Real Gals is an interview series in collaboration with the nonprofit GlamourGals (GG). (If you missed the last few posts, here's part one on Rosalie; part two on Pat; and part three, about the GlamourGals Glammy Awards.) GlamourGals encourages high school and college students to volunteer with the elderly in senior homes across the United States, creating a unique bond between two generations of women.
Since GlamourGals empowers women of all ages, this series focuses on women of all ages, as well, and the careers and passions that make them who they are. Some are seniors served by GlamourGals, some are advisory board members for the nonprofit, all have the most wonderful adventures and advice to share.
For part four of Real Gals, meet 39-year-old Farrah Berse. She lives in Manhattan, grew up on Long Island, and travels all over the world for her job as a counsel and deputy chair of the anti-corruption practice group at the Paul, Weiss law firm. (She's also an advisory board member for GlamourGals!) Here, her travel tips, her favorite accessory, and how she changed her mind about becoming a rabbi and went to law school instead.
On almost attending rabbinical school... "I thought I wanted to be a rabbi in high school. My Judaism is very important to me and it was something I thought I wanted to pursue professionally. I was inspired by a number of leaders in the Jewish community over the years and I thought I wanted to pursue that path. When I was getting ready to start my senior year in college, and was about to apply to rabbinical school, I had a series of conversations with a friend of mine, who was a rabbi, about my next steps. I realized that, at that point, I wanted the Jewish education I would get from going to rabbinical school, but I was no longer positive that I wanted it to be my career."
...and going to law school instead: "I ended up loving law school. I love being a lawyer. It took me awhile after making the decision to really find other ways to stay connected with the Jewish community, but I did, and that's been really fulfilling. You may think you're certain about what you want to do with the rest of your life, and maybe you're right. But there could be something else that's equally or even more fulfilling. Keep an open mind. Give it some thought and make sure you take your next steps because you want to, not just because you've always thought it would be your natural path. Maybe you'll end up taking those very same steps anyway, but make sure it is because you've considered the options, and not just because they are the easy steps to take."
On how to travel like a pro: "I am a big fan of carry-on luggage only. I pack lots of neutral colors I can mix and match—I will not take something unless I can make it work with multiple things in my bag. I am a huge fan of shoes and I have a bazillion pairs; I love to wear them when I'm in New York, but when I'm traveling, there is just no room in the suitcase for a fun pair of shoes that goes with one outfit. I will rarely travel with more than the shoes I'm wearing. I also take advantage of hotel dry-cleaners, which is easier when you're a business traveler. As for jet lag, I sleep a lot on the plane. If I'm landing in Asia at 5 in the morning, I'll try and sleep on the second half of the flight. Having the ability to sleep on a plane anytime I want makes that possible. I prefer to take overnight flights, flights that leave pretty late at night. I try as quickly as I can to get on the current schedule when I arrive. In Europe, I tend to go to sleep later than I would here, in Asia I tend to go to sleep earlier than I would here, so it's not as drastic of a time change and also so I can interact with my colleagues in New York. I face that all the time, no matter where I am, because when I'm in New York, most of my colleagues are here, but my clients are in Europe and Asia, so I'm always waking up very early in the morning to a lot of emails. As I've gotten older, and also because I've gotten used to it, I can survive on a lot less sleep and the adrenaline keeps me going on a lot of these trips, there's always lots of work to do. I will crash when I get home. But while I'm there, the adrenaline keeps you moving."
On being a "power-pose" devotee: "I first heard about it on an episode of Grey's Anatomy! I wasn't sure if it was a real thing or not, so I did some googling, read a couple of articles, and I was intrigued. I figured, why not try it out? So, I have, on occasion, been known to sneak into a private space for some power posing for a couple of minutes before a particularly important meeting where I felt I could use a little extra boost of confidence. Whether there's more to it than just a placebo effect, I don't know, but I do feel more confident."
On her favorite accessory: "I love my Ringly. I first heard about it at a GlamourGals event. I wasn't sure at the time exactly how useful it would turn out to be for me, since I always have my phone and my blackberry close at hand. But it has turned out to be really useful. I love being able to just turn off the ringer on my phone and throw it in my bag—if I'm waiting for an important call or text, I'll know immediately when it comes in. Plus, I won't have to worry about forgetting to turn my ringer off before going into an important meeting or to turn it back on when I get out."
On holding her own in business meetings where she's the only woman: "Be assertive. Say what's on your mind. Be bold. It's easy to be intimidated by all the men in the room, particularly if they're also older or more senior to you. But there are times when you have something to say and you shouldn't be afraid to say it. There will be times when you are the expert on what's being discussed and you should let them know. Be professional and respectful about it, of course, but don't shy away from adding value just because you're the only woman. Once you've shown you have value to add, it tends to get easier. And mentor younger women and get them involved. The more women we start to see in power positions, the easier it will get."
Thank you so much, Farrah, for being a part of the Real Gals series, and for sharing your amazing advice. And thank you all for reading!
P.S. Learn more about how you can support GlamourGals here.
Photographs by Tom Schelling.