Photography by Becca Lemire
When you’re given the opportunity to live out your dream, you typically take it, right?
Ten years ago Farah Nasser was offered the opportunity of a lifetime, one that would have her moving to the US and anchoring a high profile job. Through an extensive career that has had her reporting globally, Farah believes it’s through “traditional media to be a voice for the voiceless.”
Flash forward to today; she’s the co-anchor of Global Toronto’s 5:30 and 6pm newscast and happily living in Toronto with her family.
Learn all about Farah’s lemons, how she’s overcome them, and what success means to her.
Tell us about a time that life handed you lemons. Did you make lemonade?
About 15 years ago, I was diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disease. I had just started anchoring and one day couldn’t walk anymore. I had to be off work for six months. I was devastated and had a difficult time seeing my way out. My mom was a godsend - part caregiver, part therapist. She helped me see the time as a rare opportunity to pause and figure out what I wanted out of life. I made vision boards, umpteen lists including reasons I should be grateful and a detailed list of what I was looking for in a future partner. I met my husband later that year.
Describe your ideal work environment to get sh*t done.
The newsroom at night. There is something really special about a place that’s usually bustling with ‘Type A’ personalities, busy with the latest breaking news and is the exact opposite at night. If I have a big live show like an election or speech to give, you can usually find me at my desk super-focused in the place that gives me a rush during the day.
How much of your success has come from taking risks versus playing it safe?
I think it depends how you measure success. My biggest source of happiness has come from not taking a risk. About a decade ago, I was offered a high profile anchor job in the US which at the time should have been considered my dream job. In television news, it’s always about moving to the biggest market possible but when I sat back and looked at what I really wanted out of life, I realized Toronto was it. Staying in a city I love, surrounded by people I love was the true definition of success to me. Some would consider that playing it safe but it’s my personal measure of success.
“In today’s climate, success is not just about reaching a personal goal but being empathetic and being able to identify yourself in others.”
How do you measure success in your career?
For me, that’s changed over the past few years. Originally, it was getting the lead story every night or moving up on the career ladder but it has evolved. Today, success for me is about opening minds and after a news story having viewers and readers say “hey, I never I never thought about that” or “that’s what it’s like to live in that person’s shoes”. In today’s climate, success is not just about reaching a personal goal but being empathetic and being able to identify yourself in others. I recently received a card from an intern who thanked me for being welcoming and always taking the time to treat her with respect. To me, that is everything.
You're 30 minutes away from walking into an important meeting. What do you do to get yourself in the right headspace?
Mediation for me is key. I lock myself into my dressing room at work for five minutes, breathe and focus on a prayer. I look in the mirror and literally tell myself “Farah - you got this.” I’m lucky to also have a lot of cheerleaders in my life. I almost always call my husband for a pep talk before an important broadcast or meeting.
If you could attend a dinner party with 3 women of your choice - past or present - who would they be?
Michelle Obama because well, who doesn’t love Michelle Obama?! She spent eight years quietly changing her country for the better - by example. Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan. It’s not because of her politics, she was a pretty controversial figure but she was the first woman to head a democratic government in a country with a Muslim majority. That was in the late 80s/90s yet Canada has never had an elected female prime minister. My grandmother. She was a feminist but certainly didn’t know that word. She was the first woman in her town to ride a bicycle and trade in her sari for a pantsuit. She passed when I was young and I wish I got to know her more.
Do you have a mentor? What role have they played in your success?
I’ve had so many powerful leaders who have paved the way or championed me but it’s a woman I’m currently mentoring through CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network who is actually teaching me a lot right now. Her name is Stacy Clarke, she’s a staff sergeant with Toronto Police, one of the very few women of colour in that position. Stacy and I often speak about how what we do in our unique positions is beyond individual success and instead about breaking barriers for the next generation.
“What we do in our unique positions is beyond individual success and instead about breaking barriers for the next generation.”
What impact are you making through your work?
One thing that is really driving me right now is perspective. The social media echo chambers we all know too well divide us. I believe it’s up to traditional media to be a voice for the voiceless. A couple years ago, I did a piece on the war in Syria where we compared Toronto to Aleppo and showed people here what living through that proxy war would be like. I still have people coming up to me who say it gave them a deeper understanding of what living through a war would be like. The social media silos we live in now make perspective more important than ever.
What is one book and/or podcast that you believe every woman should read or listen to?
Two books. Feminist Fightclub, which was given to me by someone I admire, reads like candy. Lean In, which I know is cliché and controversial to some but I read it as I nursed by daughter at night and it truly spoke to me. I was hired for this job when I was pregnant with her and went to work shortly after her birth, feeling like I was wearing some sort of amour. It was very empowering.
What is something on your bucket list?
Travelling the world with my kids and seeing it through their eyes. My husband and I have both done development work overseas and we hope to give back again, this time with our children. Personally, I’m also interested in conducting media training with an organization like Journalists for Human Rights.
What's next for you? Can you tell us a little bit about something exciting you're working on?
So many things but one I can talk about is a TedX talk I’m working on about the diversity of perspective, something I’m really passionate about these days.