Gen Z Americans report high rates of mental-health challenges, impediments to effective work, and worries about the future, according to McKinsey’s recent American Opportunity Survey. Temima Shames — the 24 year-old CEO/Founder of a leading talent management company — is creating a safe space for mental health in the workplace with her under age 30 team of employees.
Temima is the CEO & Founder of Next Step Talent — a leading influencer and music artist talent management company in Los Angeles. Born in Israel and raised in New York, Temima was surrounded by severe mental health issues in her family, and as a professional child actress, she experienced the pain of the entertainment industry. She has also been a leading voice on spreading love and peace since the age of 10 when she spoke at organizations including the United Nations in the wake of her uncle’s tragic death during 9/11.
Temima and her team’s client viral campaigns have been featured in media outlets including Business Insider and New York Post, she has activated partnerships with top brands including YouTube, Meta, Disney Music Group, Neutrogena, HBO, Netflix, Target, and Temima herself has been featured in WimitLA, Naluda Magazine, The 3Q Podcast, Authority Magazine, and Voyage LA.
As we are heading to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month for another year, it’s a reminder that prioritizing mental health and wellness is a year-round action we can all take, especially company founders and employers.
Temima opened up to us about her personal story, her struggles, and why ensuring the people she works with are taking care of themselves and have the support to do so.
Can you tell us about your path to becoming a CEO/founder of a talent company, and what you did before this?
My entrepreneurial journey started at a young age when I used to get “made fun of” for being curious about who built something or why they built it one way or another. Prior to starting Next Step Talent, I co-founded an organization called Women Powher Music during quarantine and a few years before that, another organization called Phoenix Rising, for those affected by 9/11.
While in my senior year studying Music Business at SUNY Oneonta, I started interning for Visionary Records and that is where I really built my platform to start Next Step Talent. With the mentorship of Chris Zarou, Harrison Rembler, Brittany Hicks and more, I was able to gain confidence in my social media skills to go off and manage talent.
How did the idea for Next Step Talent come about?
I was working at Visionary Records doing influencer marketing when my boss suggested that I start managing one of the talents. At first I didn’t know if I had it in me and my goal at the time was to become a CEO of a record label. The story continues with me trying it out and loving it. I have always been an entrepreneur and have always been curious to create new structures that don’t already exist.
I was managing about 5 influencers and one artist when I decided to go off and build the company out entirely. The name came from a lot of word generators and this one just felt right. I have always felt passionate about helping people and allowing them to take the “Next Step” in their life and career.
Your focus on mental health and wellbeing is something you’ve been passionate about for many years. Can you tell us more about why this is important to you?
Growing up, I struggled a lot with mental health. Battling PTSD, Anxiety and Depression at various points throughout my life. I have been in various forms of therapy that helped me so much. From play therapy, to hypnosis, to cognitive or family therapy — each one played a different purpose in helping me get to where I am today. I always felt that this was out of my control and had a lot to do with the cards that I had been dealt.
As many people in my family struggled with obesity, I always looked to the gym as a safe space and a place where I was taking one step in the right direction. Being someone who is ambitious, people never asked how I was doing or if I was alright because they just assumed I was the “strong one”. I remember there was one conference I went to for those affected by terrorism around the world, where 3 people from different countries had a conversation about the same event. Each had a whole different story and a different perspective of why something happened.
It is important to me to empower others to not put up a strong front, but to be comfortable to share these things and view the world from another perspective. One day after college, a switch just flipped and I decided to take control of my own mental health. Meditation helped me to change the way I thought about the world and how I learned to cope with emotions as things happened. I want to be able to help more people flip that switch for themselves and change the lens from time to time.
As a professional child actress you have been confronted by many things that those outside the industry may not be aware of. What were some of the biggest eye-openers for you as a young girl?
The biggest eye opener was that most managers only see a dollar sign and not the human behind it. In the entertainment industry, most women are walking advertisements and not given a chance to show they are capable of more than that. I also learned that people judge your capabilities as a human based on how you look and not what you are actually capable of.
One of the things we love about your leadership with Next Step is your focus on the mental health and wellbeing of your team. Can you tell us more about this?
When starting a company, my #1 goal with creating it was to help people and empower them to grow as a human. That is still my goal, including my talent, clients, employees and anyone we cross paths with along the way. As someone who grew up in a family where mental health struggles were so prevalent, I was able to observe just how important understanding perspectives is. No matter what someone is going through, something that feels small to you, may feel like the world to them.
I remember one day in my first big internship, I had something big happen at home and I went in and felt embarrassed to say anything. When I started a company, I wanted to ensure that I created an environment where people felt welcome and open to express these things. I strongly believe that a HUGE part of burnout is the inability for employees to speak up about it and so they push themselves until productivity hits an all time low. With an environment where people can speak up, it allows me to tell people to take it easier before it gets to that point.
The goal of running a business is to grow, and in order to do so, you need to foster productivity. Someone who is going through something cannot be productive and cannot grow within themselves. This roadblock affects the company, so instead of ignoring it, we embrace it and then find solutions.
What are some of the actionable steps or opportunities you create for cultivating mental well-being in the workspace?
One actionable step that I have taken is not having set hours throughout the week. While some feel as if this is a negative, I have found that it has cultivated such an amazing environment as my employees are able to (with proper communication), get a haircut at 10 AM or take a break at 2 PM. We also have an internal mental health resource sheet which is updated every few months to support our team. We have two in person days a week which allows the team to connect.
Throughout your career, what have been some of the most impactful ways you’ve carved out time to focus on self-care and your own mental health?
Traveling and adventuring. To me, traveling is where I am able to recharge, become creative and really look inward. You can’t grow a company without being willing to dig deep and change things about yourself. Last summer, I backpacked Europe and went to 9 countries and this was one way I was able to prioritize myself. I worked the entire time I was there but doing a hike, or paragliding or something I enjoyed each day allowed me to recharge.
On a more day to day level, I make sure to workout and do yoga or meditate daily. It is all about those little moments that you give yourself to work through everyday stresses. For those of you that feel bad carving out that time, think of it as an investment into yourself. Being alone with yourself is the kindest thing you can do to allow yourself to grow.
How does empathy play a role in your leadership, and cultivating a workspace that values your employees’ situations?
Empathy is everything. I have a lot to learn, but I do my best to lead in a way where I am understanding. Empathy is tied to my definition of work life balance. To me it is about allowing employees to share their home life at work in order to create a more productive work environment. If we can celebrate their personal wins and support them through the losses, employees are more likely to not feel torn or burnt out from the situations.
It is also encouraging employees to look within and understand what they need in those moments and then supporting them through that with a clear outline of what they will then need to do, e.g., you had a stressful call and want to take a few hours as you are not thinking clearly. I usually allow this with the expectation that they will work later that day or start earlier the next day to ensure that the tasks are completed.
Since May is mental health awareness month, what advice would you give to other industry leaders, (or any leaders!) about how to value the mental health and wellbeing of their employees?
Talk about your own mental health. Being vulnerable with your employees allows them to feel comfortable to open up. This doesn’t mean being negative, it means allowing them to understand that you have good and bad days too. The key is to point to the bright side of the situation to empower them to do the same.
Beyond the month of May, mental health is important all year round. What is one action step or piece of advice you can give to readers to incorporate into their day to prioritize their mental health?
So many people get down on themselves when they set a goal and that goal is not reached within the time frame, or something stays on the to do list. Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one has it figured out and everyone misses some days or falls behind. The most important thing is thinking, “how can I do one thing for myself each day and take one small step toward a larger goal?”