Your Momoir | Farha Shariff
I met Farha on a beautiful, sunny Sunday morning in August at Cafe Mosaics as Farha goes there often, and I like to meet at places that represent the person I’m spending time with. I rushed in, just in time, and saw her in a corner; she was sitting in a beam of light, leaning against a wooden wall. Farha is breathtakingly beautiful. I fight to find the words to describe her - yes, she is physically beautiful, but her allure is more than that; her spirit is so strong, so empowering, that it only magnifies her outward beauty. She was wearing a crisp, white t-shirt and looked impeccably fashionable and sporty at the same time; like she could one moment walk into a fashion show and the next lead a gang of bikers through one of the hardest, most memorable rides of their life. I’ve met the biker Farha (she is, after all, co-owner of YEG Cycle) and I’ve seen the fashion Farha (umm, all you have to do is see her once to know that side!) and there's the academic Farha (Professor at the U of A) and now, I get to meet Farha the mother.
Who are you? I asked.
“To be honest,” she replied “I didn’t know who I was until I became a mom. I come from a family of high achieving people. I never felt like I had this solid identity of who I was. My brothers were really into sports and were able to get good grades easily. I was this non-athletic kid and I had to work really hard to get good grades. I always did the right thing. I continually lock stepped did the next 'right' thing; undergrad, graduate school; I never left space for finding myself. My husband and I got married really young, at the age of 21. It wasn’t until I had my first daughter at the age of 24 that I began to see who I was. She gave me a sense of purpose and I knew that being a mother was what I was put on this earth to do. When you’re a mom, you have this fierce sense of protection over this human being. I felt grounded; like I had an anchor into the world. As I accumulated children and life experiences I became a little more confident in my sense of self. But to ask who I am? Every year I change. I’m constantly re-inventing myself. Today I am one person, but tomorrow I could be someone completely different. When you have children, it is impossible to be the same person; your kids push you in directions that you never saw you could go. If I would have thought of my life this time last year, I never would have expected myself to be running a business.”
I followed up by asking how she felt other people would describe her. She stopped to think as she tucked her hair behind her ear. "Oh Gosh," she replied. "They would probably describe me as high strung, an over-achiever, a perfectionist, OCD and on the go. I'd like to be described as chilled out, accomplished, graceful and easy going." She says that I'd have to ask her staff at YEG Cycle if I wanted to know the real answer. This is one thing about Farha that stands out; she doesn't make assumptions and she values the truth above all.
I paused here and checked my phone to ensure it was recording. It had suddenly become very apparent to me that I must not miss a single word of what this woman says. Farha has three daughters; aged 14, 10 and 7 and I know in my gut this is no mistake. Farha is an amazing role model to young girls. “I find myself really accountable to the fact that I have three girls. The way I dress, the way I carry myself; my perception of health and what it means to be healthy, my sense of well being and how I handle stress. My daughters and I have a very open and fluid relationship. We talk about everything and the communication is very open.” I know first hand what a gift this is, as I was lucky enough to have a mother who also cultivated openness. I jokingly asked Farha if I could be her honorary daughter; but since she isn’t too much older than me, that might not work. As I quickly did the math on our age difference, a panicked feeling rose up inside me when I realized how little time I have left to become as much as a badass lady boss as Farha is.
I asked Farha to go back 14 years and think about what changed in her when she became a mom.
She pauses for a moment and then replies with the confidence that comes when you speak your truth. “I used to always hear women say ‘trust your instinct’ and I never really knew what that meant until I became a mom. Whether you grew a child in your body, or you adopted or fostered a child, that sense of connection you have to that human strengthens your ability to trust your inner voice. Having kids taught me how to trust my instincts and never question that gut feeling. I grew up a really nervous child. I didn’t have a lot of self-esteem or confidence. It’s really interesting to see your own faults or failures through the eyes of your kids. I wholeheartedly tell my kids, ‘if something doesn’t feel right, it's not right, or if something doesn’t feel right you need to curious about it and listen to that inner voice.’ Listening to my gut was the biggest area of growth for me."
I find this surprising to consider, as the Farha who sits in front of me is a woman who carries herself with palpable confidence. One definition of the word confidence is 'belief in oneself' and I think it's safe to say that Farha has come a long way in learning to trust herself. I love hearing stories about women who have grown and evolved; it’s so inspiring to think that becoming a mom opened more doors in her life, more avenues of self-discovery, and led her to this place she is in now. So often motherhood can be viewed as limiting; when it truly is one of the most expansive and capacious journeys one can embark on.
I tell her that I can’t imagine her struggling with low self-esteem. “I really struggled with being comfortable in my own skin” she replies. “I was bullied a lot growing up, and as an adult, you just put it away and you go through life and when you have kids that baggage comes up and you go into hyper mom mode. As your kids grow older it’s a different kind of parenting, where life decisions are made and you are helping to shape their personalities. The things you say and do really affect their core being, and it’s interesting to see your kids grow into individuals. It’s difficult to not want to control everything; the push/pull between wanting to mom them all the time and let them be individuals.”
Seeing as though I really struggle with control issues, I know this is going to be a lesson for me in parenting. I honestly can’t even imagine my little boys being anything other than little, soft skinned bodies that still want me to cuddle them at night. Thinking about your children aging is mind blowing.
The server comes by and gives us our colourful, healthy and delicious food. Farha gives her a big smile and a genuine 'Thank You!' as she comments on how tasty everything looks.
I asked Farha how she hopes her girls describe her someday.
“Calm, level headed, fair. Not afraid to try new things - I feel like I'm describing the opposite of what I was before I had children,” she muses. “Confident is a big one, and that I am comfortable in my own skin.”
What do you hope to instill in your own kids? I questioned.
“I want them to have their moral compass finely calibrated. That they won't give up on their values for anything or anyone; any boy or girl. That they know who they are and that they let people into their life that help them grow; but they never change their core being. I never want them to question their own intellect or judgement. I want them to know that no one else is going to make them happy; because, at the end of the day, the only person you are left with is yourself. Find happiness in yourself and don’t look for it in other people.”
Um, Farha? You are like Canada’s Beyonce; just sayin’. I would 100% back up Farha if she decided she wanted to run the world.
I ask Farha what keeps her up at night; and from getting to know her a little bit more, is making me think I need to rephrase the question to; do you ever sleep?
“Probably the irrational things that I have no control over keep me up. Protecting my kids from things I can’t protect them from. I’m very sensitized to the fact that my eldest daughter is around the age that I was when I met my husband. I wonder if they are ever going to meet a man as great as he is. Are they ever going to find someone who can live up to his standard? He’s such a great dad for girls; a good role model and he doesn’t shy away from the harder women issues. He is highly aware that his role is almost more important than mine because our daughter's relationships with men are going to be highly defined by what they have with him. How am I going to step back and let my daughters fail and hurt? Growing up I never really failed at anything because I was afraid. As a generation, there are parents who are raising their kids and trying to helicopter them. I can be guilty of it, but I’m trying not to. Letting your kids fail and experience failure and struggle is important. I try not to rush in and save them. I’ve learned to sit on the emotion. It can be really hard to not personalize their situation. It's important for your kids to see that you are human beings. We share our failures with them. We are the standard that they measure themselves up too, and we don’t want to create this perfect or incorrect image of who we are.”
I mentioned to her that one of my favourite stories about failure was from Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. Growing up, Sara’s dad used to ask her “what did you fail at today?” He redefined failure; instead of failure being the outcome, failure became the trying. Sara grew to understand that failure was not a weakness, but instead an integral part of the learning process. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.
Farha says they call it ‘Feedback’ and “you need to listen to the lessons in the feedback. At home, we say things like 'are you in a place to receive feedback?' Feedback refocuses the intention about why it is you want to address the person. I learned that from my Lululemon friends” she laughs. (Did I mention that Farha is also a Lululemon ambassador? You can see why!)
My final question to Farha is; what words do you live by?
Honesty. Integrity. Mindfulness. I’m really working on mindfulness - it's a constant reminder for me to slow down. Honesty has always been a big deal to me - I will always be true to my word. Integrity is everything. Sometimes, I’ve had to make hard decisions, and it is integrity that keeps my moral compass well calibrated. Whatever I do, I want to be infinitely happy doing it, and love what I do.
Integrity: the state of being whole, entire and undiminished. It honestly brings tears to my eyes to imagine how amazing the world would be if everyone could become whole versions of themselves. Farha is a strong, level-headed, fierce and brilliant woman. If you see her around, make sure you stop for a moment to say hi; she's a pleasure to know.
In fact, one of you sweet readers could win a sweaty encounter with Farha and see her in all her glory, as she leads you through a spin class at YEG Cycle - it's hard, it's loud, it's most definitely motivational and sometimes it is exactly the escape you need from the 'other' loudness in your life. To enter, head to my Instagram page.
As always - gratitude from the bottom of my heart to the talented and sweet Sarah Brown Photography for telling these stories with me. If you ever need a family session done; Sara is your girl.