Struggle, Your Greatest Teacher

"Embrace Struggle. It is your Greatest Teacher"
(Russell Simmons)

I never understood that quote growing up as everything came easy for me due to my basketball skills. Many wanted to be my friend, there was virtually no peer pressure and most people were extremely nice to me during my formative years. I knew I was being treated differently due to my sports popularity, although the ease it brought to my life was comforting as it allowed me to concentrate solely on my school work and enhancing my basketball development.

Obtaining a 4 year basketball scholarship to the University of Vermont (UVM) just continued the “Magic Carpet ride”. Of course struggle popped up from time to time but nothing worth talking about.

After 21 years of leisure, a new city came my way and life was very different.

My first 4 working years were spent in Boston, which gave me immense struggles in every facet of life. Whether it was work, relationships or the city itself, there was rarely a time when one or something new wasn’t rearing its ugly head in the form of struggle.

I wrote this article about Boston and the tone leaves little doubt about my feelings.

Boston Celtics - Misunderstood in a City that Frequently Sleeps

Maybe I was a bit harsh in that article, although it was how I felt living there. Subsequent visits to the city in the last 20 years have seen an abundance of good times.

I realize that I had to go through the hardships in order to become a stronger person. Going from an entire childhood of bliss and lack of significant struggle, along with a wonderful college journey, made any experience after that a challenge. I’m proud I fought through the tough times and made a good life in Boston, but it was often very difficult.

The highlight of those Boston years were the friendships I made. Not only did my new friends help lift my spirit, many have stayed close to me for over 25 years. I am extremely grateful for that.

Because of the Boston trials and tribulations, I was a better, kinder, stronger & more prepared man for what was to come - most notably 10 fabulous years in New York City, happy travels to Europe & living as an ex-pat in Sweden. Without Beantown, I would not have been ready to tackle my diverse life.

Boston was a GREAT teacher.

I’ve learned not to run away from any struggles and tend to recommend that to my friends as well. If we embrace struggle, there is usually a worthwhile lesson waiting for us. 

Happy Gswede Sunday!


PostCards – Nothing To It But To Do It

My aunt in California sends my family at least 3 postcards a year, especially when she is traveling. It never fails to bring a smile to my face.

After receiving the latest one not long ago, I was inspired to send one to a good friend. It took me less than 5 minutes to do.

Why don’t more of us (including myself) take the time to drop a postcard in the mail now and then? The beauty of postcards in not only do they typically have an interesting image on them; they are also plentiful as I tend to look at the vast assortment when I’m on the road.

Here’s what I am going to do:

My goal is to send 6 postcards a year, with the plan of building up to 12 (one a month) in the years to come.

Maybe postcards don’t excite or inspire you. In that case, I encourage you to write a letter or two per year. I realize “Snail Mail” or letters mailed through the post office has faded dramatically in the last ten years, although don’t you get excited when you get a personal letter from someone? I do.

Remember, don’t use “I don’t have time” as an excuse. Like anything, if it is important to you, you will find the time. The 6 postcards I will send this year will take 1 hour to do in total, including mailing them.

Along with the aforementioned postcard I recently sent, I was also inspired to send two other letters; both with articles in them.

Will you join me in revitalizing the postcard?

The warmth and personal touch of a postcard is a beautiful thing. Let’s not let it become a thing of the past.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

A postcard I saw at someone's home

If It's Violins She Loves, Let Them Play

Compliment what she does
Send her roses just because
If it's violins she loves
Let them play
(One Hundred Ways - James Ingram)

I love that song and those words......Just Because.

When is the last time you sent a note, gift or postcard "just because"?

 How about flowers, a hug or words of appreciation to a loved one?

Or a smile to a stranger or a compliment to a friend?

Or a call/email to a person you have lost contact with "just because"?

Since I have been in Sweden, I can count on two hands the number of people who have reached out to me of their own volition. I understand the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy, yet that never stops me from contacting a good portion of my USA circle "just because". And it never fails to touch them.

I encourage you to do more things (anything) "just because".  It’s an easy way to bring more love and warmth into our complex world, not to mention yours. Start with doing something once a month and progress from there. 

It doesn’t have to be big or take much time; it only needs to be sincere. One of the best emails I ever received was from a close NYC friend, a year after leaving the Big Apple for Sweden. It said:

"Just thinking about you G, how are you".

Very simple, yet one I have never forgotten. 

Happy Gswede Sunday!

A Dream Fulfilled, A Wish Denied

In high school, I was extremely fond of a lovely girl who attended a school nearby. She had everything I liked (and then some) and I wished for nothing more than for us to be a couple. I tried and tried, yet something was always holding her back.

Fortunately, I was a popular basketball star, so the constant disappointment of never getting close to her was always short lived, as the team occupied most of my time.

We talked on the phone often, yet rarely spent time alone. I thought that maybe it was my color holding us back, although the special moments we did share left no doubt about her sincerity.

Connecting with her in 2011, after many lost years was refreshing. She brought up the subject of why she kept her distance during our teenage years – namely the racism of her mother.

Below is part of an email she wrote.

So I came to a decision that you and I couldn't see each other anymore because I was afraid I would get caught. It was one of the worst things I've ever done and I have always felt bad about it and regretted it. I felt you deserved a girlfriend who you could be with without all of the crap and hiding that came with me.
That day my mom said I could not see you made any choice I made the wrong one.  She put me in a trick box and then several years later she wanted to do it herself. And honestly it would not have been so maddening if she had said to me “look, I met this guy who is black, I realize I told you that you couldn't date a black man and I was wrong. Do you mind if I give it a go?”

She didn’t and took a chapter of my life and stomped all over it as if it didn't matter.
But this one hurts the most because I really really really liked you and yet I could not.

I let her know that I understood why she stayed away as it was obvious from the tone of her writing how painful it was for her to have a mother dictating her early years. No child should have to endure that type of pressure.

Since my formative years were free of any significant racism, I’ve sometimes wondered how my world would have been impacted, had I known about her mother’s distaste for me.

I’d like to think I would have handled it calmly, like subsequent racial incidents I’ve experienced, although I’m not so sure. If I had known, my future actions and/or thoughts may have been profoundly different.

I had one Major Dream in high school – to become good enough at basketball to obtain a Division 1 college scholarship. That was fulfilled. I had several wishes during that time, with one being my desire for her to be my girlfriend. That wish was denied.  

I had a wonderful childhood, experiencing life in the way I wanted, with education, family and basketball being my main priorities. Other than her aloofness, everything went as planned for me. For that, I’m grateful.

Maybe it was a good thing we were kept apart, as it allowed me to deal with rejection/struggle early on and learn an important lesson I would never forget – “You can’t always get what you want”.

Happy Gswede Sunday! 

Basketball has helped me to fulfill many of my Dreams.

"Choose Wisely" - Use it and Pass it On

If there is one thing we can attempt to do wisely and/or pass on to our children, is to be careful and diligent in choosing a spouse/life partner.

Nothing about it is easy although one can certainly “Choose Wisely” if serious thought, evaluation and reality are put into the decision. In addition, emotion can make anyone act irrationally when it comes to love, so one must guard against that. 

Even if you do choose wisely, success in marriage is not guaranteed, although if the choice is unwise, success tends to be slim to none.

My article (link below) from 5 years ago will shed further light on this topic. 

Life is too short to waste time on people who may make us feel good or weak in the knees but who we know aren't good for us in the long run. 

Always recognize your value and make every effort to pass that on to the offspring. If you don’t choose wisely, chances are that your children will follow the same pattern.

Like me and many of you, who they marry or commit to will be the most important decision they make.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Just celebrated 10 years of marriage with my lovely wife. Fortunately, I did choose wisely.

Movie Theatre Awareness

It has made my friends and family crazy sometimes when I only want to sit in the “back aisle” seat of a movie theatre. 


Two reasons:

1)      Comfort – Since I am tall, I like the leg room and the easy access to get up without stumbling over people.

2)      Uncomfortable – I’ve always been a tad uncomfortable in a movie theatre as it puts people in a vulnerable position.  The awful gun tragedy in Aurora, Colorado  surprised me but didn’t shock me as it has entered my mind before.

I’m not saying that I would have survived had I been in that theatre, although my awareness of people and exits in crowded situations surely would have been a positive.

If there is a silver lining to this horrific shooting, it’s that people should not only be more aware in a theatre, but more aware in general.

Unfortunately, the complexity and danger in our global world has increased immensely in my lifetime. This fact demands that we keep awareness top of mind. One shouldn’t be paranoid or afraid to go places or not do those things they enjoy, although awareness must be a central part of our lifestyle.

Look around and notice the actions of people. If you see something out of the ordinary, don’t be afraid to move away or report it whether it is an individual, group or suspicious bag.

Despite my sound awareness, there was one time when I ignored my better judgement.

Remember, the DC/Virginia Sniper  in 2002 when the DC and Virginia areas were on high alert? I was on a business trip at that time, staying within 5-8 kilometres of some shootings. 

My boss and I went to a wide open golf range (my idea), which saw us in that unenviable “sitting duck” position for the sniper. A highway was nearby and we could have been the perfect target. We took the chance although it wasn’t a wise decision considering that we were in the heart of the shooting zone. It was a good lesson as I would never do that again.

Before I met my wife, she exhibited great awareness when a fight broke out in a New York City movie theatre at the beginning of the film. She left right away as no situation like that is ever worth staying for.

Awareness is a great strength as not only can it allow you to enjoy the precious moments of life, it can also help one anticipate or be ready for potential danger.

Live to the fullest and maximize your fun, yet be cognizant of your surroundings. That awareness may save your life one day.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Theatre Image Link

Succeeding at Things that Don’t Really Matter

I love quotes and came across this one recently:

Our greatest fear should not be one of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.
(DL Moody)

When a friend saw the quote, he wrote these words:

“No, our greatest fear should be getting a disease like cancer, having to bury your children or having a sad and lonely life. Who cares if you only succeed at things that don’t really matter as who decides whether they don’t matter?”
(GP Friend)

I don’t claim to know what DL Moody meant although a conversation I saw with Snoop Dog is probably a great illustration.

During his interview with Tavis Smiley (Snoop on Tavis), Snoop talked about how his “music wasn’t really saying anything as far as what really matters”.  Here is a man as successful as many top musicians saying that he has prospered with saying much. It was refreshing to hear his candidness.

His music is entertaining but he won’t have any current songs that people will be playing 100 years from now. He recently changed his name to Snoop Lion and is attempting to produce more meaningful songs.

This quote should make one think about the life they are living and if they are making a meaningful impact and/or contributing towards the good of our global world or just having a good time, with no thought to the impact, outcome or consequences. If Snoop was bold enough to confess, I’m hopeful that his honesty can inspire others; not just the famous.

It’s important that my success has meaning and I know it is to many of you. Most of the people I know are succeeding at things that matter although several aren’t, as they are only concerned with money, image or power – things if chased solely, don’t really matter in my opinion.

How one succeeds should matter.

Greed needs to begin to take a backseat going forward as we have seen the destruction it has caused worldwide. Can love, giving and compassion get a chance in the front seat? If not, the future of our complex and diverse world will be even more challenging than it is now.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Why I Went to Egypt

With all the unrest and rebellion in Egypt over the last few years, I cannot say that I wasn’t worried about taking my family there last month.

Below are several reasons why I decided to go:

1)      I had been there previously in 2007.
2)      I was treated very well and much better than I expected 6 years ago.
3)      I wanted to contribute to an economy that desperately needs to keep their tourism flowing.

Many American friends warned me not to go or showed great concern. I understood their feelings as most had never been to that part of the world, so their only framework was from TV or the news.

Upon arriving in Egypt, the passport guard wasn’t pleasant and asked me sternly, “Where is your home country”. I said Sweden as I am a Swedish Citizen, although that is not the answer he wanted. He asked again. This time I said the United States. He let me through but never took that scowl off of his face.

I didn’t let his spirit deter my spirit as I figured he must be having a bad day.

Our time in Egypt couldn’t have been better other than the temporary sickness of one child – something many families experience in Egypt.  The men (only saw a few women workers) once again treated me as if I was one of them, often saying “You look like Egyptian man” or “We love Obama” or similar wording.

Everywhere I went at the resort, I was greeted with a smile and often engaged in stimulating conversation. One guy told me that he has worked 11-12 hours a day for the past month, although his demeanor couldn’t have been more positive. He also said, “The first chance I get, I will leave Egypt”, after I inquired about his desires in life.

The trip provided much needed fun in the sun for my wife and kids as the resort was terrific! The conversations were always interesting and gave me great insight into this complex country.

I hope to see Egypt for the third time, sooner rather than later.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

The resort in Egypt.

2 Childhood Gifts – Family Fun & Relationship Challenges

My childhood was ideal. I was loved immensely, taught well and disciplined effectively. Nothing but positive thoughts flow from my mind when I reminisce about my early years.

Interestingly, family fun was a big part of my childhood despite the challenging relationships (inner and outer family) that surrounded me.

Even though my parents were married for over 25 years, there were many years when they were separated and happiness was elusive.  I’ve heard that parental difficulties can be tough for a child although it wasn’t for me. It helped me to see how important “getting along” was to a long-term union.

Individually, my parents were interesting, fun and happy people, although together, the chemistry was often less than ideal. Despite their issues, I was amazed at how effectively they took care of me. For that, I am grateful.

The outer family (uncle and aunts) had their share of relationship challenges as well, and again, it was a good lesson as I received some extra doses of what I didn’t want.

The lessons were priceless as I’ve wasted very few days dealing with a bad relationship.  If it didn’t work, I would either get out right away or after a few weeks.  I found it pointless to linger in a relationship that wasn’t fun or moving forward or had no long term future. Being in a position to meet the future Mrs. Payne was essential to me and I would have limited my chances by existing in an unhealthy relationship.

Maybe the greatest and most important gift from my family (both parents and relatives) was the art of having fun – especially when the whole family was together.

Whether it was playing card games, telling stories or simply hanging out at someone’s house, there was never a lack of laughing, teasing or playful banter. Some of my best memories are from observing my parents/family and being included in poker games when I became old enough to participate.  Poker was always entertaining and we often played for hours and hours. Those were precious moments and I will forever cherish them.

I often tell people that despite your circumstances, the ability to have fun is of utmost importance.  Far too many people miss out on the essence of life as they become too stressed with work, children or life’s endless “To Do” list.

Fun is something that needs to shine in a life every day. All it takes is some positivity, a good attitude, enthusiasm and the ability to laugh. In addition, every life should include adequate doses of “Me Time” – time spent doing what you enjoy the most.

Two wonderful gifts:

-- Family Fun
-- Witnessing the challenges of relationships

One wouldn’t think the above combination would be a positive influence but it worked for me. Without it, my life might have been totally different and much less than what I dreamed of.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Living in the beauty of Southern Sweden!

An Inspiring Speech (Dr. Benjamin Carson)

One thing I enjoy is when someone passes along a good article, video clip or book; particularly when it ends up inspiring me.

That was the case with the video below as a friend sent it to me via Twitter. I knew of Dr. Benjamin Carson although had no idea of the heavy obstacles he overcame to become successful. What I like about his speech is that he offers ideas and solutions to many of the ills we face in the USA.

And he puts emphasis on one of our biggest problems - education. Once a shining light, the USA can no longer claim to be a top dog. Yes, we still have many of the world's best colleges although our children aren't being educated in a way that will prepare them for the technological future. A quote from his talk is below.

"Things that were important in the development of our of those things was education. I’m very passionate about education because it’s made such a big difference in my life. But here we are at a time in the world, the information age, the age of technology, and yet 30% of people who enter high school in this country do not graduate. 44% of people who start a four-year college program do not finish it in four years. What is that about?

In my book you will find questions extracted from a sixth grade exit exam from the 1800′s, a test you had to pass to get your sixth grade certificate. I doubt most college graduates today could pass that test. We have dumbed things down to that level and the reason that is so dangerous is because the people who founded this Nation said that our system of government was designed for a well-informed and educated populace, and when they become less informed, they become vulnerable. Think about that. That is why education is so vitally important."
Link to article on Dr. Carson 

It's interesting to hear Dr. Carson's take on education as well as other topics. You may not agree with him on all his points, although it's difficult not to be impressed with his concern for our country. In addition, he not only "talks the talk but walks the walk" as his foundation is producing positive results.

"I don’t like to bring up problems without coming up with solutions. My wife and I started the Carson Scholars Fund 16 years ago after we heard about an international survey looking at the ability of eighth graders in 22 countries to solve math and science problems, and we came out Number 21 out of 22. We only barely beat out Number 22...very concerning."

Please take a moment to watch this almost 30 minute speech as I hope it will have a similar impact on you.

Dr. Carson's Speech at National Prayer Breakfast 

We all need to do our part to make our communities, countries and global world a better place. Dr. Carson is doing his.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Playing Basketball with Diddy (former Puff Daddy)

I’ve played basketball with numerous celebrities, including George Clooney in Washington, DC and R. Kelley twice - in the nation’s capital and New York City.  It was obvious both superstars loved basketball and for the most part, enjoyed the games without incident, outside of a few irritating players who were star struck and/or trying too hard to impress.

The third celebrity I played with was Diddy (former Puff Daddy).  What surprised me about watching him at the Reebok Sports Club in NYC, were the lessons learned. The intensity and fierceness he displayed on the court was unexpected. I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised since he’s been so successful although that type of intensity is rare to see on a court of amateurs.

While I don't recall how well he played that day, I do remember the way he played. While on the court, he was serious and relentless, expecting the same from those around him. There was no doubt about his focus and desire to win. Those types of traits have obviously served him well in business. When he wasn’t on the court, he was on the phone 100% of the time.

When I played on his team, he kept telling the other 3 guys, “get the ball to him (meaning me)”, as I was the best shooter and a former Division 1 college player. The aforementioned 3 worked for Diddy and kept trying to pass him the ball for whatever reason. He wanted none of it and only cared about winning, thus the intention to put the ball in my hands.

A comical moment was seeing a few good players totally lose their composure around the entertainment mogul.  Occasionally, he would drive down the lane and some would intentionally move out of the way. Maybe the hype about his gangster reputation flowed into their mind.  I never thought I would see quality players become so flustered or frightened around a celebrity.

After the game, I rode the elevator down with Diddy and his security team. We had a quick chat and he couldn’t have been more gracious. What I didn’t tell him was what I learned about him that day. It was something I’ll never forget.

Happy Gswede Sunday!


Podcasts, Walking and Sleep

In 2012, podcasts came into my life like a lightning bolt. I had dabbled with them in the past although never seriously, until a friend talked about his podcast passion during a Copenhagen weekend in April.

I now enjoy podcasts in the car, working out or whenever I get some free time.  I especially like to listen on one of my weekly power walks. In addition, they keep my sports, news and entertainment knowledge current.

Which leads me to another change – walking. My masseuse has been telling me for some time about how good walking would be for my body. I prefer to run for my exercise so I’ve ignored her gentle inspiration. During my last massage, she strongly suggested I reconsider, and this time I listened.

What a difference. My body feels great after walking and getting more time to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors and nature is always a good thing. I plan to continue running although mostly on the weekends. My goal is to make 2013 the year of the power walk.

Finally, I decided to improve my sleep in 2013, not as a resolution but as a lifestyle change. It worked well in the past to get only 6 hours of sleep per night, especially when the small babies came as the lack of sleep wasn’t difficult for me to adjust to. In 2012, with older kids, those 6 hours occasionally took their toll as I found myself without the same bounce and energy.

I started this year strongly with sleep between 7-8 hours and it has been an eye-opening experience. I feel much better in the morning hours and I haven’t had any problems with energy thus far. I’m a big fan of sleep these days, unlike when I wrote the article below.

I’m grateful for 3 positive changes. They have enhanced my life and will continue to do so as long as I make them a priority.  

Have a wonderful 2013 and all the best with any improvements in your life.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Enjoying a walk after lunch with friends Joanna and Adam.