Gissou Nia: A day in the life of a human rights lawyer and Iran expert

When your day is about celebrating a refugee's asylum grant being granted...

This is Gissou Nia: A day in the life of a human rights lawyer and Iran expert.

Today I woke up at 7 am.

The first thing I did was go to my local bootcamp class—it’s the only workout that fully wakes me up and keeps my energy levels high throughout the day. Apparently squats are good for brain function, who knew?

My morning ritual includes… Sadly, coffee. I am trying to wean myself off the stuff but so far no coffee substitute has captured my heart the way my double shot café latte does.

I started working at 10 am. My schedule varies depending on what time zone I’m in and if I have calls scheduled with Europe and the Middle East but when I am on the west coast I tend to start later and end later, as opposed to when I am in NYC or London where start times are never later than 8 am.

My biggest challenge was trying to figure out how to fly to London, The Netherlands, Dubai, Philadelphia, Oslo, and Phnom Penh all in a packed two-week time span for a mix of professional and personal commitments without losing my sanity.

I celebrated getting an email that a refugee who I had written an expert opinion for had their asylum request granted – I suspect I’ll be celebrating that internally all week!

What I love most about my work is connecting with people and giving them hope that there is a solution to the very real crises they and their loved ones are facing.

My favorite part of the day was when… See above under “I celebrated” ;)

Least favorite… Today, I didn’t have one. Trust me that’s definitely not the case every day but I’ll take those moments of respite where I can.

I am so glad that I get to hug my mother and father every day. I spent a decade living thousands of miles away from them because of work so I really treasure the frequency with which I now get to see them.

I wish I had a rent-free apartment in Miami.

Something that surprised me was my refugee applicant getting asylum! Surprised in the best way!

Did you have a plan for your day? Did it go as planned? I always have a “loose” plan for the day and my days more or less line up accordingly. I try not to hyper-schedule the non-essential, in my line of work flexibility is key.

I want to recognize my mother. She always helps me see the bigger picture even when I can’t see it myself. Her wisdom is a gift. I’d be an incredibly less centered person without her guidance. 

How do you commute? Depends on where I am. In Southern California, a car is essential. I try and take public transit as much as I can for the long haul distances on the west coast but the system doesn’t make it easy. In NYC, it’s public transit all the way unless I’m in heels at night and then Uber is my weakness.

For lunch I ate a bowl of lentils, it’s brain food.

A personal activity I do just for myself is read, when I have the time. My reading docket is usually influenced by where I am living, vacationing or what I am focusing on at the moment. Now, because we’re in the thick of the election primaries, I just ordered Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money,” her book about the Koch brothers and I can’t wait to crack it open.

I most enjoyed spending time with a group of my fellow political junkie friends. They all came over tonight to watch the Mega Tuesday results, and things devolved into a heated debate between Hillary and Bernie supporters (the group was evenly split).

For dinner I ate pizza because my friends were over and that’s what we ordered. But normally, if I don’t dine out, I’ll eat salmon with slices of avocado or some similar lean meal. I have been playing with the idea of becoming a vegetarian because it is better for our planet, but I am not sure I can give up fish. So I might have to settle with just being a pescatarian, that’s probably as far as I can make it on the no-meat eating spectrum.

My favorite technology that I used today is my iPhone of course. And the app I used the most today was Wickr because it is one of my preferred methods for secure communication.

I am inspired by the refugees I work with. They possess an inner strength I can’t even begin to fathom.

Did you meditate? Did you exercise? I recently started incorporating meditation into my day. I’ve always felt pretty centered but after a friend of mine mentioned that because of his meditation practice he doesn’t feel the need to drink coffee anymore I thought I would try it out to see if it would have the same effect. It seemed a little odd to me to download an app to help me meditate but a friend recommended the Headspace app to pace me through it and now I treasure that daily 10 minutes of serenity.

One strategy I use to make my time more effective is I combine the personal and professional wherever I can. For example if I know a friend’s wedding is coming up in London, I’ll schedule work meetings around that date so that I maximize my time across the Atlantic and cut down on repeat trips.

I am passionate about power. Not necessarily with the idea of me wielding power but rather the study of power and how it can drive people to good or evil. My bookshelf is filled with biographies of dictators, now I have been trying to buy more books about the “good” men and women of our times, the MLKs, the Gandhis, the Mother Theresa’s, because I think my study of power needs to be a bit more balanced.

Something I wanted to get done but didn’t get to do was about 50 emails! There’s always tomorrow…

A dream I am currently focused on fulfilling is generating enough disposable income to fund my own projects without needing to seek grants or seed funding.

I can’t live without my passport. The way my work is structured these days I never know what city I’ll be in day to day so my document for international travel is a must!

Today I felt inspired. A lot of people talk about the search for happiness but to me, “happiness” is overrated or maybe just too vague of a term. Inspiration, purpose – that is what drives me.

I went to sleep at midnight. 2-3 nights of the week I have dinners and events that usually run late but on most nights I’m tucked away by midnight, latest 1 am. If I’m traveling I tend to watch an episode of House of Cards or Chris Matthew’s Hardball or cruise Instagram for interior design inspiration to ease my mind before sleep.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to a Skype call with a dear friend who lives on the opposite side of the planet from me. Our time zones are hard to sync up so I really look forward to those conversations.

Gissou Nia is a human rights lawyer and Iran expert. She most recently acted as the Deputy Director of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran. Before that, from 2011 to 2014, she served as the Executive Director of the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center. Prior to her tenure at the Center, Ms. Nia worked on war crimes and crimes against humanity trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands.

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