©Susan Smythe-Bishop 2022
“You f**ked up!” were the chairman’s words that echoed loudly through the reception area, back to the kitchen, eventually winding their way down the office-lined corridors as I kneeled on the floor desperately trying to clear the mess I had created in the middle of our reception area. I had just returned from my 30-minute errand-packed “lunch” break, and the bottle of dish detergent that I purchased somehow managed to rip its way through the plastic bag that was slung over my arm. It hit the ground with the force of a missile, which caused the lid to snap off releasing a green soapy goo all over the freshly laid carpet. I remember thinking to my humiliated self that at least the carpet will be really, really clean. Always leave a place better than you found it...
That was in the fall of November of 1992, I had been working as a publicity and promotions assistant with Canada’s largest film distribution company for all of one week, and those were the first words the chairman of our company ever said directly to me. Come to think of it – they may also have been the last words he uttered as the door slammed behind me on my way out of the company some 15 years later, shortly after Goldman Sachs bought our division and brought in Harvey Weinstein's "right hand man" to lead the company. FUN!
My art would have to wait.
BEING LED BY FEAR:
As was clearly evident in the reception area that day, I had fallen into a company where the senior management led by using fear and intimidation. There wasn’t a week that went by without at least one person being yelled at and humiliated in the presence of the rest of the staff. We all took our turns on the receiving end, we all learned to suck it up and laugh it off (eventually) and we had each other’s back, thankfully. After each irrational tirade was unleashed on some undeserving soul, we would sneak into the victim’s work area to console them. Sadly, the abuse became our normal. A few years ago, I did a series to illustrate just how bad it actually was at one point - these are not exagerated.
So I set out to prove to myself that it didn't have to be that way. I read whatever books that I could get my hands on about leadership, personal development and management, and applied positive leadership principles whenever and wherever I had the power to do so. When the unthinkable happened - four senior executives on our team, including my direct boss and our GM who we all loved dearly, had had enough of the abusive behaviour and defected the company to start their own - my junior colleagues and I were suddenly promoted to join the senior executive ranks which was the last thing I wanted. My head was spinning as there was NO way I felt ready to take on the responsibility of VP, nor did I want to be in the direct line of fire of the Chairman and CEO. I just couldn't quit my job with nothing to go to, so in a deep anxiety-ridden state of despair, I made this my goal:
I set my primary intention to pour my heart and soul into my staff and to be the best boss that I could possibly be for them. I vowed to shield them from the bullying "suits" and to let them focus on their creative strengths (when possible) and to foster their growth in any way that I possibly could while building more solid relationships with the media and our internal and external partners. I chose to focus not on my own professional trajectory, but rather, on theirs and pledged to lead the way that I so badly craved to be lead. And if that wasn't the right strategy, and if “the suits” wanted to fire me, so be it. I had polished off my resume and was preparing to look elsewhere.
THAT'S WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED:
A few months after that shakeup, something wonderful happened. I noticed that my staff were doing brilliant work - I was literally in awe of them, and focusing on my team's growth and their well-being actually fueled my own growth exponentially, something I had not anticipated at all. Our company was bought by another, and while some of the senior executives did stay on - their negative behaviour was somewhat mitigated by thoughtful and inspirational new managment. The workload was still heavy and the relentless deadlines were taxing, but we started having fun and garnered a reputation for having the best film PR team in Canada.
When I learned to focus positively on what was within my control, I grew to love my job.
That lasted for a few years until our division was spun off and landed in the hands of Goldman Sachs and the atmosphere took a drastic turn for me. The company's temperament reverted to what it had once been, and I left the company.
I went on to work with another film distribution company with leaders that I had a great deal of respect for; I flexed my creative muscle and took on the challenge of cake design; I co-founded a mentoring association called Pioneering Women to address the lack of mentorship opportunities for women working in our industry and then landed a position at Touchwood PR, a firm run by positive and supportive women. In more recent years, I even found time to start dabbling in my art again.
I’ve since left the film industry and I'm letting that stifled artist inside of me see the light of day again. I'm also discovering and celebrating a whole lot of incredibly inspired leadership right here where we live in beautiful Prince Edward County, Ontario, Canada.
WHY THIS SITE:
The last few years have been taxing for most, the world feels fairly broken and I know that from time-to-time, I have felt the sense of fear, frustration and hopelessness like so many others.
My intention with the revamp of this 10 year old site is to counter some of that negativity by shining a little positive light through some of my greatest passions and sometimes crazy life experiences. It's also an opportunity for me to tackle some fun illustrating challenges - something I've longed to do for my entire life; a chance to put some of these stories and an opportunity to share some of the ideas that helped me through some challenging times, and to share resources that have really helped me to grow.
I will be updating this site with new stories every two weeks.
Thanks for reading this far and I hope you enjoy ❤️
Without getting deep into the why of this right now, earlier that year, I convinced myself that I lacked the necessary talent to make a living doing what I loved, which was illustrating. So, I set out on a career path without really knowing where I was going, I only knew this:
I wanted to work in the arts.
I needed to support myself and keep a roof over my head.
I wanted to experiment with different artistic mediums in my spare time and explore art for my own pleasure.
That criteria eventually lead to me to accept this assistant position where:
I was working in the arts 😁!
I could cover rent and food, but that was about it 😐
I had such a heavy workload that I ended up having no spare time to experiment with art 😕