‘Sweden taught me how to become the best version of myself’

'Sweden taught me how to become the best version of myself'
'As an immigrant, I know I've had so many opportunities I never would have had in Brazil.' Photo: Private
"When you move from a country like Brazil, you always think your life will change instantly in Europe, because it's a richer country. But that's the first lie."

Brazilian-born Ricardo Koanuka works as a motivational coach in Malmö, southern Sweden, but when he first arrived in the country ten years ago, he had his own struggles with motivation.

“I had a lot of dreams and thought it would be easy to be an entrepreneur in Sweden, but it wasn't,” he tells The Local.

The biggest obstacle, Koanuka says, was Jantelagen. Also known as the Law of Jante, the Nordic term refers to social attitudes that favour the group and look down on individuality or personal success. It was first coined by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, who wrote about a fictional town of Jante where these laws were explicit, but is often used to sum up the unspoken codes of Swedish society. 

These laws – which include 'You are not to think you are anything special' and 'You are not to think anyone cares about you' – are cited as explanations for making it tough for newcomers from very different cultures to feel at home in Scandinavia. 

The Brazilian sums it up like this: “In Brazil you need to be different and stand out to survive, but in Sweden if you're too different, you won't survive.”

Ricardo Koanuka. Photo: Private

When he first moved, Koanuka tried to use the same attitude and techniques that had worked in Brazil to get his ventures off the ground. For example, when he set up his own production company after two years in Sweden, he went out to interview people and took a large, portable banner with a picture of himself and the name of the company to parties and events.

“In Brazil, that would have made me a kändis [celebrity], but in Sweden, people just ignored me and turned their backs to me – nobody wanted to give interviews,” he recalls. “I think it's because in Sweden, people know that attention is power and the Jantelagen teaches people not to give attention to others. I had lots of energy, but I didn't have any contacts, didn't speak Swedish, and I didn't know the Jantelagen.”

Koanuka took on several jobs during his early years in Sweden, including working as a music teacher in an international school. But although this was a good job, he still didn't feel motivated or happy in his new life here.

“One day, in the classroom with the kids screaming, I had a moment where I asked myself what I was doing here. I hadn't come to Sweden to become a teacher, but to become an entrepreneur and be myself,” he says. So he quit.

At that point, he didn't yet know what he wanted to do next, and surprisingly, it was an internet pop-up that provided the answer, advertising a personal development course. This proved to be the catalyst for several courses in NLP and coaching, prompting Koanuka to set up his own coaching business, Outside Comfort Zone.

Now, as well as hosting events where he speaks alongside other professional motivational coaches, Koanuka offers one-to-one coaching to help people learn how they can make money doing what they love. In the future, he hopes to start teaching online classes in order to reach more people too,

“It's not about me standing there and preaching; it's me saying do your own thing, do what you love,” he stresses. “But to do that you need to have certain tools to control your own motivation.”

Ricardo Koanuka. Photo: Private

The Local asked Koanuka what the first step to developing these tools was.

“If you're not doing what you love, life gets harder. Previously, people were focused on money and goals. Now I say we're in a new era, a purpose-oriented era. You have to figure out what makes your heart sing. If someone is only goal-oriented, they might become millionaires, but if you ask these people if they're happy, they'll say that something's missing. If you follow your goals and your heart, you might become rich or you might not, but you'll be excited to wake up every day.”

“So, the first step is to figure out what's your core. Not the one your system or your mum or your fear told you, but your core passion. It took me 36 years to discover this! Now my goal is to keep spreading that message.”

He believes his cross-cultural experience is an asset in the profession. “As an immigrant, I know I've had so many opportunities I never would have had in Brazil,” he explains. In his home country, Koanuka worked as an entrepreneur, balancing several jobs including making and selling clothes and teaching the dance-martial art caporeira.

He says he didn't even know Sweden existed before starting a job at a friend's exchange student company. There he got his first glimpse into Nordic society thanks to the Swedish students who came to Brazil – all of them, it seemed to Ricardo, with plenty of money. This was what first made him curious about the country on the other side of the world, and when one of his caporeira students suggested taking the concept to Sweden, his journey began.

“I have learned so much from Swedish people. For the first time, I heard a real person say 'I love to pay taxes!' which was a phrase I'd never expected to hear from a human being. Then I realized it was me who was crazy, I just thought my reality was normal. So many things are different here, for example you can go out with an expensive camera and come back late at night and it won't get stolen.”

“I really appreciate those things, because I know from experience it's not the reality everywhere. But lots of Swedish people are sleeping; they're blind because if you haven't seen what it's like in other countries, you don't appreciate the chance to create the life you want.”

But while Sweden may have a lot to teach new arrivals, Koanuka also believes Swedes can learn from immigrants, particularly when it comes to accepting difference or individuality.

Ricardo Koanuka. Photo: Private

“Jantelagen is a powerful way to stop people from being themselves. One of the ten laws of Jante is 'You're not to think you can teach us anything'. This makes it really difficult for Swedes to open up to new ways of thinking. They're scared of being manipulated by others, not realizing they have already been manipulated by Jante,” he says.

With more Swedes travelling abroad, and access to a world of ideas through the internet, they are exposed to more and more new ideas. At his last event, around 60 percent of the audience were native Swedes.

In the feedback from attendees, Koanuka says many admit they were sceptical at the start of the event but left it feeling happy. Koanuka describes the events as “a party”, with a focus on personal development, but also DJs and Brazilian music.

Once a year, he takes the event to his native Brazil, and for now, he enjoys spending time in both countries, but believes he will stay in Sweden long-terms because “I still have a lot to do here”. 

“Wanting more in Sweden is a bit fight; the easy option is just to settle, because even if you settle, things will still be quite good. But Sweden has taught me how to become the best version of myself.”

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