Doing The Unexpected

Little things mean a lot. When they are unexpected, it’s even better.

My Swedish colleague and I sent a person who is invaluable to our selling efforts, a small gift. I give her something every Christmas but we wanted to do something together and unexpected before then.

I had seen a “special edition” gift in the local store, which made me think of this person, as she is very special to our team; not only in terms of the work she does, but also in her kind nature.

It wasn't planned for the package to arrive on Monday, but as fate would have it, it did. We also included a personal note with the gift. 

Here's the email we received:

"Well that is a lovely surprise to receive gorgeous chocolates on a Monday morning!

Thank you so much for thinking of me and going to the trouble of sending me a gift and such kind words. I will enjoy them with my team.... I can't eat them all myself or will burst out of my skinny jeans I have only just got back into ;0)

Very much appreciated and has brightened up an already sunny, warm day :0)"

It's those small and beautiful moments of life that are frequently the most important.

Brighten up a life today by showing your appreciation. It need not take much time or be costly. It’s the thought that counts.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Photo Link

UVM - Still Exceeding Expectations (and the class of 89)

While meeting and bonding with 'University of Vermont' (UVM) alumni over the years, I've rarely heard any complaints about the experience at our alma mater, and most loved it like I did. I’ve known people who left UVM before graduating, although it was more about them than our school.

The memories came rushing back recently as the class of 1989 (freshmen when I was a senior) were preparing for their 25th reunion. If I was living in the USA, I would have been there October 10th weekend, as I was close to and/or had great times with many of them. They had a very fun class and brought lots of unexpected energy to my final year on campus.

This video (Classic UVM Montage) from the class of 1989 will give you a sense of their good times! I’m sure many of us would love to have a priceless memory like this one.

I followed the weekend on social media and the pictures shown put me back on our picturesque campus, if only in spirit. I was touched. When I asked a friend about her 25th reunion weekend, she wrote this:

Something so unique and special about that place and the people. Definitely exceeded my expectations. Everything flowed just like it use to.”

College should be one of the best times of your life and provide moments which are hard to equal in the real world. It was for me and many of my 1986 classmates. I still find myself randomly reminiscing about the abundance of great (and often glorious) moments at UVM.

Outside of my time on the basketball court as a student-athlete, there was rarely a dull moment, whether it was a private event, hanging out in downtown Burlington, a fraternity party, a random dorm gathering, the energy of a hockey game, the often bitter cold temperatures or simply vibing with someone before or after a class. Being an athlete gave me a unique and privileged view of a variety of experiences, which I appreciated and soaked in as much I could.

After graduation in 1986, I regularly went back to visit on weekends and usually took some friends (Boston, Pennsylvania or Manhattan) with me. I wanted them to have a taste of my university, which they enjoyed the first time, and all came back at least one more time. We sometimes combined Montreal, Canada (a first for many) for an extended weekend as it was only 90 minutes away. In addition, I helped the university with recruiting efforts while living in New York City. My last time in Vermont was in 2003 - a terrific weekend!

I'm grateful for the daily moments of fun, enthusiasm or sizzle at UVM, along with my 4 year basketball scholarship. I couldn't have written a better collegiate script, despite the "ok at best" basketball experience; a story for another day.

I’m feeling very inspired this October and have numerous alumni (especially the class of 89) to thank for that. Being far way in Sweden, I appreciated those who kept me in the loop about the weekend and shared photos.

When I was travelling to UVM, with my mom and dad, in the summer of 1982, I had positive feelings about the school and the journey to come. Like the aforementioned friend felt about her 25th year reunion, my 4 years at UVM “exceeded my expectations”. What more could anyone ask for?

Those early years of UVM bliss were special and continue to inspire me. My 30th year reunion is in 2016. I plan to be there so the good times can continue to roll.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Despite our 4 "less than stellar" basketball years, I love my UVM Basketball Cats!

Another Day

Today is a day to embrace life and express gratitude.
  • Another day to smile and have fun.
  • Another day to be positive, creative and explore your curiosity.
  • Another day to love, hug or kiss those you love.
Today is a day to be inspired by those close to you or no longer with us. 
  • Another day to count your blessings.
  • Another day to relax, get a massage or take a nap.
  • Another day to listen to the waves, smell the roses or marvel at nature’s beauty.
Today is a day to be proactive.
  • Another day to stop “sweating the small stuff”.
  • Another day to step outside of your comfort zone.
  • Another day to call or reach out to a friend.
Today is a day to “Make Power Moves” and avoid powerless ones.
  • Another day to make yourself a priority.
  • Another day to “Master Your Me Time”.
  • Another day to avoid negative forces or people.
Today is a day to give (time or money) to those less fortunate. 
  • Another day to make a difference in someone’s life.
  • Another day to mentor our youth, a colleague or family member.
  • Another day to comfort a friend in need.
Today is a day to ask the question, “What is the Benefit?" 
  • Another day to not eat shamelessly.
  • Another day to be active, take a walk or exercise.
  • Another day to maintain balance, be mindful and keep stress low.
Today is a day to CYA (Control Your Agenda). 
  • Another day to stop living someone else’s dream.
  • Another day to move to or explore another country.
  • Another day to stop complaining or criticizing.
Maybe most importantly, today is another day to choose happiness, despite your circumstances.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Another Day to Enjoy the September Beauty of Southern Sweden

What Half Marathons Have Done For Me

One of the reasons I’ve done 5 half marathons (21K or 13 miles) in Stockholm, Sweden, is to break away from my normal routine and get out of my comfort zone. In addition, it gives me a challenge to train for and look forward to. During each race, the thrill has always been there and finishing is a beautiful reward.

Despite not having enough 'long run" training for my recent one (September 13), I was ready. I trained very well for a 10K (ran that part in 1:04), and thought maybe I could get away with it and still do a 2:15 or better. I was wrong.

It doesn’t matter what speed you run, a half marathon is a challenge and preparation is crucial if you want a good time. If I had done several 15-18k runs, the race would have been much easier. Thankfully, I ran with friend John Viner, but couldn't keep up with him the last 6k. It was a luxury to have him by my side.

While I was slightly disappointed with my 2:28, I was happy that I felt strong and finishing was never in doubt. I simply ran out of energy, which prevented me from crossing the line with John at 2:20. I felt great the day after though!

If nothing else, maybe my words can serve as inspiration to embrace a new challenge or take a risk away from your comfort.

What would give you a thrill?

Is there a challenge you desire yet never find the time to make happen?

When was that last time you have done something out of the ordinary?

It need not be exercise but can be anything that takes you away from the "sameness" of everyday life. In my opinion, it's one way to keep life bubbling with sizzle and excitement.

I plan to do the same race next year. In 2015, my goal is to get closer to a time of 2:10. As long as I do the proper training, I will hit my target.  I’m looking forward to it.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

At the Finish Line with John Viner

A “Donald Sterling” Under the Radar

Former Los Angels Clippers owner Donald Sterling, (2 links below) was finally exposed for his racist ways and banned for life from the NBA earlier this year, although we should be more concerned about the “Sterling's” under the radar.

I met one such man over 20 years ago.

During my single years and in the early stages of dating a woman, I had little interest in meeting her parents; preferring to get to know her without the impact (good or bad) of meeting family members. When I agreed to meet the father of a lovely young lady I had been dating for only two weeks, something in the back of my mind quickly told me it was a bad idea. I brushed the thought away.

She was excited yet had no idea what was to come. I walked in the door and there was a calm and slightly eerie silence when her dad saw me.  He obviously had no idea that I was black as his face spoke volumes. He made some small talk and did shake my hand but it was clear that I wouldn’t be in the house for long. He wasn’t mean or disrespectful, so being the optimist, I thought maybe he was just shy or reserved.

Things were never the same with us after that inauspicious introduction.

We met at a park several days later and she explained that she couldn’t date me anymore. After some prying on my part, she came clean with the truth and told me that her dad threatened to disown her if she continued to see me. I wasn’t surprised by her dad's feelings although the “disown” part was shocking. The sad look in her eyes left no doubt about her dad’s sincerity. She lost a bit of her soul that day.

I felt bad for her as it was clear that she had no idea her dad was a racist. I told her that it was okay and she was in a no-win situation. She was on the verge of tears. We hugged and I knew that I would never see her again.

Her father lived in a nice neighborhood and was upper middle class. I can only imagine the negative influence his feelings had in other areas of his life. It was the first time racism was thrown so loudly and boldly in my face.

In addition, it was one of the few times in my life where my feelings and those of the woman I was dating, were sincere, passionate and mutual; particular considering it was only a few weeks. What a disappointment for both of us to have that taken away so harshly.

As a mentor said, to me recently, “There are millions of people around the world who think just like Sterling, whether it is based on color, culture, race, religion or beliefs.”

Sadly, he’s right.

On the bright side, there are millions more who are kind, decent, loving and open-minded people. I prefer to think of them.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Only Love Can Conquer Hate

The Power of Rebirth

During a April weekend with close friends in Stockholm, we spent part of our time together on health and fitness. Six of us had a two hour session with the owner (Michael Glover) of Rebirth, a wellness lifestyle studio. It was challenging, enlightening and refreshing.

I’m not easily impressed, yet this Saturday afternoon exceeded my expectations – something that rarely happens.

The challenging part was two fold:

1)      The “fitness test” exercises and the nuanced techniques we were shown to improve our fitness were fun and insightful.

2)      Most (including me) were feeling the pain (the good type) for several days after; which I thought was a positive.

It was enlightening in the way Michael focused on the individual, even though we were a group. He spoke eloquently (and demonstrated) on how he adapts his training to a particular client, with focus on quality training, not quantity.

It’s refreshing when I witness someone in their zone or doing something they were meant to do. Michael was passionate, patient and compelling throughout. The time flew by! One could easily see that there was no other place he would have rather been.

Being on TV is probably not something he would desire, although in my opinion, his knowledge and way of relating to a client could help the masses immensely, particularly as it relates to the bad (and growing) health, obesity and exercise habits around our global world – especially in my home country, the USA.

It was a wonderful afternoon.  Thank you Michael.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Michael Glover - Owner of Rebirth

10 Years in Sweden (Happiness - Lows - Youth Advice)

I had a quiet celebration on April 16, the anniversary of my 10th year in Sweden.  Some have told me it’s quite the accomplishment, although I didn’t feel the need to go beyond a private toast with a good wine.

It’s been a wonderful ride, full of mostly highs, along with several disappointing lows, the birth of my dear children, exploring the country/culture of my lovely wife, becoming a Swedish citizen, working for a big international company, meeting new Swedish friends, studying a new language, getting to know my diverse Swedish family, bonding with expats, travelling in Europe/Africa/Middle East, beginning a basketball program, starting my blog and a host of other adventures.

During these last few months, my mind has mainly been focused on youth and what lessons I would share with them from an expat perspective. Having such a rich life experience (Boston, Manhattan, Serbia and Sweden), I occasionally feel compelled to share it with others, as some may need a push or a boost of inspiration to reach beyond the comfort and stability of a life lived in their hometown, state or country.

To anyone under the age of 25, I would say:

See the world if only for a few years, but preferably 5-10 years. Challenge yourself, find a mentor, learn as much as possible in your chosen career, network, help/influence those less fortunate in some way and embrace struggle, as it will be your greatest teacher. 

I would let them know that there's nothing wrong with an entire life lived in Sweden, or the USA or any other country, although to miss the beauty/excitement/struggle and life changing view of a life outside of Sweden, would be limiting.

We live in such comfort and bliss in Scandinavia, compared to the rest of the world, so it’s imperative (in my opinion) for our Swedish youth to see, feel, hear and smell the complex challenges and reality of those in other countries at some point in their lives. One cannot do that without making the bold venture to live outside of Sweden.

I realize that many around the world can’t, won't or don’t want to lead a life away from the comforts of the familiar. Family is typically the biggest factor in why people tend to live near the place where they grew up and that can be a wonderful thing. I saw the beauty of this last Christmas in my Pennsylvania hometown, when one of my best friends invited me to his sister’s house, where his family of 20+ people were celebrating. It was a warm and loving night.

Even if one doesn’t embrace the expat life, travel outside of one’s home base is still a brilliant option; an adventure that can provide tremendous excitement and an enriching education.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” (Mark Twain)

And if travel is not an option, soak up the words of my friend JD - an expat in Sweden:

“Travel outside of the world in which you live and if it’s not possible, read and research the countries all over the world and learn.  A book can temporarily take your mind and spirit on tour. Learn the laws, benefits, and drawbacks of living in various countries. The youth can learn from what we have to teach. They just need to listen.”
“So many of us don't travel but the lack of money is not an excuse. Last time I checked, books at the library are free, along with a good selection of e-books.”

One thing I've been happy about in Sweden is that everyday has been interesting, which has been a blessing, as I am most inspired around interesting things, people or events. I suspect that for most expats, being in a place like Sweden is nothing if not interesting (good or bad). It’s hard to dull my spirits as I am a lover of life, which bodes well in a foreign country.

Some of you have read my 5 year article, (5 Years in Sweden - No Place I'd Rather Be....BUT). A troubling issue (jobs for foreigners) in that story still rings true today and by many accounts is worse than 10 years ago. I think it is the responsibility of foreigners like me, along with Swedes, to do our best to improve society as best we can in this regard.

With immigrants increasing mightily in our country, Sweden will fall even further behind if we don’t improve the dialogue/interaction/job opportunities/community between native Swedes and immigrants. The paragraph below is cause for great concern, yet I prefer to look at it as an opportunity to get better. We all must make it our priority to help the situation if it is going to improve, which I know is no small task.  I pledge to do my part to improve the situation, like the basketball program ( I founded in 2005, which is also in its 10th year.

“Nevertheless, high unemployment rates have disproportionately affected immigrant communities in Sweden. In 2009-10, Sweden had the highest gap between native and immigrant employment rates among OECD countries. Approximately 63 percent of immigrants were employed compared to 76 percent of the native-born population. This 13 percentage-point gap is significantly greater than the OECD average of about 3 percentage points. (See Figure 2.)
Among recent immigrants, defined as those who have been in the country for less than five years, the employment rate differed from that of the native born by more than 27 percentage points. In 2011, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported that 35 percent of the unemployed registered at the Swedish Public Employment Service were foreign born, up from 22 percent in 2005.”

If I had to provide 3 key points for young people, it would be these:

1)      See the World – It’s an invaluable experience to live in some part of our vast world as an expat, embracing a new culture and getting first hand knowledge of how others live. I would also give them this article to read called "Leave the country. That’s what I tell everybody — just go"

2)      Travel - If the expat life isn’t appealing, and one prefers the quite and calm of familiarity, make sure to travel as much as you possibly can. Travelling will never compare to the actual expat education, although it’s important to do in order to see and get a glimpse of our global world.

3)      Read Books - If the expat life and travelling isn’t your cup of tea or travelling isn’t affordable, one can lose themselves in the plethora of free books available at most libraries. Books can take one a long way in the areas of imagination, creativity, storytelling, dreams and a host of other positive outcomes.

I was fortunate to have dedicated, loving and strong parents, who always gave me the feeling that I could be whatever I wanted to be. They never tried to limit my thinking or desires for which I am grateful. I wonder if my parents ever realized how powerful their love was in making me feel that the world was my oyster.

If I had remained in the USA my entire life, my view of the world would have been vastly different and I would have had no idea that a distant place like Sweden could be a positive force for a man who grew up in small town America. Would I have still had an interesting life? I think so, although it would have lacked the depth, sizzle and breadth from a stimulating 10 year journey in Sweden and a blissful two months in Belgrade, Serbia.

As a parent, my hope is that my son and daughter will feel the same encouragement I received from my parents. One filled with love and the belief that I could create my own destiny, not one shaped in the design of another.  My hope is to guide them positively in order to embrace the sign of “No Limits” on their life journey. If so, it is more likely that they will feel inclined to see the world beyond their comforts.

The manner in which my 20’s were progressing, I knew that the expat experience would come my way one day; it was only a matter of me being bold enough to grab it. I’m so thankful I did and that it was with my lovely wife and in Sweden.

When deciding to take a unique life path, something outside the norm or one that may be uncomfortable, boldness will usually take center stage. As I look back on my life, being bold played a significant part in most of my interesting moments, fun times and fulfilling success. I’ve had 10 happy years in Sweden and it all began with the bold step to change cultures.

Happy Gswede Sunday! 

The Beginning in Southern Sweden - 2004

“Dream Big” Inspiration from a Sports Star

As a young teenager, I was fortunate to have a passion (basketball), along with two strong and loving parents. I never worried about much and concentrated solely on 3 things – my education, being a good son and developing my basketball skills.

What I didn’t know then is how important inspiration would be for me, particularly from people outside of the family circle. Steve Freeland, my first basketball coach at age 9 was an early inspiration and continues to be. My first “Dream Big” inspiration came from a man most of you have never heard of, yet he played at the highest level of college football in the USA.

His name is Jimmy Jones and he was the celebrity guest at our 8th grade basketball team banquet. I’ll never forget the atmosphere as most of my teammates hadn’t been around someone who grew up in our hometown (Harrisburg, Pa) and played football at one of the crown jewels of the sport, The University of Southern California (USC).  He was the quarterback at USC directly after OJ Simpson left the school for the NFL. Jones also has a Sports Illustrated cover to his credit!

“USC's biggest concern is the sophomore quarterback with the aching back—Jimmy Jones (see cover). Jones, one of the very few black quarterbacks in the history of college football, is the gifted youngster the Trojans are hoping will lead them into their fourth straight Rose Bowl. Two years ago he was one of the most sought-after schoolboy quarterbacks in the country. His junior year he ran and passed for 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns. That was nothing. His senior year it was 2,400 yards and 40 touchdowns. Offers flooded in, 112 of them. Everybody wanted the good-looking kid with the .30-30 arm and speed—and the intelligence that goes with a three-point-plus academic average.”

At our banquet, he was in his late 20’s and his star power was shining bright. From the moment he walked in the room, the electricity was sizzling and most of us couldn’t wait to hear him speak and/or get a private word with him later in the evening.

While I don’t remember the topic of his speech, I do remember the inspiration that came from his sincere words. His cool style of dress and aura only added to the wonderful evening. I was grateful to share a few private moments with him and came away even more inspired.

For the first time in my life, I started to envision how basketball could help me to lead the life I desired; beginning with the early goal of obtaining a scholarship like Jones. I was inspired to “Live my Dreams”, although at the time, I didn’t realize that his inspiration would stay with me until this day.

After that night, I worked even harder on the three aforementioned goals (education, good son and basketball) and made sure to keep all distractions to the side. I was super focused. Having the Jones inspiration, a mentor as giving as Steve Freeland and dedicated parents made my path to success smooth as long as I kept my eye on the prize (scholarship).

Not only did I become a bigger basketball star (averaging nearly 25 points) my senior year in high school, I had numerous schools offering me a collegiate scholarship. I chose the University of Vermont (UVM) and I couldn’t have made a better decision. Despite the inglorious years of the UVM basketball team (a story for another day), the school was fantastic and I enjoyed it immensely.

In addition, the free education, connections and comfortable college experience at UVM, provided the springboard for living my dreams beyond university. Also, I met Bill Brown, my UVM teammate and a dear friend for over 30 years.

I’ve been fortunate to live in Boston for 4 years, New York City for a decade, Belgrade, Serbia for 2 months and Sweden for 10 years. In my wildest dreams, I never imagined a life so interesting and diverse.

Over the last 20 years, two close friends who live in my hometown have also given me inspiration in many forms; whether it was laughter, wise words or showing by example. Five years ago, one of them said to me “You are Living your Dreams, aren’t you”. I could only smile and say “Indeed”.

What my friend didn’t know is that Jimmy Jones gave me that first burst of “Dream Big” inspiration. I’m extremely thankful for that. I’ve not been in contact with Jones since that auspicious night in 1977, although I plan to reach out to him in the near future.

Inspiration is a beautiful thing.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Jimmy Jones (USC) and George Payne (UVM)

Be the “Coach K” of your March Madness Office Pool

It’s that wonderful time of the year for all college basketball fans. As a former Division 1 basketball player at the University of Vermont (UVM), there is no sporting event I look forward to more than the NCAA March Madness tournament.

In addition, on Sunday March 16, the teams will be announced and millions will begin to fill out their bracket sheets in office pools around America.  If you participate in one and are tired of losing or never finishing in the top spots, pay close attention.

Yes, it’s time to toot my own horn, something I usually don’t do, although in this case, it’s okay as my “Coach K (Duke’s Head Basketball Coach)” excellence comes in the form of a competition not so meaningful (office pool), yet as fun as anything I participate in.

I doubt you know anyone who can claim the statistics below in any March Madness office pool. I only participate in one as imagine my results if I competed in several!

Keep in mind that there has been an average of 80 people in my New York City office pool since 2003.

2003……….Top Prize
2004……….Top Prize
2005……….Top Prize
2008……….Top Prize
2013……….Top Prize

Yes, that is 5 victories in the last 11 years, which puts me a few levels ahead of Coach K. Also, I came in the top 7 in many of my losing years, yet rarely mention that as I go for all or nothing.

I had a dry spell (very surprising to me) after 2008 but came back strong in 2013. Last year, it came down to the combined final score of the game (tie-break) between me and another person. Guess who knew the combined final score averages in the last 20 years of NCAA championship games? Yep, yours truly. My opponent had no idea and had a combined score that posed no threat to me and secured 2nd place for him.

How do I do it? Well, many of the basics are in an aforementioned article I wrote years ago which include essentials like picking all higher seeded teams in the first round. The link and a quote are below.

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

The fact that I played college basketball helps me immensely, along with studying the college teams/landscape throughout the year. My overall success comes from a formula I came up with for filling out the brackets – something quick and simple to do yet has proven effective. That is the only thing I have not shared as I can’t give away my secret weapon.

Nobody likes to lose and if you have never tasted that sweet “thrill of victory” in your office pool, I implore you to read my blog post and learn as much as you can about injuries, what knowledgeable analysts are saying and just as importantly, NEVER showing unwise allegiance to the college you may have attended. I love my UVM Cats, yet have never picked them to get out of the first round, which didn’t hurt me in 2005 (I won that year) when we shocked Syracuse and the world!

A tip for 2014:

Wichita State – I’m not saying that they will win it all but look closely at what they did last year, how they performed this year (undefeated) and the history of their point guard.  Concentrate on their bracket.

Remember, every pick is important. Most of my victories came down to the last game or last combined score.

All the best to you this year and I hope you stay away from the March Madness “Agony of Defeat”. I’m planning on winning my office pool once again, even though the road will be difficult as there are plenty of teams who can win the National Championship.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

2008 - A Good Year for Gswede!  Image weblink

Exercise Consistency Now (Not Always the Case)

In early September, 2013, my goal was to make my exercise very consistent.

Outside of training for several half marathons and the Stockholm, Sweden marathon in 2005, my workouts have been inconsistent in the last decade.

I haven’t been a bad exerciser, only that it was not uncommon for me take 2-4 weeks off from moving the body. That inconsistency bugged me and I missed the great feeling of regular exercise.

Yes, I did play basketball (from 2-4 hours) nearly everyday of my life from ages 9 – 22 (including 4 years in college) but that is the past. What that early exercise should have done is given me the desire for consistency in my older years. 

This has been my average level of exercise for the last 6 months:

  • 3 times a week I run 5k (3.1 miles) outdoors on soft ground 80% of the time. I use a gym occasionally when the weather is not ideal.
  • Since December 2013, I’ve played 1-2 hours of weekly tennis.
  • Stretching between 10 - 20 minutes everyday.
  • Use of light home weights for toning of upper body

I’m very happy that I’ve kept up the consistency. It’s not been easy as I’ve had to run several times at night or when I had limited time or when I was tired, just to keep up with my goal. I was determined to let nothing get in my way and my body and mind have felt the benefits.

Not only am I stronger but my entire body feels good on a daily basis. Even when my sleep is less than ideal, because of the exercise, I’m more alert and productive. In addition, I know it has helped to make me a better father, husband, employee and friend.

The aforementioned September beginning was random in my mind although it did coincide with the visit of one of my best American friends in Sweden. He is a man and mentor I’ve admired for his healthy ways of eating and exercising. In addition, my wife has been an inspiration throughout our almost 14 years together as she has always embraced and displayed consistent exercise. 

Finally, I’ll never forget what a good friend told his wife, when she was complaining about her body, being tired and not having the time to work out. He said:

“It’s all about your priorities”.

He’s right. If is important to you, you won’t have to find the time, you will make the time.

Consistent Exercise is now my long term priority. As good as I feel these days, I can’t imagine going back to the inconsistent George.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Watching friend Teddy in NYC Marathon Over a Decade Ago

Avoid Overthinking a Problem (Be Mindful)

A friend recently came to me about a potential problem, not an actual one.

While it was comforting that he thought of me, there were moments in his life that were clearly more deserving. I had to chuckle because once I heard his relationship issue, I could only think of one thing to say to him - “Why are you thinking about a potential problem?”

I let him know that his worry was nothing to lose sleep over and that he was overanalyzing the situation. I added that he should focus on actual problems going forward, along with being more mindful from one moment to the next; something that can be a tremendous asset in avoiding problems. 

After our call ended, I thought of a few things related to his issue that could potentially be pitfalls. I called him back and shared those with him. In retrospect, his initial call was timely as I may not have had the chance to relay my thoughts during our 2nd conversation; advice that will help him immensely in the future.

He’s had several unsettling relationship issues occur in the past – times when I wish he would have consulted with me or a few other people before diving head on into the problem on his own. Fortunately, he was unscathed, although he was lucky more than once.

When actual problems occur in the life of a friend or family member, especially in regards to relationships, I encourage them to stop, be mindful and think first of who won’t judge them and can offer solid and unbiased advice.  In my experience, people become so worried about the future downside of a new problem and think that trying to fix the problem alone and immediately is the best solution. They run head first into solution mode with little thought to the outcome. That type of action can make the problem significantly worse.

Whenever a problem has arisen in my life, I’ve found that it is best to display a calm energy, be mindful and think about who I can talk with before making any rash decisions. Usually, no problem is ever as bad as we think and more than often than not needs to be discussed first with someone you trust.

The aforementioned friend is one of my dearest and I’ve learned as much from him as he has from me. It’s been a beautiful friendship.  We have discussed numerous life issues when we spend time together but not so much since I’ve been in Sweden. I think he now knows that he can count on me to be that ear of wisdom, whenever his need arises. That's what friends are for.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Image Weblink

Phillip Seymour Hoffman – Brilliance & Choices

The outpour of emotion never fails to surprise me when a famous actor dies tragically. The tributes to the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman were overwhelming; something he probably could have never imagined.

I suspect his death resonated due to his brilliance on the screen. Whether it was his scene stealing role in “Boogie Nights” or the disturbing portrayal in “Happiness” or his perfection in “Capote”, he never failed to captivate. He also seemed to be a good guy off camera according to many accounts. A close friend was in his company numerous times in Manhattan and spoke glowingly of his genuine nature.

Less talked about before and after his death (at least from what I've heard or read) are the choices he made in his life or the depression he suffered. I and many others didn’t even know he had a drug problem. There were reports about the difficulty of drug addiction or the pressures of the creative world leading to or enhancing substance abuse, but where was/is the talk of choices, addiction or lessons learned? Or the role of mental health?

It was refreshing to read this well-written article recently about Hoffman and mental health. A passage:

“The only way to really deal with addiction is one that is multi-faceted, one that makes us uncomfortable. It is messy and complicated and takes a lifetime of effort. It sometimes involves relapses and second chances and third chances. It involves support, sometimes sponsors. It involves therapy and counseling until whatever the root cause is has been revealed and addressed. It involves consideration of not just the physical withdrawal, but the emotional withdrawal, the social withdrawal, the psychological withdrawal. It requires a mental health system with adequate resources, which clearly doesn't exist. It requires us to do better. It requires support instead of judgement.”

In addition, some of the conversation seemed to excuse or shy away from the behaviour that led to Mr. Hoffman’s death.  I saw this on social media:

"Many people do not understand why or how other people become addicted to drugs. Sometimes something recreational becomes an addiction. There are many factors that lead someone using drugs. It is often mistakenly assumed that drug abusers lack moral principles or willpower and that they could stop using drugs simply by choosing to change their behavior. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than good intentions or a strong will. In fact, because drugs change the brain in ways that foster compulsive drug abuse, quitting is difficult, even for those who are ready to do so.”

Those are valid points above, although if his downward spiral started with the aforementioned words “something recreational”, that was his choice. We need to make it crystal clear to our loved ones (particularly before the innocence is gone) that one moment of irresponsibility or one bad choice can be the beginning of the end. My mother and several mentors keep “responsibility and good choices” at the top of my mind during my early years. It made a huge difference in my life.

When something tragic (and widely reported) like this happens, my hope is that it can help some of the far too many addicts struggling in our world, yet with little talk of prevention, choices and responsible behavior, the inspiration a lost soul needs may never come to fruition. The writer above was leaning in that direction and I hope she expands on her important points so that more can learn from her experience.

A close friend wrote this to me about “addiction statistics” and her brother:

“They (statistics) are very transient. The statistic I would like people to know would be that only 15-20% of those that go to rehab actually experience full recovery. After Hoffman, who was in recovery for 23 years before relapse, it seems to me that maybe no one is ever in full recovery once they are an addict. So it’s very discouraging for addicts and family when your loved one enters rehab and you know he/she only has a 15%-20% chance of making it.”
“I don't know why we as a society do not fix the paper cut in the beginning. Instead we wait until the wound is completely infected and untreatable; which is the case with my brother. When I look back over the last ten years I see all the signs I missed and explained away all the time, the odd behavior etc. Because he was a successful business man I told myself he was just a little eccentric or just didn't want to socialize much with me anymore because he was too busy. I used to think we were close. I have been overanalyzing this for over a year and a half.”

During the recent holidays in Pennsylvania, USA one of my best friends talked of increased heroin use in the high schools, something that surprised me. How is this happening and why?  We know that just saying “no to drugs” is not enough. Why are schools not educating our kids better in regards to drugs or addiction? Are we as parents doing enough or simply think it can’t happen to our kids? With addiction so prevalent, why do so few get the knowledge or help that they need?

The choices and behavior we display in our early life often start the ball rolling in the direction of responsibility or irresponsibility. It’s crucial that we advise or mentor our young people and loved ones about responsibility, being balanced and the pitfalls of certain industries like entertainment or sports. It doesn’t mean that they won’t end up like a Seymour Hoffman, although in my opinion, it is less likely if children grow up surrounded by informed adults, along with strong counsel, mentors, discipline and love.

Hoffman made a choice to start taking a substance that would result in his downfall.  Paul Walker of “Fast and Furious” fame liked to drive fast cars and chose to be a passenger in one that led to his death. James Gandolfini of the “Soprano’s” made the choice to not eat in a healthy manner, which contributed to his heart attack.

Not only did the aforementioned actors make bad choices, their behaviour was irresponsible. Nothing else was to blame. These points should have been responsibly discussed or written about in the aftermath of their deaths. If not, how do we expect anyone to learn from their mistakes?

Here’s my take on responsible versus irresponsible behaviour from a 2008 article of mine:

A Responsible mistake = One has thought through the consequences of an action beforehand; knows the worst possible outcome and is willing to live with the decision. One's life still can be damaged severely but at least there was serious thought and contemplation about the action. This kind of mistake can always be respected.

An Irresponsible mistake = An action where one just "throws caution to the wind" and gets moved by the emotion of the situation without any regard to the consequences. Acting without thought. People do get lucky and survive this mistake (as you will see in # 2 below) but invariably lives get damaged when irresponsibility rears its ugly head.

Life is difficult.  I do understand that, especially if you choose to live in a New York City for a decade as I did and millions of others do. I’ve seen numerous friends/acquaintances lose control and spiral into the abyss for a variety of reasons, not only drug abuse. Fortunately, most got the support they needed and were able recover. Several are still fighting the demons.

If one leads an exciting or dynamic life, mistakes, bad choices and/or irresponsibility are bound to occur in some form or fashion. An interesting life usually involves taking risks and irresponsibility may rear its ugly head in that case, although it is usually beneficial to success if your actions lean more toward the side of responsibility. One can have all the fun and excitement desired, yet maintaining control and keeping track of the positive outcome one wants is a must.

Mr. Hoffman’s legacy on film will never be forgotten and I’m hopeful that more stories will come out about his early years, the choices he made, the role of addiction/mental health, and the behaviour he displayed before his demise on Super Bowl Sunday.

Another tragic story came out this week about a 37 year old:

Nancy Motes, the half-sister of actress Julia Roberts, was found dead in a Los Angeles home Sunday, the coroner's spokesman said.
"She has a history of some medical issues," Winter said.  "Some prescription drugs were found near her body."

Let’s all do our part (no matter how small) in whatever way we can to inspire, educate, empower, support or mentor our youth and loved ones. It may just be the difference between life and death for an aspiring young person in our inner circle or one following the same path as Mr. Hoffman.

Happy Gswede Monday!

Photo weblink

John Simko – A Bright Light Gone Too Soon

John Simko (left), George and Ed Pagano

I had a college basketball teammate at the University of Vermont who was one of a kind. We both came from Pennsylvania yet couldn't have been more different. John was gregarious, loved attention (in a good way) and would light up a room. I’ve become more like him over the years, but back then, I was serious and calm, although like John, appreciated the beauty of having fun.

Despite not being as gifted physically as others on our team, nobody worked harder and nobody had a more positive attitude. In addition, he was a super nice guy.  It was almost impossible not to like him. He kept a smile on his face and seemed to always be having fun. Looking back at our 4 losing years, he was one of the brightest spots during our practices, games and travels. Despite all the team chaos (an article for another day), it never seemed to affect him.

John and I weren’t close friends off the court and rarely spent private time together, although there was a mutual respect. On the court, we had plenty of interaction as we came to Vermont as scholarship athlete’s in 1982 and spent 7 months a year playing basketball on a daily basis.

One moment that remains etched in my memory, was playing in a tournament in Toledo, Ohio. The Vermont colors were green, so you couldn’t miss our team once we entered any arena. John had to wear special goggles (green of course) and the fans were relentless in heckling him as he had that Green Hornet look. Adding to this new image was his preference for wearing his socks high.

During the entire duration of the fun and harmless fan teasing, John never shied away from the crowd and smiled broadly; even interacting with a few of them. He loved it!

Since I graduated, it was no coincidence that I only had one Vermont basketball photo in a frame. It was me holding a soda over John’s head after practice (above). One of many funny moments and a picture that frequently makes me smile.

John died in 2009 due to pancreatic cancer.  It was a sad moment for me even though we hadn’t seen each other or talked since the late 80’s.  I didn't know his family but got in touch with his wife Veronica and 3 daughters (Maxine, Ella and Lena) in 2013.  I hope it was as comforting to hear from me as it was for me to connect with them.

I shared my picture and his wife pleasantly surprised me with a photo of us during a game. (below)

John Simko’s life was short (45) but judging from the John I knew, I have no doubt that his time here was as bright as anyone's. I'm grateful and thankful for his spirit on the court and in my life. He gave me a profound lesson on positivity, living in the moment and having a passion for life. 

RIP John.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Replacing John during a Game

A Friend's Role in Fond Basketball Memories

Occasionally, I don’t realize how good an experience was until years later. That was the case with my weekly basketball games in New York City (1995 to 2004) – some of my best sports moments.

Those wonderful memories came back in abundance after a friend asked me to write a testimonial for his basketball training endeavors.

Sundiata played an invaluable part in those fierce games as the instructor in charge.  He never got in the way, settled all disagreements fairly and kept the intensity of the men (many in finance) focused on the competition. In addition, his conversation was lively and basketball knowledge top notch. He exemplified leadership.

After the daily challenge of working in Manhattan, I couldn’t have wished for a better few hours; especially for the stress relief it provided.

Below is what I wrote for him.

Happy Gswede Sunday!


Words about Sundiata

The first thing I remember upon meeting him was his positivity.  Soon thereafter, Sundiata and I became friends as he was in charge of basketball games at the Reebok Sports Club in New York City (NYC).

It was easy to bond with someone who loved the game of basketball as much as I do.

I played at the Division 1 level in college so there were never a lack of topics to talk about whether it was sports or life related. Playing weekly basketball games at the club was one of the thrills of my work week. The intensity of competing combined with the stress and tension that was released was priceless. And to have Sundiata’s support and basketball advice (yes, one is never too experienced to learn) was invaluable.

Two moments remain etched in my memory:

1)      I was playing with a celebrity and noticed that despite being a fine athlete, he wasn’t very good.  His future performances were similar although it was clear that he enjoyed the game.  

It would be several months before we played together again. This time, he was a different player. He rebounded better, passed well, ran the court more efficiently and moved without the ball.

This next scenario in our game caught me by surprise:

He rebounded the ball quickly and I sprinted out to the right lane. He then threw a long pass that was ahead of me, yet perfect.  I didn’t expect that type of pass from a player I knew to have limited basketball knowledge. Usually, only skilled players know how to throw the ball ahead of someone that effectively. Fortunately, I caught up to the ball despite being almost caught off guard and made an easy layup. I congratulated him after.

Later, I was telling Sundiata about this person’s basketball transformation and the pass that impressed me. It shouldn’t have surprised me when he said, “I’ve been training him one on one”.  Now, it made perfect sense. In only a few months, he had improved dramatically. That is the power of a good teacher.
2)      On more than one occasion, I had the pleasure and pain of a Sundiata 2 hour group workout.

The pleasure was the joy of strong drills, skill work and the competition against other players. The pain (the good kind) was from the intensity, passion and pressure one gets under his training.

Each time, I was out of my comfort zone and had to use all my talent and grit to perform well.  In addition, we worked on some of the fundamentals of the game which are key elements to success. I was a little rusty with the basics so the extra training helped.

There has never been a time after college when I was trained so thoroughly as well as given a tremendous workout! One of the best feelings was AFTER his training was over; rarely, has my body felt that good.  Again, the power of a strong basketball mind along with passionate teaching.

For anyone who is serious about improving their basketball game and learning about what it takes to succeed in basketball, time spent with Sundiata will be well worth it. In addition, his personality and love of life makes him even more effective as a teacher.

He is all business on the court and that is what people need (especially young players) if they want to reach new heights and rise to the talent level they aspire to. Off the court, his discussions about life were always interesting and his sense of humor was refreshing.  

If my young son or daughter shows an interest in basketball, we will certainly make that trip to NYC and visit with Sundiata, so they can get a taste of what it takes to be successful in basketball and life.

            George Payne


Spreading Her Wings

From our first meeting in Stockholm, I could tell she was special. She was funny, naturally charming and had a gentle ease; along with something I rarely see – a genuine zest for life. It was easy to like her.

We met through a close friend several years ago and although we never spent much time together, she recently reminded me of words I used to inspire her. I don’t remember what I said, but do recall the tone and basic message.

I encouraged her to be bold and see the world outside of Stockholm as her personality needed to shine elsewhere, not just in Sweden. I never said to leave the country (and she hasn’t), although made it crystal clear to not let Sweden control her; like it has with several expats I know.

When I sent her a link to one of my favorite articles "Are you making POWER MOVES?", she replied with this message.

“Thanks for sharing.

Reminds me of your honesty when you told me Stockholm was too little for me and I needed to spread my wings. So glad I did! These days, I have at least a few moments a week where I laugh out loud because I literally can't believe that I finally made it to exactly where I wanted to be. I am thankful every second, but damn if I didn't work my ass off to get here lol!! Thanks again for the inspiration and insight.”

Needless to say, I was touched.

I frequently attempt to encourage young people as sometimes, simple yet honest words are just what they need to hear.

Not yet 30, she is flying high and making incredible “Power Moves” these days, and most importantly, doing it her way. Starting her own company is a recent triumph and she will only soar higher in the years to come.

I’ll be watching her growth and direction closely, as we need young people like her to make a positive difference, influence and change to our complex world. She has all the tools for success. In addition, her positivity and passion are infectious!

I sent a Xmas card to her recently with a personal message starting with” I expect GREAT things from you…….”.

It’s not easy to meet high expectations and I’m inspired by the way she embraces those who strongly believe in her. She doesn’t shy away from it or feel uneasy about it. There is a fierceness behind her quite confidence, which will be invaluable in helping to navigate the inevitable life obstacles and will take her as far as she is willing to go.

Can’t wait to see how her story unravels.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

Our lovely summer butterflies!