Intimate Conversation with Thembisa S. Mshaka

Thembisa S. Mshaka  is a 5-time Telly Award winner and 17-year entertainment industry veteran whose career spans the areas of touring, management, magazine publishing, recorded music and technology, advertising, music supervision for film, voice over, and television.

As Senior Copywriter at Sony Music, her campaigns contributed to the sale of more than 150 million albums for Lauryn Hill, Will Smith, Beyonce’, NaS, Maxwell and others. Her byline has appeared in,, and She contributed to the anthologies Sometimes Rhythm: Sometimes Blues edited by Taigi Smith and Icons of Hip-Hop, edited by Mickey Hess.

BPM: What makes you powerful as a person and a writer?
First and foremost my relationship with the Creator fortifies me and helps me to remember what’s really important. I also have to mention my connection to my African-American heritage; the strength and support of my family; my education at single-sex institutions from middle school through undergraduate. Women’s education gave me a strong, healthy sense of identity. I also learned how to summon my personal power and sharpen my communication through the Landmark Education curriculum, which I completed in 2003.

BPM: Who are your mentors?
My mentors are my late mother, Fulani Mshaka, to whom I dedicated my book, author Terrie M. Williams, who taught me the value of the personal touch in business, and music executive turned film producer Lisa Cortes, whose path greatly inspires mine.

BPM: Where do you find your inspiration?
Travel, film, music, art exhibits, theater, books, stimulating conversation. I especially love talking with my son; his insights are incredible.

BPM: Finish this sentence- My writing offers the following legacy to future readers...
My writing offers the following legacy to future readers by thrusting the voices of women who work in entertainment into the literary cannon. Put Your Dreams First provides mentorship from over 90 women so readers won’t have to compromise their bodies or values to be successful in entertainment. Writing this book crystallized the importance of legacy building for me.

BPM: Introduce us to the primary message in your book.
That while men dominate the entertainment world, women drive it—and their business insights can help all readers become successful while keeping their integrity intact. The key is to Put Your Dreams First, hence the title.  This highly informative guide is for every woman wanting to know how to navigate the entertainment superhighway and find that job of a lifetime.

BPM: Share with us 2 or 3 life enhancing sections from Put Your Dreams First.
The Work-Life Balance Myth
Yeah, I said it. Balancing work and family is a myth. While PDAs and laptops allow us to seem like we’re in many places at once, in the physical realm, we have yet to clone ourselves. Until that day, we’re left with the choice to make our passion for work and our love for our spouses, partners, children and families work. As a wife of almost twelve years who was seen many an industry couple implode, and as a mother of a young son who has been the ear and shoulder for countless single parents, I am clear that “balance” in this scenario is non-applicable.

Once I figured this out, I became a much more successful wife. My choice to make a family and personal life work looked like me giving up my 90+ hour a week job for one where I could actually leave the office at 6 o’clock without my boss looking at me sideways. Thankfully you don’t have to be a home maker in the 21st century, but if you want to nurture a committed relationship and raise children you do need to be home. And while I was working at Gavin, I was barely ever home. I was either in the office or out at clubs, radio stations, retail outlets, concerts. My professional life was my personal life. I was always in work mode. Ironically when I got to New York I was pulling down fewer hours a week.

Outside of preparing for campaign presentations and shoots, my weekends belonged to me. Being home at 6:30 pm means being home for dinner instead of dinner meetings with a promotion rep. It allows for a date with my husband on weekend evenings when I might otherwise be networking at an industry event. Now that my son is here, my weekends are split between him and me, since my husband’s the one working weekends in real estate. I am much happier running him from sports camp at Chelsea Piers to play dates and parties than I was making appearances at every event just to stay ahead of what and whoever was the next big thing. I still go out, but I am much more selective because my work as a tastemaker has grown and shifted. I’m not part of the underground anymore. I helped take it mainstream, so that’s where I reside now. As a creative I get my creative food from multiple sources: museums, theater, gardens, travel, community events, all things that don’t have to mean leaving the family to engage in them.

Yvette Noel-Schure has made her work and home life work for over 25 years, but not without the real-world sacrifice of her husband and both their families to make sure her three children didn’t miss out on their mother. This harmony we seek between work life and home life requires an orchestra of support from the Village of which the African proverb speaks. Yvette describes how her family has gathered around her before her career took off, starting with “three people with one name, my husband, my husband, my husband. He doesn’t have the hang-ups many have about roles.

I got married my first year of college and had my son my second year. I would go to school four days and be home twice a week as often as I could. My husband ran an ice cream parlor in the Village at night. We crossed each other a lot on the stairs. As my career changed, we asked a family member to help with the younger children. After September 11th we vowed to change our lives and opted not to chase two incomes. My husband works from home and I am out ‘galavantin’ as my grandmother says,” she laughs. “I have the most unconventional job in the family and I have missed a lot, but not when it comes to the kids. When there’s a boo-boo to blow, I blow it. I don’t miss recitals or meets. I am on the 5:30 bus so I can be at dinner by 7:00 if it kills me! The girls of Destiny’s Child would tease me because I was always going home right after a job; the first time I went to an after-party, I was in London and couldn’t go home. The paycheck is not for me, it’s for the family.”

Nzingha has a wake-up call for us women who aren’t keeping track of the time as we climb the career ladder. “All the stuff you want to do—get married, have kids, guess what? The higher you go the more it ain’t hapnin’. The fight gets harder, and you’re fighting to keep your very life.

As long the myth of balance is playing in your head, you’ll be looking for everything to balance out. The truth of the matter is creating a relationship and making the time to be in one is up to you, not the circumstances of life. You have to put the brakes on to be available for your partner. Sure that person’s going to feel insecure and intimidated if you’re hardly there, because they barely know you. Relationships have to have time invested in the same way careers do. If the only muscle your flexin’ is your career muscle, your relationship muscles will weaken and atrophy to the point where you forget how to even be in a relationship.

That’s how so many of us end up married to our careers, pushin’ 40 or more, lonely as hell, with all our self-esteem and identity intertwined with what we do to the point that when we lose the job, we lose ourselves. “I’ve gone to a lot of panels that are allegedly about balancing career and family,” Stephanie chuckles. “What I actually end up hearing is a lot of people having one or the other. You may have a very successful single mom because the husband couldn’t stick around, couldn’t go a long with her drive. I think women can have both, but at different times. You have to choose which one you want.” Stephanie chose family and in her case, even after demonstrating her commitment, her spouse could not support her line of work. “I haven’t had any children. I wish I had; I had a husband but he didn’t stick around because it wasn’t so much that I chose a career, it was the career I chose. He was very intimidated by it.”

The pain we endure as we endeavor to make it all work is very real. In Stephanie’s case, her marriage was crippling her career instead of supporting it as was the case with Yvette. But her failure at the relationship itself almost took her under. Stephanie’s divorce was devastating to her. In the darkness of its aftermath, she learned how strong she really was. “I went through an emotional breakdown directly related to going through a divorce,” she reflects. “and right before I got laid off at the PR firm where I worked. Even though that was like a blessing because I didn’t want to work there anymore, I figured I was out of a job and the whole marriage was collapsing…it was a very traumatic time. I found myself waking up laying in the middle of the floor crying every day.

Eventually I crawled out of bed one day and ended up seeing someone at a mental health clinic in Hollywood. They gave me medication, told me how to take it, and said I’d start to get relief in a month. I was like, ‘a month?! With the anxiety and pain I was feeling, if I had to endure another four weeks I would not be around for the medication to take effect. I put those meds in my closet and never took them. I knew then I had to draw on strength from God. I had one friend who stepped me through all this, but I didn’t turn to a lot of individuals. I turned to the power of prayer. I started to call my energy back and transform it. It was very spiritual, intense, very conscious and targeted. Once I changed the way I was thinking about my life, my whole life changed.”

Stephanie’s testimony is an offering to anyone starting out in the business. the lesson she learned in the middle of her career is one you can implement at the start of yours. Commit to making yourself work, however that looks for you. Be it through religious or spiritual practice, self-improvement, wellness, mediation, yoga, the list goes on. The more centered you are the better prepared you will be for the inevitable curveballs your journey in this game will be.

BPM: What prompted you to create Put Your Dreams First now?
After being in the industry for 18 years, I’ve seen too many women play themselves to ‘get put on’. Instead of complaining about it or judging them, I wanted to educate them. I also wanted to shine a light on the women who go about being successful without being golddiggers, video vixens, or strippers. We are much more than those sexualized archetypes. I also wanted men to read about the business from women’s points of view so they understand the impact of their biases in their relationships with women, platonic or not.

BPM: Who should read this book and why?
Anyone working in or aspiring to work in entertainment; anyone who is entrepreneurial; artists of all kinds; anyone who seeks career mentorship; students; especially young women ages 16 and up.

BPM: What issues in today's society do you address in Put Your Dreams First?
Wow. The women in this book cover it all: navigating the workplace, pay inequity and its impact, choices made between work and personal life. I specifically address the full career timeline, from getting the business to thriving in it and then, exiting if you so choose. I also give straight-up tips on how to exit a job powerfully called The 10 Severance Commandments.

BPM: Before we end the interview, define SUCCESS. What part does GRATITUDE play in achieving success, in your opinion?
A huge part. Gratitude means you understand that your success is bigger than you; it happens because of the strength and support you receive from a higher power, one’s mentors, family and friends. The ungrateful person is rarely in the moment. They are usually upset about something or wrapped up in themselves; what they feel people owe them. Ingrates may experience success, but it is not nearly as fulfilling or long-lasting.

BPM: What do you think makes your book different from others on the same subject?
1. It’s the first of its kind to illuminate the entertainment world from the points of view of over 90 dynamic women.

2. The book is written as a business narrative by someone who has actually worked successfully in multiple sectors of entertainment.

3. My book is written the way people talk, so it’s easy to understand, making for a fast-paced read.

4. It’s the only one on the market to cover all aspects of entertainment instead of focusing on just film or music. Put Your Dreams First covers those fields and radio, TV, new media, image making, star-making, marketing, publishing, and more—from the inside.

BPM: Share with us your latest news, awards or upcoming book releases.
I am excited to return to the Congressional Black Caucus event for a panel and signing on September 17, 2010.  This past year I became a finalist for the Shorty Awards (for abbreviated online content via Twitter in the #books category).

I am working on a companion book to Put Your Dreams First and my first screenplay. I’m also a consulting producer on a lifestyle TV series. Finally, I am joining forces with veteran casting director Winsome Sinclair for a career seminar called Passion To Action.

BPM: How can our readers reach you online?
My blog covers women, business, and entertainment:  The site for the book is I am on Twitter at I am also on Facebook and BlackPlanet under Thembisa Mshaka. Thanks for the interview and thanks to all the readers for reaching out and supporting my work.

Thembisa S. Mshaka
To Read My Blog, Visit

Purchase your copy today at Amazon

Please share this discussion with your network too! Leave your thoughts below.
Return to Black Pearls Magazine Online