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Yan Maschke: “Demonstrate empathy”

Demonstrate empathy. One of the strengths of our American culture is our respect for human rights. I have heard various stories from friends who interacted with immigration officers and felt they were treated as secondary humans — even if they are legal and tax-paying permanent residents. Regardless of the result of immigration decision for any applicant, showing […]

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Demonstrate empathy. One of the strengths of our American culture is our respect for human rights. I have heard various stories from friends who interacted with immigration officers and felt they were treated as secondary humans — even if they are legal and tax-paying permanent residents. Regardless of the result of immigration decision for any applicant, showing empathy and respecting humanity in the process will help reinforce a core value we uphold in America.


Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yan Maschke.

Yan Maschke is an award-winning executive and team coach, speaker, and author of Leadership Unlocked: Unleash the Power of Your Body for Impact and Fulfillment. For more than 20 years, Yan led strategy and execution in Fortune 500 environments and managed multiple global businesses, each with revenues of more than 100 million dollars. Now, she coaches leaders and teams worldwide so they can achieve more while doing less, in a style that feels authentic and inspiring.

The industry authority International Coaching Federation selected Yan as the only coach in North America featured in its video success stories in 2020.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in the southern Chinese province of Hunan. I loved the evergreen climate and beautiful terrain of hills and ponds. Till this day, I can smell the minerals in the rich terra cotta soil, with the stickiness of the earth on my rain boots during monsoon season. It was a small town (by Chinese standards) of three million people. We had a lively morning market full of local farmers who carried vegetables, tofu, chickens, and other foods in big baskets on shoulder poles. I enjoyed running around the weekend market with other kids, waiting to hear the loud popping sound of the hand-cranked popcorn machine, its dark smoke blinding our eyes. I rode a bicycle to school with friends every day and played ping pong on outdoor concrete tables at every break I had in school.

My parents both worked for the government — their only career option then — making a combined income of 15 dollars a month for a long time before it went up to 45 dollars a month in 1987. Compared to the western world, we did not have much materialistically. But I never felt poor.

My mother is the strongest woman I know. She worked hard professionally in face of much adversity, raised four kids, ran small businesses on the side to make extra money, and made me pretty dresses out of colorful fabric pieces discounted as fabric roll ends. She has an amazing singing voice and she always laughed. I learned from my parents to work hard and maintain harmony — and, to never stand out.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?

China started its drastic growth in the early 90s. A lot of western companies were investing in China in 1995 when I was a senior in college. Being the top of my class in business school and with proficiency in English, my plan was to work for a big international company in southern China acting as a bridge between the East and the West — the idea of being a bridge excited me.

I was serving as a live interpreter for an international conference in my senior year, co-hosted by my college and its “Sister School”, University of Northern Iowa (UNI). I was encouraged by professors from both schools to apply for graduate studies in International Relations at UNI. I hesitantly applied. In 1995, unless you had a family sponsor in the US, the only way to be granted a US visa was to receive a full scholarship, which was rare. Unexpectedly, I received a full scholarship and a 600 dollars monthly stipend as a teaching assistant.

I was on the phone with my parents discussing this opportunity. Loyalty to family is a top virtue in Chinese culture. If there was the slightest hesitation in my parents’ voice, I would have said “no” to this opportunity. My mother was calm. She said, “We don’t have much money, but we can definitely find enough money to buy you a return ticket if you don’t like it there.” That was the moment that gave me the permission to explore the world. I later found out that my parents had to borrow money to purchase my airplane ticket to the U.S.

What fascinated me the most about coming to the U.S. was the fact that I could sit with people on the other side of the globe who do not just have black hair and brown eyes.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

I arrived in Iowa in the summer of 1995. My exposure to America was limited to half a dozen American movies. I thought every city was like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. My impression of the US could be summed up in three words — sex, drugs, and Rock & Roll. My Mom told me to not use public pools in fear of AIDS. Looking down, sitting on a small plane, flying from Chicago to the Waterloo airport, I was surprised to see farm fields instead of skyscrapers.

Compared to the hustle and bustle in the cities of China, I was shocked by how few people were there on campus when I arrived and felt like being in a small boat in the middle of a big ocean. Cars in Iowa stopped for pedestrians and people left their cars unlocked. People waved at me; they were very warm. People assumed that I grew up on a rice field and never had a TV. I had never seen a rice field and my family had had TVs for years. People’s perception of China seemed to have frozen decades earlier.

I was good in English, but I did not have an ear for American English. I was taught British English by Chinese teachers — we called it “Chinglish”. I understood lectures by the professors quite well, but I had a hard time understanding my roommates who used colloquial expressions. I did not understand any of the American humor as it required cultural understanding. Every day that summer, I made myself watch two TV shows: Seinfeld — for understanding of culture and humor, and a religious show because the pastor spoke beautiful American English. It took me three months to attune my ears to American English. Once I gained confidence in the language, I felt like myself again.

And yes, sitting on the other side of the globe with people with more than just black hair and brown eyes was indeed as fascinating as I imagined.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

Being so far away from home, I had “holiday blues” while in Iowa. Jingle bells and Christmas lights were painful reminders of my separation from family. Luckily, I met Steve and Judy Schultz. They invited me to their lovely home to celebrate every major holiday with them and their two adult daughters Kristin and Andrea. I was deeply touched by the love and generosity of an American family. It meant everything to me. I am eternally grateful for their inclusion, and I have stayed in touch with them since then.

So how are things going today?

After completing a master’s degree in International Relations at UNI and an MBA at Michigan State University, I received amazing job offers in early 1999. I learned a tremendous amount working for a premier management consulting firm, A.T. Kearney, before I left to work for Fortune 500 global manufacturing firms. I set a goal to become a corporate executive managing a global business by age 40. I kept my head down and worked hard. I loved the learning and was blessed with amazing mentors. At 40, I won my dream job.

I thought this success would bring fulfillment, but instead, I was lost. I felt like a bird in a cage. I tried hard to fit in where I did not. I wished I had a coach. I wished my boss had a coach. I wished our executive team had a coach.

I asked myself a question, “What pain in the world do you want to help alleviate?” The answer came through my whole body in a visceral way, “The pain in the world I want to help alleviate is the pain I am having right now! I want to work with successful leaders who want to make a bigger impact and yet feel whole and authentic at the same time.”

I started a leadership and strategy advisory business five years ago — Yan Maschke Group. Now I help develop leaders and teams worldwide. I no longer seek fulfillment — I live it every day. I came to the U.S. to pursue a dream. Instead, I created a life beyond my dreams.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My vision is “Life fully expressed. A world more connected.” In my work, I help leaders connect with their authentic self and fully express their leadership potential. They then create a ripple effect through leading their teams and organizations. I may never be able to pay back to my mentors and supporters, but I can pay it forward. I mentor young professionals and high school students, and I regularly provide pro bono coaching.

I am known for my experiential style that actively engages a leader’s mind and body for deeper insight and faster results. Writing the book “Leadership Unlocked” is an act of service. I wanted to share an important message with a broader audience beyond paying clients. By honoring the intelligence of the body and mind, I am able to express my life fully, and I want to help others do the same.

You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?

My immigration process of work visa, permanent residence (green card), and naturalization (citizenship) took place a long time ago, and it was relatively smooth. Based on more recent interactions with friends who are involved in the immigration process, I suggest the following three things to improve the US immigration system:

  1. Consider the family. My Chinese friends Jake and Yolanda are exceptional professionals who have made meaningful contributions to the US economy with their talent. They are legal immigrants and have been permanent residents for several years paying US taxes at the same rate as citizens like me. Jake works for a major US hospital system and has been asked to establish a physical therapy practice for this hospital in China. They and their young baby travel between the US and China based on an immigration requirement to be outside of the US no more than 6 months at a time. The global pandemic and travel restrictions made this impossible and they applied for Re-Entry Permit so they could stay outside of the US for up to 2 years. The immigration office approved the application for their 18-month-old baby several months ago but not for the parents!
  2. Demonstrate empathy. One of the strengths of our American culture is our respect for human rights. I have heard various stories from friends who interacted with immigration officers and felt they were treated as secondary humans — even if they are legal and tax-paying permanent residents. Regardless of the result of immigration decision for any applicant, showing empathy and respecting humanity in the process will help reinforce a core value we uphold in America.
  3. Continue to attract top talent in the world. Our country is founded on immigration. Diverse talent made significant contributions to the strengths of our economy throughout history, If we want to have sustained competitive advantage, we need to create a friendly environment and efficient process to attract top talent in the world.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

Growing up in southern China, I always imagined success as climbing up a mountain. Here are five keys to success:

1. Pick the right mountain. For 20 years, I chased my dream of becoming a corporate executive leading a global business. When I reached that target, I felt empty and lost. When I took a step back to re-evaluate who I am and what I am here to do, I discovered a calling to help OTHER successful leaders achieve more impact while feeling authentic and whole. I am grateful for my corporate career — it led me to the exact mountain I need to be on.

2. Be the best climber you can be. Once you pick a target on the mountain, DO YOUR BEST WORK. Always deliver results. Always add value. The question that guides me every day is “How am I making my HIGHEST contributions in the world?”

3. Create your community. There are many stops along the way. Do not climb alone. Make family and friends. Reach out to mentors, supporters, and collaborators. Pull others up as you climb. Celebrate with your community and enjoy the nature as you climb.

4. Take care of YOU — the climber. My father always told me, “If you can KEEP the mountain, you will always have enough chopped wood.” When he was growing up, chopped wood was a daily essential. He wanted me to always take care of myself first. So, take care of YOU so you can be your best climber and be there for others.

5. BE the mountain. While climbing the mountain, I realized that I AM the mountain. Everything on the mountain IS the mountain. I look at a flower — it is not trying to compete with other flowers or try to mimic a different flower. Its purpose is to fully express its unique beauty, unapologetically. Our job is to honor the gift of life and fully express our potential in our most courageously authentic way. When we do that, we inspire others to do the same, and the mountain is full of blossoms.

We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?

  1. Freedom to succeed. We have a system that encourages and supports entrepreneurs. I initiated the process to set up my LLC in less than one day and received official notification within a week. I self-published the book Leadership Unlocked recently with full creative control without having to go through a long process of pitching to a big-name publisher. Neither would be possible in China today.
  2. Diversity. What fascinated me the most about coming to the US was diversity. America is a melting pot of diverse talents and backgrounds. Diversity is critical to our continued growth, innovation, and American spirit.
  3. Generosity. I have been absolutely amazed by the generosity of American people, from families like Steve and Judy Schultz, to amazing mentors, to tremendous acts of philanthropy in our community.

We are very blessed that 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, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Arianna Huffington. She has built an incredible media enterprise and she has inspired so many. I particularly appreciate her authentic voice in focusing on wellness and human wholeness in a digital world.

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

www.YanMaschke.com, a strategy & leadership advisory that serves leaders and teams through executive coaching, leadership team coaching, and strategy facilitation.

Social media handles (Linkedin is theprimary platform):

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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