Finding Lagom

“Lagom” (Law Gum), I am still working out how to pronounce the word that seems to have changed my life. Having said that, I am still working out how to pronounce so many things in the Swedish language.

Balance - set of scales
It’s a state of balance, having just the right amount of anything in one’s life.

So, here’s how my move towards “Lagom” or state of “just enough” went.

I moved to Sweden back in summer 2019, a different time a simpler time, a freer time before the pandemic. I was still very much in Dubai mode. What does that mean? Well, for those who have been to that golden state in the Middle East, it often translates to a busier, stressful, time of excess, but I had loved it and it was my home for many years.

Sweden however, a country that I thought I knew, having spent various holidays there over more than decade and being married to a Swede gave me some insight to what the culture is like. I was wrong, quite wrong but in a positive way.

I arrived in Sweden and quickly settled into studying the language, hanging out with new student friends and of course, my Swedish family. I was not working so really had not much of an idea how that would be. I was simply happy for the break after almost 20 years of never having had a gap in employment, the last time being in 2000 when I took 3 months off during a year in Australia.

Fast forward to December 2020, in the middle of the second wave of the pandemic, I began my new job working for a niche consulting firm (CCG Europe), who amongst all the great work they do for their clients, also take time to pay it forward and give back to society through areas such as volunteering. An internal strategic workshop I attended, where we were redefining our vision and values given the level of organizational change that was happening, led me to suggest “Lagom” as a value. My colleagues laughed a little and stated that “Lagom” was not always seen as totally positive, but I persisted, because for me, it embodies everything Sweden does well, has taught me and in doing so, has changed me for the better.

Coming from a society (Dubai) that although was oh-so kind and friendly and joyful, it was excessive to say the least, and moving to one (Sweden) where stripping off the necessities and living a different kind of life AND enjoying it became something to aspire to. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not completely there yet (although I have discarded a few pairs of shoes), but since I arrived in Sweden, I have found it more humbling than I ever imagined. From the immigrants, including myself, who attended Swedish language lessons provided by the Swedish government, to the period where I was not quite sure if I would ever find a job like the one I had loved so much in the Middle East; life in Sweden has been a bit of a rollercoaster, but one where the good old employment, tax, immigration systems all seem to work, or at least for me, they did, and I had been told by every Swede I met that they would. They were right. Now this is not some rose-tinted article on the joy of Sweden; it has its dark sides too, but those, I will save for another day.

All I know is that Sweden in a very short time has changed my outlook towards simply living a simpler, more balanced, and grateful life.

Going back to that workshop, my boss explained to me where “Lagom” came from. You see “Lag” is the Swedish word for “team” and “Om” means “around” or “about”. Apparently, back in the Viking era, tribes of Vikings focused very much on their sense of community and the term was previously known as “Laget Om” or “Around the team”. This included everything, my boss explained, from the way they sat around a table and drank their mead (honeyed wine), where everyone took only as much as they needed allowing for others to consume only what they too needed. In fact, I have witnessed this whilst watching the History Channel series, Vikings where one gets to understand more where “Lagom” originates.

When I speak to my colleagues regardless of the conversation, it is evident in everything they do. When dreaming up BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), their goals are centered around helping & giving, and less about taking over the world in whatever sphere one happens to work in. Don’t get me wrong, they want to be successful, but they value their success through a greater good, being fair, inclusivity and not just how much money one can make or how big a company can grow.

I might have landed here in this Western nation as a “Dubai-phile” but have quickly changed, because the culture here helps you to do so. As much as others try to fight it, I think the culture here is stronger and the systems are set up to mirror that culture. Most people, one way or another fall in line with being “lagom”, even if they don’t perhaps realize it or want it.

Whether it will be a value in our new organizational strategy, well let’s see, but it has become one of my values, because for me, it means a sense of doing the right thing for everyone, and in society today, surely that has got to be worth something.

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