Naketa Thigpen '00 is president and co-owner of Thigpen's Professionals, LLC, a life-management and professional-development-services company that empowers professionals, aspiring leaders and entrepreneurs to break barriers and execute their ideas effectively.
Thigpen wants to help you go beyond excellent, and after traveling her own windy road toward success, she knows just what it takes to get there.
Thigpen will host an Aligned Minds Master Class on June 12 in Malvern, Pa., for Drexel alumni who are looking to strengthen their strengths, release their success and be better than their best.
"We, as people, are always so quick to focus on the negative," she said. "How easily do we forget how incredible we are to climb so many mountains throughout our lives? As soon as we get into a valley we feel like it's impossible to get out. But we should be focusing on how far we've already come."
And it's that philosophy on which Thigpen's program, Permission to Release Your Success, is based. It's about helping people avoid pitfalls, focus on their strengths and go to the next level.
The cornerstones of the program are using balance, boundaries and boldness in order to break barriers that keep individuals from growing professionally or personally.
"We're going to make those 90 minutes count," said Thigpen. "You may be at the top of your game but do you realize that you still have farther to go? You can take it to another level and be beyond excellent."
Growing up with a father in and out of jail, a mother addicted to drugs, and the victim of sexual abuse from multiple family members, Thigpen had experienced the kinds of struggles by age 12 that many of us will never know. She's been in her fair share of valleys, but what she chooses to focus on are not the valleys but the mountains she's climbed along the way.
"I wouldn't let people change me," she said. "I wouldn't let them make me hard. If I wanted to change, it would be because it was my decision."
Lesson one: don't try to change Naketa Thigpen. Lesson two: don't feel sorry for her, either.
"I can't deal with pitty; I can see it in peoples' eyes," she said. "Hug me because you love me, not because you feel sorry for me."
Thigpen is the first person in her family to go to college and she attributes that to the guidance and persistence of her mother in law, Viola.
"She insisted that I go to school and she did everything to make sure I applied to Drexel," said Thigpen.
Once she got to school, she was very serious about her academics and realized that she was like a sponge, wanting to absorb any and all information that came her way.
And Thigpen had a very clear path laid out in her head. "I was going to be a pediatrician with a psychology office on the side," she said, matter-of-factly.
Struggles in calculus class helped Thigpen realize that her decision to go to Drexel pre-med was no longer meant to be, and instead she graduated in 2000 with a bachelor's degree in psychology, sociology and anthropology.
Shortly after graduation, married with one child and another on the way, Thigpen was confined to bed rest during an extremely difficult pregnancy. It was then, she said, that she began really thinking about her purpose in life.
"If there was ever a time in life that I felt a real shift in what I wanted, it was then," she said.
After a time of reflection and prayer, Thigpen discovered that the answer for her was social work. And she knew she needed to further her education in order to provide for her family.
"Because I was a mom with two kids and a husband, working two jobs, the dean at Bryn Mawr College recommended that I go to school part time to get my master's degree," she said. "But it wasn't open for debate. My family needed this, and when I go I go hard."
One of the things Thigpen says she learned on her journey through life is to take an emotion like frustration and flip it into something positive that works for her—like motivation.
"I'm glad the dean challenged me, because if she hadn't, I might not have worked so hard," she said. At one point, Thigpen was working five jobs, raising her children and going to school fulltime.
Thigpen got her master's degree in social work and social services in two years (graduating at the top of her class), and spent the next several years working at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Community Behavioral Health, and Support Center for Child Advocates.
"I knew early on that I was a people person and that I had a gentle spirit and was good with kids and families," she said. "I could really listen and hear what they were saying."
But Thigpen still felt incomplete, like something wasn't finished. She hadn't yet gone beyond excellent. She knew she wanted to start her own business, but she didn't know where to start, who to ask, or how to begin the process.
This dilemma was perhaps one of the most difficult she ever had to face because it was her own fear that she had to overcome. She was the barrier.
"For the first time, I can say fear truly struck me," she said. "I didn' know how to take that first step so I kept making excuses. I told myself that as long as I was working hard, doing good things for others, that was all that mattered. I created all of these distractions so I didn't have to deal with my own fear of going out on my own."
Slowly and by-the-book, in 2011 Thigpen and her husband began the process of establishing Thigpen's Professionals which they thought would be a staffing agency to provide hard skills to individuals to help them get jobs.
"The social worker in me thought that if I could help people get jobs and financial stability, I could also strengthen families, people's personal and professional relationships, and the community as a whole," she said. "I always put others first. I didn't want to be selfish."
A new mountain in Thigpen's path came in the form of a small lump in her breast on July 25, 2011, just two months after Thigpen's Professionals was established, but long before they planned to open their doors to clientele.
"It hit me really hard," said Thigpen. "I thought, this could be a real game changer. I knew I was great at a lot of things but I needed to go beyond great. I had so many more places to go, so much more to do."
Thankfully, Thigpen discovered that she did not have cancer, but the experience did change her. She finally decided to stop hiding behind herself and she took back control of her destiny. Her first step was assuming the role of president and predominant owner of Thigpen's Professionals, and the rest is history.
"I grew up around people who told me I was going to be nothing; no one gave me a higher level to aspire to," she said. "But I realized I was awesome and I began to embrace that word every day. I wake up and tell myself, 'I am awesome and I am a barrier breaker.'"