Our June Member Of The Month, Parissa Tosif, is a woman of many talents. On one hand she’s busy touring the world as a musician with her band, Vallis Alps. On the other hand she’s nurturing a budding legal career and finding her feet in the industry as a graduate lawyer. With a whirlwind couple of years under her belt, the best is still yet to come with a much-anticipated album release later in 2019.
Parissa joins us today for a Q&A that will leave you with valuable points to reflect upon and excited for a future woman who is on her way.
What are you reading at the moment? I have a habit of reading a lot at once! Currently on rotation is Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets (the best one in my opinion), Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (recommended to me by a fellow future woman on the FB page – thanks Becky) and Tools Of Titans by Timothy Ferriss.
What are you listening to? I listen to songs that make me feel moved. It’s my favourite thing about music. But I have to choose carefully because I am writing music all day and want to ensure my ears don’t get tired. Currently I’m listening to The National, Alice Ivy and Billie Holiday. I also rely heavily on podcasts and find that they frame the mood I want to enter into and help me learn from inspiring people. When I need a little bit of motivation I listen to How I Built This or The Cut on Tuesdays.
What is a quote/motto you live by? Remind yourself of your intention before acting. It’s a lot easier to act once you know the aim behind your time, energy and love investment. Try to include in that intention something that will make others happy or benefit society.
Who is the most remarkable woman you’ve ever met and why? It’s touching that so many people think of their mothers for questions of this nature – and I would have to answer my mum for sure. She lost her parents by the time she was 9 in her birth country of Iran and was moved to Austria at 13 on her own. She eventually moved to the USA at 17 and built a life with my beautiful father and did everything for me and my two brothers! She is a mother figure to so many people, and so incredibly generous, loving and strong but she is the master of living life with full zest. She’s an incredible teacher and educator and runs her own business called World of Virtues for parents and teachers. I love her so much and treasure her friendship.
Why did you join Future Women? It’s a haven where women wanting to connect can be together and learn. It’s so unique to have a space like this online, and events and initiatives that foster community building. I feel like I’m only just getting started in understanding the benefits of being a member.
You create beautiful music and lyrics with your writing partner, David Ansari. How do you channel your creativity and find inspiration for your music? Thank you so much! I usually try to write lyrics to a concept. Our song ‘Young’ was written about dreams, both physical and ambitions. Our song ‘Oceans’ is an anthem for the resilience of human beings who are facing daily oppression – especially women and how inspiring they are.
You have achieved huge success with Vallis Alps since 2015, and your single ‘Young’ recently went Gold. What was this experience like? It was such a special moment for sure. Me and David, the other half of Vallis Alps, decided early on to remain an independent band for the first few years of the project. This meant that we would, alongside our manager Melody, build a team around us and do everything including running the business to finding a team, to mixing the songs and setting up for shows ourselves. This choice has shaped my idea of success to be an appreciation for all the things I’ve learnt along the way, as opposed to reaching a certain milestone. I feel so grateful to have met the people I have and learnt the skills and capacities I have. When I saw the Gold record I was filled with so much joy and it was a huge moment for reflection.
“Another reality is that traditional qualities of women and underrepresented groups clash significantly with traits traditionally rewarded in the legal profession including presenteeism, self-promotion and intense assertiveness.”
As the other half of Vallis Alps resides in the US, you are a master at working remotely. How do you work with David to ensure you’re maximising your creativity, as well as staying on track to meet deadlines? Honestly something I’m still getting used to! I’ve been going to New York a lot to see David and each time we work in person we make sure we leave with concrete goals. These then filter into my daily goals and plans I make for the week. We also try to jump on the phone every few days and make sure our friendship is strong. The moments when we’re most challenged work-wise is when our friendship isn’t strong and the vulnerability and communication isn’t present. I also make sure my day is set-up right with a strong spiritual practice, exercise and social activity.
There was a time when you were balancing full-time study, internships and 70 shows a year. How did you manage it all? It wasn’t easy and I definitely faced moments of exhaustion and anxiety. I think what kept me going was my sense of curiosity and building a team of supportive people around me. My legal studies filled a desire in me to do something intellectual, focussed and task based. Music fulfilled a side of me that loves to be creative and engage in something that is somewhat infinite. I also constantly had the opportunity to debrief with my husband, close friends and teammates who all are looking out for me and trying to make me laugh!
As a new law graduate, how did you approach the change from performing with Vallis Alps to working in law. Was this a difficult transition? I graduated in December 2018 and decided to enter a phase of ‘exploration’ with the law side of my life. I felt like 2015 – 2017 was such a whirlwind with touring and working that I needed a moment to re-analyse my purpose, goals and evaluate how I want to use my law degree. I’m so privileged to have been able to support myself through the music during this time, and I’m coming out of that phase and into some action. I’ve recently grown a strong interest in HR and workplace culture. Yet to see where that takes me, but I’m exploring that!
How do you apply your creativity and varied talents to an industry that is typically quite formal and conservative? I see the study of law as a way of forming patterns, habits and ways of thinking that can be applied to a variety of industries and jobs. Although I may end up working in the legal industry, I feel like the ability to be pragmatic, filter through large amounts of information and glean key insights as well as forming a constructive argument are all things that can be applied with creativity in many industries.
While the legal industry is embracing D&I agendas and modernising their workplaces, the pace of change remains slow. What do you believe are some of the major challenges for women and other under-represented groups working in law? The industry itself is built to stand on the shoulders of the court system and societal attitudes of work. This has a variety of repercussions, one of which is that the way we work (how, when and where) is largely institutionalised to fit someone who is not a caregiver or has commitments outside work. Furthermore, the heightened competition for clerkships and work experiences give opportunity to individuals who have been privileged to receive certain educational and extracurricular activities not available to disadvantaged groups.
Another reality is that traditional qualities of women and underrepresented groups clash significantly with traits traditionally rewarded in the legal profession including presenteeism, self-promotion and intense assertiveness. Thus, less women and underrepresented groups rise to senior positions, and the qualities of these people are continuously not involved in big decisions impacting the industry.
Things are definitely shifting and there are incredibly forward-thinking, innovative law firms out there. The industry itself and the way it functions makes it really hard for law firms to innovate and I’m truly impressed by stories I hear of those who are revolutionizing how we work and giving opportunities for unique characteristics to be supported.
You have one piece of advice for ambitious young women. What is it? Be kind to yourself and value the friends and family around you. At the end of the day, we are who we are by our deeds and not just our career accomplishments.
What can we expect from you in 2019? Finishing this album! I can’t wait! And figuring out what’s next for me in law or workplace culture or whatever comes my way. On a more personal note I’ve been trying to learn more about my Iranian roots through cooking and spending time with older generations to learn about the culture, so hopefully lots of good food and hospitality.
The future for women is: SO exciting. I don’t go a day without thinking about the amazing women contributing to our world for the better.
We can lift each other up by: Celebrating each other and removing judgement.
I’m most fulfilled: When I see other people hopeful or dancing to my music!