“Despite the steady stream of seemingly only bad news, there are many amazing things going on in the U.S., including energy independence and greater oil exports, improving public health and tech innovation. It’s never been a better time to be alive in terms of public health, cheaper or easier to educate yourself or to build a thriving business or become anything you choose as a human or professional. That, in itself, makes me tremendously optimistic.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Yuri Kruman, a corporate Employee Experience (EX) Consultant, startup advisor, Forbes Coaches Council member and Forbes contributor. Yuri’s consulting, advising and coaching portfolio includes speaking engagements and advisory work on Employee Experience (EX), HR Transformation / Change Management, Customer Experience (CX) and PR/Media, impacting thousands of corporate and startup executives.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Imagine a shy, nerdy, overly sensitive Soviet kid growing up with his Mom in Kentucky, of all places. I had an awesome childhood full of nature and travel. Mom taught me everything she knows about biology and how the world works. She gave me a voracious, restless intellectual curiosity that hasn’t stopped for a moment since. My best friend from childhood is Iranian and other school friends are from Ukraine, Israel, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, you name it. Mom’s first boss was Mormon; the second was from India. I was lucky to be surrounded by remarkable people, including Holocaust survivors, rabbi-academics, even a horse auctioneer. Hardly what you’d expect from growing up in the South. At 17, I left, went to college in Philadelphia and then came to New York.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
The most simple triggers were a combination of much greater economic opportunity in the U.S. after the fall of the Soviet Union and getting away from anti-Semitism. My Mom got a job as an academic at University of Kentucky right from Russia, which is how we ended up there. She left mainly for me and my sister to have opportunity to become successful in America and not be held back by anti-Semitism or any other discrimination in pursuing our chosen fields.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
It wasn’t exactly like Eddie Murphy’s “Coming to America,” but there were certainly quite a few hilarious and, awkward moments. We got the word that Mom got a job in Kentucky, packed up our life, expecting to come back after 3 years at the end of the contract. We had no idea what to expect, except for streets covered in gold (only half joking), as well as everyone wearing blue jeans. We flew Delta (first time on a plane for either of us) into JFK on the day Bill Clinton was elected and flew on to Lexington, Kentucky. We were met by Mom’s Mormon boss and his wife, who were incredibly generous in giving us everything from dishes to towels to set up our new home in an apartment complex on campus that was full of immigrants from China, Ireland and other countries.
It was culture shock daily for the first few weeks.I was the youngest kid in 5th grade by a year and a half (a quirk in the Russian school system had had me in 5th grade at 9, so I continued that way in Kentucky). I was put into English as a Second Language and got out after just 2 months.
I remember all too well how we walked by foot to and from the grocery store in the dead of winter (the town stops when 2 inches of snow fall), everyone looking at us from their passing cars like aliens. We were shocked to have all these perfect-looking fruits and vegetables — especially tropical ones like bananas and pineapples — in the middle of winter, but we learned quickly that they rarely had much taste. We bought our first car after 2 months and our first house after 5 years, and haven’t looked back since.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Aside from Mom, who got us out of Russia, this would definitely have to be Faye and Peter Oeltgen, the couple that brought us out with a job contract. Their kindness remains with us until this day.
So how are things going today?
America is definitely the land of opportunity, but it’s not exactly covered in gold. Life is unquestionably better in terms of quality and opportunity than it would have been for us in Russia. But this has been hard-won through insane challenges and setbacks. I’ve been blessed to be free to be exactly who I want to be, study what I want, live where I want, marry whom I want and raise my kids the way I want, despite the difficulties. In this vein, I’ve managed to build a successful business, write for top publications, publish books, help thousands of people transform their lives, careers and businesses and to travel widely, share my insights with many people and to make a solid living doing it. Our gratitude to America for accepting us and giving us the runway to succeed is unwavering.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Once I got clear on my life mission, how to pursue and how to monetize it by helping empower people in their lives, careers and businesses, it’s been an amazing time coaching and consulting hundreds of people, writing articles for top publications, being on podcasts, TV, etc. My message is always the same — to help give people the language and psychology to succeed on their own terms.
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’m not a political animal or policy wonk and my views are never party-line. That said, as an immigrant in tech, I would first undoubtedly extend the H1 program for tens, even hundreds of thousands more highly-skilled immigrants to come to the U.S. each year to contribute to growing the economy. I would then pass immigration reform in Congress to help clarify the status of the millions in limbo through a mix of formal status that allows the IRS to collect taxes more widely and deportation of criminals and others breaking the law. Thirdly, I would make the borders more secure through a system of tech savvy fences like the ones Israel uses. Immigration policy must remain humane, if firm, as well as recognize the realities of service, agriculture and meat processing industries, which is that Americans largely don’t want to do these jobs, so we need to help immigrants get their start there
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Work harder than everyone else when needed (often is), but even more importantly, work smarter than everyone else. Working yourself into the grave is hardly the immigrant’s dream. You have to evolve and level up consistently, so that you can move on to higher and higher-value work. I’ve done this consistently throughout my career, moving from babysitting to academia to sales to paralegal work to legal work to finance to tech to coaching to consulting, always adding greater and great value to my clients and myself. It’s always a work in progress, but you have to leverage what you learn to add ever greater value to people’s lives, so you can take more value for yourself, as well.
- If it doesn’t exist yet, don’t want for someone else to create it. Do it yourself! Growing up, I never had a coach to help me through all sorts of problems. I never had the mindset to want a coach or even trust one. So I had to become that coach for myself and others, first by changing my mindset and then by helping change the mindset of others.
- Whatever profession you choose in life, always work hard to become the best version of yourself. In moving from academia to law to finance to tech to coaching/consulting, I’ve always worked hard on becoming the best version of myself, whether as an employee, advisor, investor, writer, consultant or coach. This means being careful about how you treat your body, your soul, your family and friends, as well as random strangers in life.
- Rely on yourself to be the most motivated person in every room — motivated to learn, create, get through all obstacles and challenges to finally succeed. But don’t rely on yourself to always know everything and do everything — you can’t and you won’t be able to. Instead, create the community of people you want to work with, spend time with, create with and perform with. Even when I had no power to change anything in my life, I always had the ability to change my thoughts, my speech and my actions. I’ve always made it a point to learn from every situation and encounter, no matter how bad or good, so that I would avoid the mistake the next time or increase the good that came of it. The key is always to remain the most intellectually curious version of yourself, so you never stop learning, keep improving and adding value to others and yourself. This is how you can create a virtuous cycle of value in your life.
- Learn from every person, whether for the good, the bad — or both. Your hunger and lack of knowledge in the beginning give you a fresh perspective that becomes incisive, as long as you remain intellectually curious. Don’t settle for mediocrity in any part of your life, no matter how hard the pressure. The American penchant for reinvention is a massive asset you won’t find almost anywhere else. In reinventing myself, my psychology and language a handful of times professionally and many more, as a human, I’ve always found it a huge asset to be able to do this well, always learning and integrating signals from the world with each successive, better version of yourself.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
It was the worst of times (politically, global warming), it was the best of times (public health, innovation, many others). Despite the steady stream of seemingly only bad news, there are many amazing things going on in the U.S., including energy independence and greater oil exports, improving public health and tech innovation. It’s never been a better time to be alive in terms of public health, cheaper or easier to educate yourself or to build a thriving business or become anything you choose as a human or professional. That, in itself, makes me tremendously optimistic.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in 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. 🙂
If I could have lunch with anyone from those, it would be with Mark Benioff. He’s struck an amazing balance between being a tech mogul and giving innovatively. I have a lot to learn from him for my future plans in a similar vein 🙂
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.
Originally published at medium.com