The Smile Story: My First Encounter With Hidden Toxicity in the Work Place

3danimation animation industry happiness at work productionmanagement toxicity Dec 21, 2022

Hello everyone!

I am Virginie, and I am a happy producer. I have been passionate about live-action and animation production for the past 15 years.

I only know one way to smile: BIG!

Needless to say, I choose joy. But my career was not always full of day-to-day happiness. I had to face a lot of toxicity and bad intentions to truly discover how primordial my and the team’s happiness are to me.

There was a defining moment for me about ten years ago, and I think this is how it started. 

The first spark. The seed of The Happy Producers.

I was so excited when I got a position at a high-end renowned local studio. I was convinced it was my dream job, and I could not have been more proud. I would get to work on some of the best projects in the world with wildly talented artists in beautiful facilities in a stimulating environment. Plus, they were known for throwing THE best wrap parties. I was hired to work on my absolute favorite TV show ever, and it seemed like a dream come true!

As good as it gets, right?

At my interview, they had me hold the Emmy they won for that same TV series that year. It was my first time seeing an Emmy; it’s SO shiny and pretty! True love at first sight. I held it like a baby for much of the conversation.

I was stoked! And so grateful. This was IT!

My first day at this new studio came, and something Way off.

The atmosphere was tense; the friendliness was minimal, and the team seemed exhausted and short. That night, I called my best friend and told her that if this had been a first date, there would not have been a second date.

But I am working on my favorite show in the world, I thought. This is a dream job! 

I had to give it my best shot, and every day I showed up with a positive mindset and a willingness to conquer. 

Time soon accelerated as I started working long hours most nights, sacrificing my personal life like everyone else on my team. I was not feeling fulfilled at work, but I could not put my finger on it. I started to think that maybe I was expecting too much from my career? Weeks turned into months, and I delivered projects, shots after shots, and tried not to make waves. The team won big flashy awards, and we attended fabulous parties. I felt like I should have been happy, but there was a ball in my stomach every morning before going to work.

Then one day, out of the blue, my supervisor summoned me to the room where people go to get yelled at. 

Oh no.

I hesitated before getting up from my desk. As I made my way reluctantly, a million things went through my mind: the possible mistakes I could have made with the team, the schedule, the client, the content, and the deliverables.

When I got there, she wasn’t alone. The human resources coordinator was also there, looking uncomfortable and grim. This was not faring well for me.  As I sat down, scared and anxious, my supervisor told me we had to talk. She looked agitated and wanted to emphasize how important of a conversation this was. 

There was a long silence before she brought herself to say it. 

''The team likes you a lot,'' she said and paused.

''But I think you smile too much.''

I was confused.

What? I asked, bewildered.

'''The team likes you too much'', she said. ''t’s a problem.''

Longest pause ever.

I was dumbfounded and had no idea how to answer.

My Supervisor looked annoyed that she had to explain this.

“The people under you,” she added, “should be scared of you’.

Under me? Scared? What? Why?

She said that’s how it was at that studio.

I was floored. Out of all the conversations I thought we could have together in this dire room, I could not have seen that one was coming.

I mean: this is not the rudest, meanest, most inappropriate thing I have ever been told by a supervisor in all my years in the industry like 
at all.

But it was the most shocking. I will forever remember how I felt at that moment: like a happy mindset was a weakness. And like being true to myself was shameful.

I delivered my shots on time, under budget, and to the client’s satisfaction. I built trust with my team and continuously showed up. Isn’t that what mattered?

Was I allowed to get to these results using a tone that was more loyal to my true self, I asked?

''No'', said my supervisor.

I disagreed. Hard.

"If you don't start scaring the team, we will have to let you go."

End of conversation.

And at that moment, I remembered what I had told my friend on the first day. I would have never really picked this for me. So why did I have this narrative in my mind telling me this was my dream job? The stories we make up for ourselves can be so powerful.

In the end, I chose myself and my happiness, and we parted ways.

And I am grateful to this day for this event, because it forced me to reframe the notion of a dream job

Most of my colleagues at that studio were overworked, anxious, scared of getting fired or screamed at, quitting once their project was over, and lacking overall joy.

This situation helped me understand that from a social standpoint, we build our dream job around external circumstances: the amount of money we get paid, the significant title, how cool the projects are, how it looks on IMDB, the red carpet, etc. 

to create meaning and happiness, we must look at our habits and behaviors from the inside out. Our talents were given to us to be put to the service of our community and industry. If there is a purpose to what we do, there is no limit to the money and titles we can hold, and the happiness we will experience.

The following job I decided to take was a proper dream job.

My leaders chose me for who I am and gave me the space to operate. They loved my smile, and they wanted the team to be as happy as I did. Over the years, this studio enabled me to produce tens of thousands of shots in a balanced environment that prioritizes well-being. I got to bring in new projects, resolve significant issues, and lead teams of hundreds of people while always keeping my and my colleague’s well-being as my one big non-negotiable. I delivered projects under budget and built authentic, life-lasting relationships with clients and partners. I went up the ladder organically while making all my colleagues shine and promoting them to soar.

And I got to test my production philosophy, 
my human approach to leadership, a transparent outlook to partnerships and client relations, and proof-tested project scoping and scheduling strategies built around well-being.

It got me on the path to being with you today, sharing my inspiration, methodologies, and insight so that we can build a happier, healthier workplace together.

It insight, there were major red flags. 
In our relationships with others, including colleagues and employers, remember that both sides must benefit equally from the situation. This is what makes a relationship honorable. Remember that YOU are choosing the employer; it needs to be a match on both sides. 

In today's workplace, your authenticity is a superpower. Never compromise your personal values for an employer - you will both lose in the end.

And know that there are many people in the industry, like The Happy Producers, that are building the workplace culture of their dreams, one benevolent step at a time.

Together, we get to make this the industry of our dreams.

With love and gratitude,


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