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June 18th, 2015

Twelve years ago a friend working in a publishing company asked me to share my immigration story in a book for grade-schoolers.  I remember answering all kinds of questions about my family’s immigration journey and, along with childhood pictures in the former Soviet Union and subsequent life in the U.S, it was all published in a tiny book called Crossing Borders.  Who knew that it would take over a decade for me to encounter the impact of my decision or that it would arrive at the time I needed that magic the most…

A few months ago I received an email from a local elementary school teacher named Rivka who told me that her kids had read my story and were so inspired, they wanted to write me a letter!  She also invited me to come meet the kids and it so happened that the date we chose – a few months later – fell amidst an incredibly challenging week.  So much so that it was tempting to reschedule; but I made a commitment and was determined to follow through.

The first magical gift of this 12-year-in-germination experience arrived in form of a manila envelope filled with mostly colored pencil scribbles and drawings on lined school paper. They sounded like this:

“Hi, my name is Johnny, I am 9 years old.  I love football, singing, crayons, fried chicken and my favorite color is blue.  When I grow up I want to be a vet but if that doesn’t work out I’ll be an astronaut.  What do you think I should be? I was really inspired by your story.  You must have been very brave to come to this country without friends and learn English when you were 12.  My family moved to Virginia last year and I was scared too, so I can relate.  What was it like for you?  I love that you help people in your business.  Do you like it?  Is your job ever hard?  I can’t wait to meet you!  P.S.
I hope it’s not a snow day!”

There were 35 of these delightful letters, each just as thoughtful, generous and empathetic.  It was so endearing and moving to experience the world – and one of the darkest parts of my past – through these little people’s eyes, I laughed and cried through the stack.  I couldn’t wait to meet my new pen pals and the amazing te
acher who was clearly cultivating such an incredible level of curiosity and emotional intelligence in 9 and 10-year-ol

IMG_0722I was also intimidated – what if they didn’t think that the real life version of me measured up to the book version they w
ere expecting?  Nevertheless, on the designated date I showed up at the school armed with Russian candy (that did pass the allergy tests) and a note for each child who wrote me, mostly thanking them profusely and assuring them that the best thing to be when you grow up is the amazing, wonderful, empathetic you who wrote me the wonderful letter!

Meeting these children was absolutely one of my life’s greatest highlights (and I have a pretty amazing life filled with highlights, even amidst the challenging and dark moments, like that week was full of.)  That day I was greeted by 35 little people whose thoughtfulness, kindness, creativity, wisdom and maturity simply blew me away!  It was a level of love, trust and generosity that we rarely experience as adults.  

I’m pretty sure that my infusion had me float above ground for days after.  I’ll mention now that at one point I was barraged with autograph requests, including on TWO footballs!  I’m pretty certain I will never again feel like this much of a celebrity, at least not one who signs footballs! ;)  

But this loving energy wasn’t just focused on me; they were that way towards each other too. Rivka– who in my opinion deserves a Teacher of the Century Award – had them perform a play for me on anti-bullying (the spirit of which the kids genuinely embody in their treatment of one another) and show me a process where they are learning how to make decisions, speak their minds and resolve conflict.  A thought crossed my mind that some of my executive client groups could benefit from hanging out in this class (hmmm, could this be a brilliant cross-learning – aka field t
rip – opportunity idea?! ;)

As I was departing, I gathered the kids around me to thank them for this extraordinary experience and to share with them what I learned.  I said, “You know how sometimes we do something without considering how or whom our actions will effect?”  thirty-five adorable heads nodded.  “Well, 12 years ago I did something without giving it much thought – I agreed to tell my story in a book.  And now in the week that I most needed to know that I make a positive impact, I met YOU.”  At this moment I heard “Wow, you made a BIG impact on us” and “You make a difference!” and, my favorite, “She needs a group hug!” (which I got along with more pictures, autographs and love notes.)

I floated away from this experience feeling grateful, gifted and humbled.  What I said to those kids and their response keep reverberating in my mind.  As leaders especially, we never know with any action we chose to undertake what the ripple affect might be or when.  And sometimes we’re not blessed enough to know (let alone be validated with autographing footballs.)  But it always matters to someone.  Somewhere.  Sometime.

Whether at work, with our families or even at the grocery store, the metro or in traffic this was a priceless reminder to keep inquiring, “Is my behavior / action / response aligned with the impact I want to have in the world?”  What do you say to
(or ask) yourself that helps guide your behavior, thoughts and responses – in your leadership role and beyond?


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– thank you so much!


  1. Mariama Souare comment:

    Wow, what a powerful story! As an immigrant and a former ESOL teacher, your story resonates well with me. Thank you for sharing it!

  2. margarita comment:

    Thank you so much Mariama! Your story is incredibly inspiring as well and I know you’ve made such a difference to other immigrants!

  3. Brenda comment:

    Beautiful Angel, your presence impacts everyone around you. Your autograph is your smile and your love.

  4. margarita comment:

    Thank you, dear Brenda!

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