Fareeha Zahid Rey and I first crossed paths at the advertising agency we both worked at (my first job out of college). From afar, it was easy to be intimidated by Fareeha at first. She was always put together and was quick on her feet when it came to her work. When we landed on the same account, she became my direct manager. As I got to know her more, my feelings of intimidation instantly faded. Fareeha is genuine, down to earth, kind and not to mention, absolutely brilliant. I knew even six years ago that she was going to be someone I would look up to for years to come.
After we went our separate ways to different companies, Fareeha and I stayed in touch and I’m honored to say she’s now one of my closest friends. She’s mentored me throughout the years and has inspired me to always push myself towards my ideal version of success. She herself has worked her way through the ranks and currently is an Account Executive at Google, where she partners with marketers and agencies to solve business challenges using Google’s DoubleClick technology. She has called Chicago home for the last ten years, where she lives with her husband, Manny, and their two adorable dogs, Simba and Teddy. She has such a passion for her career, her family and life in general and that shows through in her words during our interview.
KN: Fareeha, so happy to have you as part of this series! Can you share your story and how you got to be where you are today in your career?
Fareeha Zahid Rey: I grew up in the western burbs of Chicago with my three siblings and my two loving parents, who came to this country from Pakistan. My dad’s ticket to this country was based on his merits in education so going to college and doing well in school was mandatory in our household. At the time, it was hard to understand why he pushed us so hard in school. But now as an adult, I’m so grateful he instilled those values and discipline in me, as it has gotten me to where I am today.
I went to college at Loyola University. Going to school in a big city like Chicago was definitely motivating because you’re surrounded by working professionals well established in their career. I also worked part time at Nordstrom all throughout college and one day I met a girl who worked at an advertising agency. She raved about her company and offered to refer me once I graduated. She delivered on her promise and eight years later, we are best friends and the rest is history. I spent six years working on the agency side working in strategy and consulting roles before coming to Google. I love that no day is ever the same at Google. There are always new products to learn and new problems to solve.
KN: That’s so great! It’s crazy how random things happen in your life that lead to such amazing opportunities. What would you say has been your best decision in your career?
FZR: Some people may find this surprising, but I think my best career decision was starting my career at an advertising agency. I graduated college and went straight to working an entry level job. It was hard work and long nights, but I learned so much and it gave me so much great perspective of the advertising industry. To this day, I still find myself pulling upon my experience during that time. The second best decision would definitely be going to work at Google. It truly is a phenomenal place to work. I firmly believe each role I’ve taken though throughout the years has brought value to me at some point, whether it was learning a new skill or meeting amazing people.
KN: I totally agree. It’s also important to remember that not everything in your career is going to go as planned. What would you say has been your biggest challenge in your career and how did you push through it?
FZR: The biggest challenge in my career has been learning to adapt to constant change. Working in technology and digital media, everything changes constantly. Every single role I’ve been hired to do has changed within a year of me starting. At first, this was very daunting and I would be really hard on myself to learn everything and adapt quickly. But now, I try to roll with changes as they come and take it day by day. You have to have confidence in your ability to push through and learn new things as they come. I’ve learned that the scary, uncomfortable feeling you get is just a healthy signal of growth.
KN: So true – being uncomfortable is really only going to help you grow in your career. You’ve had a lot of success in your career, especially with landing a job at Google. What would you credit your success to all of these years?
FZR: I would credit a lot of my success to my upbringing and work ethic. My parents are first generation immigrants who came to this country to seek a better life. I think about the sacrifices they made and how hard they worked to come here just to give me the opportunities I have today. No matter how hard I have to work in my career, it will never compare to my parents’ efforts. I try to keep this in mind to stay motivated, humble and grateful for every single opportunity that presents itself.
I also think having a positive outlook and attitude is highly correlated with the output of your work. I keep myself motivated by thinking about the broader impact my work can have on people, companies and results. We all have bad or off days but I think it’s so important to be in the right mental headspace about the difference your work can make.
KN: Yes, girl! Positivity is key. I’m curious, what does your life look like after you leave the office?
FZR: Spending time with family and friends is very important to me so I push myself to disconnect from work in the evenings and weekends. I come from a very close knit family. All of my siblings are close in age, so I go home to visit family a few times a month. I absolutely love being an aunt to my adorable nieces. Seeing them makes me instantly forget about work and really realize what’s important in life.
I’m also very fortunate to have a supportive, loving life partner in my husband, Manny, to come home to. We have a great understanding of each other’s career aspirations and life goals. We don’t assume typical gender roles in our marriage. We take things day by day, so whoever has the time for housework or chores will get it done. It’s a great balance that we have.
KN: Having a support system is so important. I also know you are involved in your community. Can you shed some light into that?
FZR: I like to get involved with youth programs that help the next generation. When I think about when I was younger, I remember there were key people I looked up to that changed the trajectory of my life. Someone you look at and think, “I want to be like this person” or “THAT’S the life I want have.” Not every young person has that role model in their immediate circle, so I volunteer with an organization called Spark. Each year I am paired up with a 7th grader to mentor. We share experiences, chat about their future and share stories from our upbringing. I also go back quite a bit to visit my alma mater, Loyola, to talk to students about career topics and the advertising industry as whole.
KN: Mentoring is so critical! I’ve always seen you as my mentor and have so appreciated having someone like you in my life to help guide me in my career. While you’ve been someone who has always inspired me, who would you say has inspired you over the years?
FZR: I think it’s important to keep an open mind and build a strong, professional network you can draw inspiration and learn from. I’ve learned so much from my peers, mentors and friends just by keeping in touch and hearing about their experiences. In a recent leadership talk, I heard a female leader at Google say that everybody should have a ‘Board of Directors of their life.’ These are the key people you respect and turn to for advice or big career decisions. I love that concept! I’m also a big Sheryl Sandberg fan. I love that she’s been so open about her personal experiences and struggles, as it has humanized the path to success.
KN: Sheryl Sandberg is someone I admire too. She has also spoken out in the past about women and the glass ceiling. In your opinion, how do you think women can break that glass ceiling?
FZR: I think women need to do a better job supporting and celebrating each other. It’s easy to fall into the trap of getting competitive or envious, but growth for one of us is growth and representation for all of us. I love seeing my female colleagues and friends succeed! I find it inspiring. We need to help each other grow by sharing our experiences, tips for success and giving critical feedback to each other.
I also think companies have a lot of work to do on gender pay equality and representation in the workplace. It’s hard to believe that in 2018, I’m still the only minority in some of my meetings. We have to push for positive changes in raises, equal pay, and salary negotiations. These topics can sometimes be uncomfortable, but they are so necessary to talk about if we want change.
KN: Exactly. Some change has happened, but we still have a long way to go. Do you have any last words of advice for fellow career women out there looking for inspiration?
FZR: I would say never underestimate your own potential and remember to be your best advocate at work and in life!
Thank you, Fareeha! If you want to reach out and connect with Fareeha, you can find her on LinkedIn.
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Success Manager at Salesforce and has over 10 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.