When Smith was divorced at 28, after five years of marriage, she was unable to manage much personal deportment beyond a clean sweat suit. Her mother urged her to put on lipstick before going out. "There's no furniture in my living room and everything is falling down around me, and she's asking me about lipstick," Smith says. "She'd say, 'If you tell your friends how you're doing, what are they going to think?' and I'd say, 'They're going to think I'm in trouble.' It's taken me until now to separate from that very poisonous message of lying about how you're doing. What's underneath is fear that if people know your vulnerabilities, they'll reject you."
Facing the fear is a recurrent theme in her practice. "You don't even know how scared you are until you're not," she says. "I try to get people to the point where fear is not the guiding light, not what runs their lives."
Given Smith's success, it's surprising to learn that she describes her career choice as a fluke. After graduating from high school at age 16 and LaSalle University at 20, she was teaching gymnastics and trying to figure out the trajectory of her life. One day, on her way home from work, she saw a billboard for Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and literally made a U-turn to ask for an application, still in her shorts and a T-shirt.
Today she is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, having earned a master's degree (as well as a PhD in counseling psychology from Temple University), and conducts leadership training for organizations such as Johnson & Johnson, Victoria's Secret, and the IRS. "All companies are macrosystems of families," she says. "Conflict management, anger, accountability—they're the same issues that come up in personal relationships. In the same way that a family has a scapegoat and a shining star, those roles show up in the corporate culture. And they're major energy drainers, dangerous to the survival and thriving of the system."