Given what I’ve shared, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the primary strategy that I use to cope with the burden of stress is to pray. It doesn’t have to be a long intricate prayer (and oftentimes can’t be); I usually thank God for bringing me to this point and ask for guidance on what I should do from there.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shakera Thompson.
Shakera Thompson is the founder and managing attorney of TKA Law Firm, a boutique business and intellectual property law firm in New York City. Shakera has represented companies of all sizes, including Fortune 100 companies, and now focuses on helping entrepreneurs, startups and small and medium-sized businesses take proactive measures to protect their businesses and brands. Shakera advises on a variety of matters ranging from formation to exit, including everyday contracts, venture capital financings, mergers and acquisitions, as well as trademarks and copyrights, including choosing a business name and ensuring the name is available and ultimately owned and protected.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
As a child I was always fun loving, social and loved to help others (and thankfully have retained those traits into adulthood). I often spent time with my family, who always told me I should be an attorney when I grew up. I always wanted to know the “why” behind everything. If someone said that something was impermissible, I wanted to know why. Thankfully I grew up in an environment that encouraged being inquisitive so this served me well and helped shape my analytical skills.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
I left my job at a large international law firm (known in the legal field as a “big law” firm) at the height of the pandemic with nothing lined up. While I had amazing clients and colleagues who it was very difficult to say goodbye to and despite recently receiving an exceptional performance review, I knew it was time for the next phase of my career. I decided to take some time off to determine what made sense in terms of next steps, though I didn’t decide how much time. New York City shut down almost immediately after my last day. Many colleagues seemed worried, frequently asking if I was interviewing or had made a decision yet. However, my faith is strong so I wasn’t concerned. During this time, I was able to grow, learn and reflect. I was also able to see even more of the creative and innovative things entrepreneurs and businesses were doing, particularly right in my own community. And while networking virtually, I was reminded that there is an often underserved group of entrepreneurs and businesses who fall between those who can afford big law services and those who qualify for low or no cost services, though these entrepreneurs and businesses also deserve access to high-quality legal services. I decided I wanted to serve this population but wanted to be very intentional about how I could best do so. And through that process I founded TKA Law Firm.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been blessed to have always known successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, but recently I’ve come to know even more successful law firm owners. In my experience, law school (and the legal field generally) creates a narrative that you have not really achieved success unless you are working in big law or working as in-house counsel at a large company. I have a long term mentor who has been instrumental to my success in the legal field, starting with when I decided to attend law school. I shared that my goal was to work in big law and he made sure to emphasize how hard I would need to work in law school in order to do so. Thankfully I did well in law school and was able to achieve this goal. When I started working in big law and often dealt with difficult situations, he shared tips and advice to help me navigate. When I realized that I really enjoyed practicing law but no longer enjoyed big law, he introduced me to several networks of successful law firm owners. Seeing the amazing work that they were able to do while being in charge of their own destiny certainly inspired me to launch my law firm. Seeing firsthand that I could practice law in the way I wanted and help people was truly intriguing for me and encouraged me to take the leap of faith.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?
The most interesting “mistake” that happened in the course of my career was believing that I could only be successful if I worked in big law and not reimagining what success meant to me. I knew I wanted to practice law at the highest levels and help businesses, so I followed the advice of experienced attorneys and thought practicing in big law was the only way to do so. I use “mistake” because if I had the opportunity to go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently. I gained amazing experience and met incredible people who have become lifelong friends. But I would have challenged myself to shift my mindset and look at my time in big law as an extension of my education instead of the only path to success. But in hindsight, I likely ended up in the same place I would have even if my mindset was different going in, so I am grateful for the adventure that was big law.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
For any young person interested in pursuing a career in the legal field, you absolutely have to work hard. While all is not lost if you do not have top grades (and you can still enjoy great career opportunities), you will have your choice of career opportunities with top grades — that’s simply how the legal field works. And to be clear, hard work and top grades are not synonymous; no matter where you fall in terms of your grades, you still need to put in the hard work to be familiar with the subject matter. Legal learning is also something that never ends; not only is it required but you can’t adequately serve clients if you are not staying abreast of the latest trends and information.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
This may seem cliché but the Bible has made a significant impact on me. To take a step back, the “TKA” in TKA Law Firm stands for “The Kingdom Alliance” and is a product of me being a follower of Christ. I’m certainly not a Bible thumper but can of course only speak based on my personal beliefs. There are so many stories that resonated with me as I took time to really dive into the Bible after I left big law and decided to take a break. But the main story that truly speaks to me is the story of Nehemiah. I could go on for hours about his story but there are so many parallels to my story. Nehemiah left a comfortable and wealthy position to do the work that God called him to do in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah kept his mission secret and, when the time was right, presented a realistic strategy after careful and thoughtful problem solving and relying on God. Nehemiah’s story shows that tasks that might seem impossible can be accomplished with God’s help and direction. When I decided to launch my firm, I didn’t make an announcement about what I was planning to do. I instead worked quietly while relying on God and shared my mission with others when the time was right.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My favorite life lesson quote is short and to the point; make moves, not excuses. This resonates with me because it is short, sweet, direct and to the point. It’s oftentimes easy to complain or make excuses about why we can’t accomplish something but what does that solve? How does that help us? Instead, we are made better by making moves to come up with a realistic plan and measurable goals for accomplishing what may seem impossible but can usually be done when broken down into smaller pieces.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
Some of the most exciting projects I am working on involve helping entrepreneurs turn their business dreams into business realities. This starts with understanding the importance of making informed decisions about their business before just diving in and then leads to discussing the best options for their particular business. I think (in fact I know) this helps people by addressing business matters now that could lead to costly issues if put off and not addressed until later when problems arise.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
Given what I’ve shared, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that the primary strategy that I use to cope with the burden of stress is to pray. It doesn’t have to be a long intricate prayer (and oftentimes can’t be); I usually thank God for bringing me to this point and ask for guidance on what I should do from there. My second strategy is to step away from the stressful situation when I get to a place when I can, because of course we can’t just always drop everything in the immediate moment. This can be something as small as a 10–15 minute break or walk or as large as deciding that I’m calling it quits for the day. My third strategy is to do something that I enjoy. This can be going for a run, taking a break for a favorite snack or watching some of my favorite reruns. All in moderation, of course. My final strategy is to rest. This might fall under the strategy of doing something you enjoy but if you’re like me and that isn’t always the case, make sure you are taking the time to rest. It’s generally hard to step away in the moment but I’m often surprised at how refreshed and energized I feel when I do.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
When I have an upcoming high pressure, high stress situation, I use 3 P’s to optimize my mind for peak performance: prayer, preparation and positivity. First, I take the time to pause and pray. These prayers are usually longer and more detailed discussions with God where I present specific requests. My second strategy is to prepare as much as I possibly can. I make sure I know whatever will be covered or discussed, forward and backward. My final strategy is positivity; I strive to have a positive outlook. While I of course can’t control all outcomes, if I was diligent with the second strategy and prepared as much as I could, there is no reason that I shouldn’t be positive and optimistic about the outcome of the situation. If nothing else, I know I did my best.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
When I start to feel things becoming a bit overwhelming, I always stop whatever I am doing and take 3 deep breaths. This takes about a minute so I can always find time for deep breathing. However, sometimes that may not be enough so I also find positive affirmation meditations to be particularly helpful. These mediations don’t have to be particularly long, 5–10 minutes is usually more than enough to reset and optimize.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
The main technique that I have to stay focused and clear away distractions is to turn off the ringer on my phone, put it in a drawer and only check at set times (usually about once every couple hours). I’ve found it’s hard to “unsee” an alert once I’ve seen it, so instead of allowing even a slight chance to be sidetracked, I check and respond at set times and find that I’m far more productive. Relatedly, social media (including for my firm) can be distracting; it can be hard to just hop on then back off. I find it very useful to set a timer when I log onto social media (usually for no more than 30 minutes). Once time is up, it is time to move on to the next task, which keeps me extremely focused. I also reset each day at lunch time by reading at least a chapter of the Bible. You’d really be surprised at how much reading just a little of the Bible each day can help either bring distractions into perspective or help you realize that there are much more important matters that we should be focused on.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Developing good habits in all that I do has definitely played a role in my success. Some success habits that have helped me in my journey are to have faith, do your best and work hard in all that you do. This is certainly not to toot my own horn but I graduated magna cum laude from both undergrad and law school and have worked at arguably some of the best law firms in the world. This didn’t happen by chance but because of faith in God coupled with hard work. These habits have undoubtedly played a role in my success (and God willing will contribute to my continued success!).
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
You know the saying; practice makes perfect. If ever I’m tempted to say “Oh, I’ll start doing [insert new task] in the future” I stop myself right then and there and remind myself that there is no time like the present. While I may not immediately stop what I’m doing (which is another way that I avoid distractions), I’ll jot whatever the task is on a post-it note and schedule a time to check it off my list, instead of putting it off until some indefinite time in the future.
As a business leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?
I think everyone can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives by ensuring that we are pursuing our purpose. As the late hero and my fellow Howard Bison Chadwick Boseman so eloquently put it “You would rather find purpose than a job or career . . . Whatever you choose for a career path, remember the struggles along the way are only meant to shape you for your purpose.” We cannot achieve Flow if we are in a constant state of struggle, but only when we use and evaluate those struggles to lead us to our purpose. I may have achieved Flow a few times when practicing in big law but frequently experience Flow now that I am practicing law in a way that aligns with my purpose. Pursuing your purpose won’t remove all struggles or challenges, but they will certainly be supplemented by a more pleasurable mental state that results in Flow. So I would say that if your situation is filled with struggles or challenges with little or no pleasure, you may want to step back and really ask if you are walking in your purpose.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Aside from any obvious business interest, I would really want to inspire a movement to educate traditionally underrepresented communities not only on the benefits of entrepreneurship but also the importance of working with an attorney early in the entrepreneurship process and not only when problems arise. In many cases entrepreneurs and businesses in these communities have a fear and distrust of attorneys. This fear and distrust often leads to not contacting an attorney until issues arise, when often the issues could have been prevented if an attorney had been consulted sooner. The notion that attorneys can’t be trusted then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts because it is unsurprisingly often more expensive to correct legal issues as opposed to preventing them in the first place. Something that I am passionate about in hopes of jump starting this movement is being as transparent as possible with clients and potential clients.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂
I would have to say Robert F. Smith, founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners. His professional accomplishments are beyond admirable yet his philanthropic efforts are even more amazing.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
For the most up to date information on my work, follow our firm’s Instagram page @TKALawFirm. We are also on Facebook and LinkedIn at @TKALawFirm. And of course, check out our website at www.tkalawfirm.com.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.