowing what you want in life, NOT caring about what you desire or NOT doing what you want.

If you want to change your circumstances or outcome, CYA in some form or fashion must be top of mind.

I love the words from the song “Secret O' Life”:

And since we’re only here for a while
Might as well show some style
Give us a smile
(James Taylor)

How’s your style? Do you have one?

How’s your smile? Do you show it?

Finding your OWN style and doing it with a smile is a good way to start “Controlling Your Agenda”.  If you begin the CYA journey, life may start to bloom in ways you may have never imagined.

The late and brilliant Mr. Technology said it best in his version of CYA:

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
(Steve Jobs)

Remember, if you’re not controlling your agenda, something or someone else is!

Control Your Agenda.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

He took CYA (Control Your Agenda) to its highest form.

Happy 25 Years to the 1986 UVM Alumni!

Wow.  25 years has past since I graduated and left the comfort of The University of Vermont (UVM) and the often extraordinary fun that only college can provide.

Interestingly, before I stepped foot on campus in the summer of 1982, I had a great feeling about my upcoming college experience and overall, my 4 years lived up to my expectations. 

My late spring visit to UVM was to determine if I would accept their basketball scholarship offer.  

Fortunately, I stayed with freshman basketball player Bill Brown during my brief visit. He showed me a great time, introduced me to some nice people and took me downtown to get a taste of the nightlife UVM was known for.  In addition, he was honest about his short time with the team which I appreciated.  He’s been one of my dearest friends ever since.

After only a few days, I knew that this was the place for me.

Unfortunately, the basketball portion of my experience turned out to be a low point for me (and many others) although I always stayed positive and reminded myself that I was enjoying college for free – a rare luxury.

During my senior year, the basketball team accomplished something courageous and important – a feat that paved the way for our great basketball success in the past 15 years. That makes me proud.  A book on the team and what occurred will be written in the future.

On my weekly blog, I’ve yet to write fully about my collegiate years as I want to dedicate the proper time and effort in order to capture the essence of my experience. I plan to put pen to paper on UVM in the coming year.

Since Michael Jackson was a big part of college (“Thriller” came out in my first year),  I touched briefly on UVM in my article “My 3 Favorite Mike’s”. Below is a passage and the link:

First, imagine this scene:

It's my freshman year in college as a Division 1 basketball student-athlete. I have a free education due to a 4 year scholarship. One weekend I go out with some friends to the local disco in town. Pretty young ladies are everywhere and I am on the dance floor rocking the night away with one of them. The tune playing is Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. At that moment, I felt like I was floating on a cloud! I said to myself, "Ah,......this is the GOOD LIFE". I knew that the night, the rest of year and my final three years would be something special. And were they ever - I soaked up college like a sponge and enjoyed moments that were absolutely delicious.
Micheal Jackson started it off for me that weekend and his music was ubiquitous during my four years as I vividly remember dancing at parties to "ABC" or other great Jackson 5/Michael tunes. In college, I don't recall an event or party that didn't feature at least one Jackson song.

Today,  I only want to say THANK YOU to all those people who shared those magical moments with me and made most interactions warmly entertaining and/or interesting.  Whether it was time spent with a senior in 1982 or a freshman in 1985 or those in between, the memories are fond ones.

To the 1986 Alumni, I know that many of you were able to go back to campus this weekend (25 year reunion) to share memories and enjoy the beauty of our picturesque university.  If not, my hope is that you took a few moments to reminisce about our exciting years from 1982 to 1986.

In my frequent conversations over the years with a variety of alumni (older and younger), only one person expressed unhappiness about UVM. She stayed less than a year at Vermont although I wish she had stayed longer.

Every other person (some graduated in the 50’s) spoke glowingly about their time at UVM which speaks volumes about our university.  It was rare not to see a big smile on someone’s face as we talked.

I’m grateful for the privilege.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Gswede and UVM graduate Jeannie (Picture by Bill Brown)

"Turn Down the Lights"

The year was 2000 and it was a bitterly cold November evening in Massachusetts.  I was visiting my friend Sheldon and happy to be heading to the warmth of a pre-holiday party in the heart of downtown Boston.

As we entered the apartment, I could sense something was amiss although I couldn’t put my finger on it. Everything seemed just right.  The style of the place was elegant, the crowd was diverse and interesting, the music was lively and the food was great. 

We did the usual “meet and greet” and then came a subtle yet powerful moment.

Engaged in small talk with the host, Sheldon whispered to him, “You have to turn down the lights”.  His delivery was firm yet caring.  Not much more was said and with Sheldon’s well-known social history, the host promptly acquiesced.

Now that my eyes were more open, it was unusually bright in the apartment and the moment could have easily been mistaken for a daytime party!

Once the lights came down, the mood and atmosphere immediately went up a level; an incredible transformation –  the final piece of the party puzzle.  Guests were more comfortable with the dimly lit room and the vibe became magnificent. What a difference. It was a lesson I’ll never forget.

I’ve tried (and usually succeeded) to pay attention to detail when hosting or putting together events although this moment was profound. It became crystal clear how important it is to have all the party elements in sync not just 90%.

The lesson:

Whether it is a meeting, party or any type of event, make sure to do all the things (little and big) necessary to ensure the moment is the best it can be for the guests. Attention to detail is critical.

Elements like temperature, lights, food, space, music and diversity (just to name a few) are crucial to get right.

The aforementioned party wouldn’t have been the same without Sheldon’s deft touch. 

It was a wonderful evening.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

The atmosphere at our (Elmer, Roland and Gswede) 2006 Halloween party was electric!

Sweden’s Immigrants – Paradise Lost?

A dear American friend sent me an article not long ago about immigrants in Sweden. It captured the essence of many immigrants I know or have spoken with – an experience in stark contrast to the pleasant life enjoyed by most Swedes.

This friend is married to a Swedish woman and lives in the USA.  If he once considered moving to Sweden, I doubt it would ever happen now after hearing and reading over the years about what he could expect. Since he rarely sends me anything, I knew the article hit a nerve.

The article was informative yet provided no surprises for me as I have lived and learned in Sweden for nearly 8 years – first in Stockholm and now in a smaller town in southern Sweden. My experience after 5 years can be found on the following link.

Since arriving in 2004, I’ve made it a priority to speak to people I’ve encountered (including almost every immigrant) on my frequent travels around Sweden.  It’s been a wonderful way to learn more about the culture from Swedes and the challenges from immigrants.

The immigrants who spoke with me came from various countries. Some were friends and clients while others were academics entrepreneurs, business people or strangers. A significant portion of stories I heard came from taxi drivers.

Interestingly, most were underemployed or unemployed. “Frozen” out of the job market was something the aforementioned article highlighted although it’s old news to me. Before I arrived in Sweden, I was fortunate to be told how difficult the job market would be.

Most immigrants were eager to speak with me. I got the sense that some never had the chance to “exhale” and tell their story to a welcoming ear. The experiences were vastly different and often compelling although eerily similar in two ways:

1)      The majority were glad and thankful that they had a comfortable life in Sweden – an existence most confessed would be more challenging (and in some cases harsh) if they had remained in their birth countries.

2)      Whether they had lived in Sweden for 2, 10 or 30 years, most were satisfied with life yet not happy.

The dismay about job conditions for immigrants that I mentioned earlier came from my conversations with ex-pats in Sweden before my wife and I moved here. EACH person told me similar stories about how hard it would be to obtain quality employment along with other cultural challenges. Satisfaction reigned supreme in their voices about Sweden not happiness.

Due to their forthright nature, I was prepared for the obstacles I would face.  That made my transition much easier.  I’ve known others who were told the opposite (easy to find a job) before moving although they spoke with Swedes beforehand not immigrants. You can imagine their disappointment when they thought it would be a “Cinderella” work experience.

There are exceptions to the rule in my inner circle – immigrants who are happy in Sweden although I hope that number will increase in future years. Most of the happy ones are blessed to have quality jobs and are very positive.

Fortunately, I’m happy.  I was able to find that rare employer willing to judge me on my merits and not the fact that I’m not Swedish. Before I landed my job, it was tough on me as there were many jobs I was interested in yet never had the opportunity to have an interview  Despite my tough beginning years in Sweden, I’m grateful for my lovely life.

Here’s one of my interview experiences before I moved to Sweden:

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.

Life is VERY good for a majority of the people living in Sweden – a Paradise especially if one compares it with other parts of the world. Our economy is strong and we are the envy of the business world due to our strong recovery from the financial crises.

For many immigrants, the word “Paradise” would never enter into the conversation if they were describing their life in Sweden.

A few weeks back,  I was talking to a  intelligent immigrant taxi driver (9 years here) who was fighting the tears as he spoke of his journey. He informed me of his insane monthly hours and the meager pay he received for his driving efforts – shocking to say the least. According to him, it was the only job he was able to get.

Other malicious things flowed out of his mouth as well – words that were frighteningly harsh. He’s a bitter man and displayed a rage I had never seen before; a rage that should worry Sweden.

After our 15 minute conversation, he said to me, “all of the immigrants in Sweden are strangers. Some are treated better as I am sure you are coming from the USA or those from the UK. People like me (Middle East) or Muslims have a much tougher road to navigate. But, remember, we are all strangers.”

Let’s hope we can all come closer together in future years as Sweden has so many positives (i.e. a great place to raise kids, safe, beautiful nature) although the black eye will always be present as long as qualified immigrants don’t have the chance to compete for jobs or feel as if they are “Strangers in Paradise”.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

A moment of Paradise. (lovely photo by friend Patrick)

The Art of the Chill

On Saturday, my lovely wife said to me, “You’re good at chilling”.

She has always known that although seeing me in my robe, on our country house terrace, reading a book as kids pranced around helped to give her the ultimate Gswede “chill” perspective.

My response to her:

“You’re right, I’ve always been.”

Chilling (or in non-slang terms, relaxing) has been prominent in my life for as long as I can remember.

I’ve always enjoyed my daily “Me Time” or being alone to relax my mind, body and soul.  I also find moments to relax on the rare occasions when I’m around stressful people or chaotic situations.  My life wouldn’t be as serene without the precious time I make to relax.

Even when you’re not alone, it’s not difficult to relax if you know how to do it.

Even with small kids, it’s possible although you need to be a “Michael Jordan” level relaxer to accomplish that. Some of my best and most relaxing moments have been alone with my children.

Deepak's words convey the importance::

Relaxation is the prerequisite

  For that inner expansion that allows a person

To express the source of inspiration and joy within
( Deepak Chopra)

The happiest and most well adjusted friends/acquaintances in my inner circle are master relaxers. They inspire me.

In addition, (and maybe most importantly), they are relaxed around their children which can only be a positive for nurturing a low stress and well balanced child

The aforementioned group also takes care of themselves FIRST as they know that they are able to serve others best if their soul is joyful and their mind clear despite life’s challenges.  If you asked them what are their top priorities, making time to relax would be near or at the top of their list.

As we all have seen, some people never seem to relax which probably stems from a variety of elements including but not limited to growing up with parents who more often than not kept them “doing something” instead of letting them learn to discover the beauty of relaxation or being a bit bored.

Boredom is something we all have to confront in life yet so many modern day parents with young children choose to keep their kids doing, doing and doing instead of giving them the freedom to deal with boredom or discover the adventure of life on their own. 

In my opinion, one of the best ways to relax is to let the “To Do” list wait. Doing so may ruffle some feathers or not sit well with the husband or girlfriend so keep that in mind.

That “To do” list will always be full in our hectic worlds so why not take the chance now and then to relax (especially if alone) instead of laborinng with tasks that are often tedious.

You might not want to take the “The Art of the Chill” to my level though as my wife recently said, “Sometimes you chill TOO MUCH”.  She’s right.....I need to work on that!

If you’re not someone who has mastered “The Art of the Chill”, I implore you to improve or seek help to learn.  If you can’t relax, what message/lesson do you think that sends to your children and/or loved ones?  And we know that being unable to relax isn’t a positive for anyone’s health.

If you care about “expressing the source of inspiration and joy within” that Deepak so eloquently writes about, then relaxing needs to be a part of your daily life in some form or fashion.

If not, your true happiness will probably stay hidden beneath the surface and your soul will be bubbling with anticipation for the joy to emerge.

One way to relax is to “Master your Me Time”.  A link to my article on the subject is below.

Master your "Me Time"

Whatever you choose to do, if you care about YOU, find a way to relax.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Gswede basking in the warm sunshine on a lovely Swedish late afternoon.

Severely Disabled yet on the Treadmill

I found myself at the gym on 3 consecutive days last week. I was inspired to get into better shape by my wife as she is very consistent with her exercise.  I’m fortunate in that my weight doesn’t fluctuate, my health is terrific and I feel good almost every day despite inconsistent exercise.

Consistency is my aim as I know I can feel even better if I exercise more frequently. My body is already starting to feel stronger.

On the third day, a BIG dose of inspiration hit me. It was a “wow” moment.

It was 8am and I was warming up on the treadmill before my workout. The gym wasn’t crowded so it was easy to notice people.  I saw a guy come up to the treadmill who was mentally and physically disabled. I’ve never seen someone in his severe condition at any gym. He could barely walk on his own so his friend was guiding him.

Not soon after, he was on the treadmill doing his morning workout. What an inspiration! He was going along at a decent pace considering his limitations.  Later, I saw him downstairs attempting to do some other exercises.

I couldn’t help but think of the times I’ve a) been too lazy to run or b) not gone to the gym or worked out because I was tired. After seeing him, I hope those “lazy moments” disappear forever.

After a friend heard about this brief encounter, he wrote the following:

“I use to work with the Special Olympics and these special groups of people are truly inspiring. You will be surprised how much you enjoy working with them and how you will build some special relationships that you would truly cherish.”

I’ve read or seen many stories about Special Olympics although it was good to get that encouragement from someone who has previous experience. 

His encouragement went further:

“I would definitely think about doing some things with the special needs populations or the mentally disabled and mentally ill with your sports background.”

I do have some experience in that area as I’ve worked with a special needs 7 year-old boy for six months at his school. It was a tough yet worthwhile adventure. I learned quite a bit about myself and gained a better understanding of what individuals like him go through on a day to day basis.

Inspiration comes in many forms. This past week was a trifecta - (wife’s exercise consistency, disabled man’s ability and friend’s encouragement).

Three days in the gym and three doses of inspiration. Life is good.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

The Moat at a couple's castle - A lovely Sunday afternoon in southern Sweden

If Helped, Return the Favor when Asked

Few things in life irritate me. This is one that does.

Recently, Friend A asked Friend B for a minor favor – a favor most of us would have done without blinking an eye. Instead, Friend B selfishly voiced major complaints before finally agreeing to do it. I was beyond surprised that he didn’t freely and immediately say yes as Friend A helped him in a MAJOR way previously.

Without the help of Friend A, Friends B’s enormous task would have been much tougher and the outcome wouldn’t have been nearly as nice. He obviously didn’t appreciate what Friend A had done for him.

To put things in perspective without divulging their details, what Friend A was asking for was the equivalent of borrowing a car for one day while the major favor Friend B received from Friend A was equal to a car being loaned to him for six months.

I confronted Friend A and asked, “Why didn’t you mention what you did for him” as I knew that would enlighten his selfish act and make him act respectfully. Friend A wasn’t comfortable doing that.

My philosophy has always been:

If someone has helped you or been good to you in the past, you do everything in your power to help them when asked.  You might not be able to fulfil their need although the effort should always be made. 

You would be surprised how many times I’ve seen or heard of a person unwillingly to help someone who has helped them in the past.

Fortunately, I’ve only experienced it a few times. In those moments, I warmly and directly reminded the people what I had done for them in the past – kindnesses that usually required more effort than what I was asking for. After those conversations, I had no issues with the help I needed, including future requests.

The majority of people I’ve helped have bent over backwards to assist me when asked. And I have done the same for those who have been good to me or simply provided a helping hand to someone in need.  Helping one another is a beautiful thing and something that is essential to moving forward in our busy and often complex worlds. 

What I don’t mean to convey is that those you’ve helped owe you something. They don’t.  Helping people is what we should all do more freely and consistently.  But, when you ask for their help, they should be there with open arms.

One favor I needed (since I was asked for help) still touches my heart. A few years ago, I asked a friend in the USA for a favor – something that had to be done quickly.

The request was to deliver flowers to a woman who was visiting NYC for a cancer treatment. Another friend in Sweden was close to the woman (and her husband) yet had no way to have them delivered fast and inexpensively. He asked for my help because of my Manhattan connections.

I immediately got on the phone with my NYC pal and he sprang into action without hesitation; not only buying and delivering the roses but doing so with style and grace. The couple was touched that my friend in Sweden had thought of her and I was impressed by the eloquence of the delivery. I heard it was a lovely moment.

Helping people is what life should be about. Do it whenever and wherever you can. Even be pro-active sometimes by offering help before you are asked.

If someone has been good to you in the past or helped advance your being in life, don’t disrespect yourself or that person by NOT being open to assisting them if asked. It’s the right thing to do.

“People nevor forget that helping hand especially when times are tough” -- (Catherine Pulsifer)

Happy Gswede Sunday!

My son and friends excited before the summer circus in August!

Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish

In light of Steve Jobs recent resignation as CEO (he's still Chairman) of Apple, I recently viewed a wonderful commencement speech he gave at Stanford in 2005.

It's not flashy although he makes some insightful points and offers wise advice. A great speech for anyone to see yet particularly important for our future generation - the YOUTH around the world.

My friend Brian eloquently described his talent this way:

"First there was Henry Ford; revolutionary, visionary, changed not only the game, but the rules and the playing field. Then Steve Jobs; revolutionary, visionary, changed the game, the rules, the playing field AND got just about everyone to come and join the game."

This description (from NY Times) is my favorite and captures the essence of the man::
"Even when Microsoft or Google or Hewlett-Packard tried to mimic Apple’s every move, run its designs through the corporate copying machine, they never succeeded. And that’s because they never had such a single, razor-focused, deeply opinionated, micromanaging, uncompromising, charismatic, persuasive, mind-blowingly visionary leader." 
I don't think we will see anyone come close to his genius in my lifetime. The title of my blog, "Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish" will make sense once you watch the 14 minute video.

The link is below:

Happy Gswede Sunday!

An old Mac I saw in the office of a technology professor earlier this year

Sense and Sensibility – President Bush (The Elder)

The NY Times writer and author Thomas Friedman is rarely off point.

His article on George H.W. Bush (father of our recent president) will not disappoint those who appreciate his wisdom and insight. It’s refreshing and shines a light on a man who as Friedman says (and I agree), is “underrated”.

Some may be surprised by Bush Sr’s actions in office:

1)    He wasn’t afraid to raise taxes despite saying that he wouldn’t. His common sense prevailed unlike many American “conservatives on the right” today. 

Friedman quote
Despite having run on the promise of “Read my lips: No new taxes,” when the deficit started spiraling to dangerous levels under his presidency, Bush agreed to a compromise with Democrats to raise several taxes, along with spending cuts, as part of a 1990 budget deal that helped to pave the way for the prosperity of that decade. It definitely hurt his re-election, but he did it anyway. 

2)     After taking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, he didn’t wage war in Baghdad. As everyone knows, his son (George H. Bush.) started a war on the basis of information that has proven to be false.  Again, a big dose of sense by the elder Bush.

Friedman quote:
George H.W. Bush also believed that to be a conservative was to act with “prudence,” one of his favorite words and a philosophy he demonstrated in foreign policy by deciding, once he defeated Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, not to follow him to Baghdad. 

In addition, he was sensible in embracing science.  

Friedman quote:
George H.W. Bush also believed in science. How many Republicans know that he and his aide Boyden Gray pioneered the use of cap-and-trade to deal — very effectively — with the problem of acid rain produced by power-plant emissions? 

I find it hard to look at today’s G.O.P. without thinking how far it has drifted from the kind of balanced conservatism the elder Bush brought to politics. Today’s G.O.P. has gone from espousing cap-and-trade to deal with pollution to espousing the notion that all the world’s climate scientists have secretly gotten together and perpetrated a “hoax,” called climate change, in order to expand government — all of this at a time of record heat waves and climate disruptions. 

Not all of Bush’s actions were of the sensible kind.  A stain that Freidman failed to mention is the William Horton drama – a campaign ad instrumental in helping Bush win the White house. 

For those unfamiliar, it was a TV campaign showing prisoners going in and out of a revolving prison door. The ad’s intention was to showcase the “light on crime” record of Michael Dukakis (1988 Democrat Presidential Nominee).  William Horton was serving a life sentence when he was released on a weekend parole program during the Dukakis administration in Massachusetts. While out, he attacked a white couple.  Even though many didn’t like this type of racial and fear-based advertising, it was very effective. 

A quote about and link to the “Revolving Door” ad is below:

This stark and unsettling ad from the Bush campaign doesn't mention the notorious escaped convict William Horton by name. (Although he went by William, the Bush campaign referred to him by the less respectable name “Willie”). However, with its release just a few weeks after the independently financed ad "Willie Horton" had generated controversy and national press coverage, the connection was clear. Under the direction of campaign manager Roger Ailes, Dukakis was linked with the case of the African American felon who fled Massachusetts during a weekend furlough and attacked a young white couple in Maryland.

Bush’s main strategist, the late Lee Atwater was a primary force behind the campaign.  It seemed to work brilliantly as Dukakis lost his double digit lead from the summer of 1988 – and subsequently the election.  Atwater later apologized for the ad which is a good thing. 

A few quotes are below:

Dukakis is the person to whom Atwater most famously apologized, in a startlingly candid, first-person piece in Life magazine published two months before his death. 

Atwater recounted how, speaking of Dukakis during the '88 campaign, he promised to “strip the bark off the little bastard” and “make Willie Horton his running mate.” 

 Then he said: “I am sorry for both statements . . . the first for its naked cruelty, the second because it makes me sound racist, which I am not.

In my opinion, presidential nominees should stay away from this kind of racial advertising – messages that play to the fears of the misguided, uneducated or hateful.

From the aforementioned points above, Bush Sr. was a president who made decisions based on logical insight and most importantly, decisions that kept the best interest of Americans in mind.  We could use some of his prudence today.

William Horton aside, many of his actions were sensible although I doubt he would fare well in the current Republican Party, whose shining stars (Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry) are more suited for a comedy tour.  In 2011, far too many conservatives and/or Tea Party supporters seem to care less about the country and more about keeping Obama out of a 2nd term. 

Any intelligent or compassionate person knows that in order for America to begin to rise out of the financial ashes, taxes MUST be raised.  Judging from his past history, Bush Sr. would probably be in agreement with a tax increase in 2011, unlike his son, who kept taxes low while authorizing two wars.

Even the “Gipper” and most beloved conservative (President Ronald Reagan) raised taxes!

Who on the conservative or Tea Party side will be courageous enough to show some or any of the sense and sensibility of George “Poppy” Bush? 

Happy Gswede Sunday!
Another George (aka Gswede) enjoying the Good Life in Sardinia, Itlay - June 2011