“What makes me most optimistic about America are its people. Having lived and worked in six countries of very diverse cultures, I can confidently say that American people overall, with their high level of education, excellent productivity and working habits, drive to excel, humanitarian efforts, and their positivity in general, are a huge driving force behind America’s leadership and influence in many areas of life globally.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Masha Malka — best-selling author and founder of The One Minute Coach™ educational system. She has worked as an executive coach for over 15 years; built a successful import and distribution company; taught Business Leadership at MIUC; won ballroom competitions; got her Master’s degree in Higher Education while raising three children. Masha is a former Soviet refugee, currently living between Miami, Florida and Marbella, Spain.
Thank you so much for doing this with usl Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me here!
I grew up in the country that doesn’t exist anymore — the Soviet Union. The city in which I grew up (Kharkiv) is now a part of Ukraine but when I became a refugee in 1987, it was still part of the Soviet Union.
Growing up in the USSR had both positive and negative sides to it. The best part was that education was free and high quality. For someone like myself,who loves to learn, it was amazing as it gave me the opportunity to learn anything I wanted.
Besides normal school, I also completed a five-year Music School, I went to a dance school for 4 years, sang in the band, learned macrame, origami, cooking, how to build things, and much more.
On the other hand, growing up in the Soviet Union meant living in fear — the fear of saying the wrong joke, the fear that one day I might wake up and someone I love would be sent away to Siberia never to be seen again… Being different, having personal dreams or goals was not encouraged. There was a constant propaganda to be a part of the community, part of the state, working for the greater good of the country, regardless of personal desires. The rest of the world was carefully hidden from us; we knew only about what the government wanted us to know.
On top of it, I was born into a Jewish family. Although religion was against the law and strictly prohibited from practice; in the Soviet Union being Jewish was not only a religion, but also a nationality. A label that followed me everywhere, including both my birth certificate and passport; even my school log books contained the word “Jewish” alongside my name. This allowed people to discriminate others, and most Jewish kids were beaten up and tortured by other kids.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
My parents tried for years to take me and my brother out of the Soviet Union to give us a better future. Every time they requested to leave, they lost their jobs and were watched closely by the KGB. Finally, when Michael Gorbachev came into power and launched Perestroika, we received permission to leave. We were considered enemies of the state and my parents were very concerned for my safety, asking me not to leave the house while we were organizing our departure and not to tell anyone that we were immigrating. Since we were only allowed one small suitcase, and $80 per person, we left most of our possessions to the family that remained, whom we thought we would never see again, and left as quickly as we could.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I was 17 years old, I didn’t speak any English, the only 2 people I knew in America were my aunt and my cousin, we had no money, I missed my friends and family that I left behind, and most importantly, I had a completely different mindset to the Americans. For example, the huge variety of products and opportunities were confusing and caused a lot of frustration for someone who was used to having no choices, or maybe 2 or 3. At that time the Russian community in Miami was almost non-existent. On one hand, it made socializing very difficult, on another hand, I had no choice but to learn English as quickly as possible in order to find jobs, make friends, and survive.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Yes, my cousin Kitty who immigrated to Miami nine years before me was huge help. Initially, she helped by translating for me, helping me to integrate, being my best friend, etc.
One particular episode comes to mind…
After a long day in college where I was learning English and Kitty was getting her degree, we were at the bus stop waiting for the bus to take us home. At the time, we could only pay with change and not paper money for the bus. I only had a dollar and needed to change it. Usually Kitty would take care of it but this time she said I should do it myself so that I could practice my English.
I had a terrible fear of speaking English then, the words just wouldn’t come out of my mouth. In fact, until that memorable evening, I refused to speak English. Kitty was fed up with me asking her to do it every time because I was too scared; so, she sat down on the bench and said, “We are not going anywhere until you go and ask someone to change the dollar for coins”.
Two buses passed by. It was getting dark. Kitty would not budge. I asked her over and over to repeat to me what I needed to say. Kitty patiently did: “Do you have change for a dollar please?” I repeated it back to her again and again. She would say it was perfect. And then I would just freeze. I couldn’t do it. I cried and pleaded her to change that dollar just one more time. Promising to do it next time (as I did the day before and the day before that). Kitty didn’t give up this time and eventually I broke though the overpowering fear and asked for change.
After that I started speaking in English more and more, getting a job 4 months later, becoming fully fluent within 2 years, and eventually graduating with the highest honors from my university.
So how are things going today?
Today I am living the life I didn’t even dare to dream at the time of my immigration. I dreamed of changing the world, yes, but had no idea how, and had no idea life could change so dramatically for me.
I am raising three incredible children. I travel extensively all over the world doing what I love — coaching, training, speaking. I write books, I write music, and I am competing in ballroom dancing. I have many amazing friends and a very supportive family.
The sense of purpose that I lost in the process of immigration, which has caused me a lot of anxiety and inner conflict, I have eventually found. I rediscovered myself, and I have become a stronger and more compassionate person in the process.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The best thing about hardship and pain is being able to turn it around and turn it into something good and worthwhile. I find a lot of fulfillment in helping people who are searching for help and support in their time of difficulty and confusion. When I watch their transformation happen with my guidance, there is no greater joy for me.
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
I immigrated back in 1987 and was still underage, so I didn’t deal with immigration first hand.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Know what you want.
You need to be clear about your end result. What is your dream? Write it down. Write it as if it has already happened and exactly how it would make you feel when you manage to achieve it. As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview to life’s coming attractions.” Taking time to imagine my perfect future and writing it down has been my favorite past time for years. These days, when I read over my journal, it amazes me how much of it has materialized!
2. Don’t worry about HOW it will happen. Just know the destination and trust that the next step will reveal itself.
People are often afraid to dream because the dream just seems too overwhelming and out of reach. When I unexpectedly got pregnant with my third child, I was already extremely busy growing my career as an international coach and looking after my other two kids. Plus, it happened at the time when I decided to publish my new book. I had no idea how I would do it all, but I decided that I would just focus on one day at a time. Each day I took at least one step towards publishing my book, as I took care of my normal daily responsibilities. Eight month later, my healthy baby and my book were born almost on the same day. In fact, I named that book The One Minute Coach: Change your life one minute at a time, because I believe that one minute at a time, when moving in the direction you are clear about, you can achieve amazing things! All you need is a clear destination and your one next step.
3. Don’t let others discourage you.
When you have little, people tend to think that they have the right to tell you what to do, how to do it and why you are doing it all wrong. Trust yourself that what you desire, can be accomplished, regardless of your current circumstances and if the people around you do not want for you more than you want for yourself, then find those who do.
4. Be Patient.
This is one of the most important points here. Be patient. Just focus on becoming a better person today than you were yesterday; learn as much as you can, and do something every day that moves you towards your dream, no matter how small it is, as long as it is moving you in the right direction- you will get there.
5. Don’t think about competition, think instead about who you can collaborate with and how you can help someone.
The most successful people know how to network, how to ask for help, and always look for opportunities to help others unconditionally.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
What helped me survive and thrive in my own difficult economic times and moments of inner conflict; whilst also facing big changes and facing fears of the unknown, were my strong beliefs in the following:
· Change is absolutely necessary for progress.
· Everything always happens for a reason and for the better.
· Cooperation brings much better results than competition, in the long run.
People who are scared of change (and most people are) will find current economic and especially political climate threatening and will live in fear of the unknown, looking for someone to blame or hold responsible in case things do not turn out in their favor. People who understand the nature of progress will find reasons to be positive and optimistic about the future and adopt to the world that is rapidly changing, taking America with it for a ride.
Personally, what makes me most optimistic about America are its people. Having lived and worked in six countries of very diverse cultures, Ican confidently say that American people overall, with their high level of education, excellent productivity and working habits, drive to excel, humanitarian efforts, and their positivity in general, are a huge driving force behind America’s leadership and influence in many areas of life globally.
Some of the biggest names in Business. VC funding. Sports. and Entertainment read this column is there a person i n the world. or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with. and why? He or she might see this. :-)
I would choose to have lunch with Betsy Devos, secretary of Education, simply because my long-term dream has been to facilitate change in the educational system. The subjects that are chosen to be taught, and the way in which education is delivered towards students, is very outdated. I have a Master’s Degree in Higher Education and my final paper was on this topic. I would love to speak to Betsy DeVos about my ideas and also develop a deeper understating on the possibly of implementing them.