Photography: Bruno Glätsch
Cyndie Spiegel refers to herself as a “pragmatic bohemian.” We like to call her a “warm powerhouse.” Funky hair, a bright smile and a generous spirit, Cyndie blends the ying-yang characteristics of the dreamer’s ideology and the doer’s practicality. When stitched together, they create a one-of-a-kind outlook on empowerment, collaboration and creative entrepreneurship.
Much of what she has learned comes from her 17-year career in fashion, traveling the world and living what seemed to many like a dream, until one day, in the midst of New York Fashion Week, she realized it wasn’t her dream at all. “I had been living on this earth for 35 years and wasn’t doing the work I was capable of…. So, I imploded everything and started over.”
Based in Brooklyn, Cyndie is now the founder of The Collective (of Us), a curated group of women business owners who come together to build their movements through intentional collaboration, heartfelt encouragement and the occasional “bullshit calling” that is necessary from time to time.
“There has to be a balance with the ‘woo woo’ and the pragmatism,” she laughs. “We can take all this inspiration, but not really [know] what to do with it —- it confuses us.”
Rank & File sits down with Cyndie to chat about how to take a balanced approach to collaboration and how to lay the foundation for a partnership that works in creative and pragmatic ways.
The Lost Art of Listening
The first step toward meaningful collaboration is to understand and honor what truly drives us. In order to do that, Cyndie says we need to tap into the inner wisdom that we all have, but we don’t always listen to it. “We all have it, we just need to learn how to tap into it.”
For Cyndie, that means meditation and prayer. “I have a very firm belief that we have all the answers…. Yes, we should read the books, and yes, we should take seminars and workshops and do all of that stuff, because we all constantly need reminders, but I absolutely believe, for all of us, that the answers are already inside of us, we just don’t listen and we don’t know how to listen.”
The practice of listening to our conscience and our inherent knowledge is the best way to be successful in life, but also in business, and once we really understand what our motivations are, then we have the key to unlock meaningful results. “Listen to what your heart calls you to do,” suggests Cyndie.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway
As we mine the sometimes murky depths of our inner self, we may stumble upon stuff we are not proud of — stuff that can hold us back from collaboration, like creeping fear and comparison. But Cyndie wants us to power forward toward meaningful collaboration, no matter what.
“If we’re waiting for fearlessness to take great leaps, then we’re never going to take them,” she warns. “Fearlessness is a unicorn; there is no such thing.”
Too often, we try to fight feelings of comparison or fear by suppressing them. But, Cyndie encourages us to take a different approach. “You have to acknowledge what you are feeling,” she explains. “There shouldn’t be shame behind how we feel. If you own it, there is no shoving it down and no shame.… Being conscious of it shifts the power, and the emotion is no longer nasty, it just is.”
If you are feeling less than, or like there isn’t enough to go around, acknowledge the feeling. “Show yourself enough grace to say, ‘This is how I feel right now,’” she advises. Don’t give fear power by feeling guilty, acknowledge it and shift the power by beginning to work toward empowerment on your terms.
Cyndie knows that fear can actually “become a trigger for doing our best work in the world,” allowing us to embrace the true meaning of empowerment by working toward a collective mission.
Cyndie says, “It’s one thing for me to be empowered…it’s another thing when we can collectively help one another rise and feel better about [ourselves]… Empowerment has to be bigger than the individual.” This collective mission is a powerful union that can only take place when we meet the needs of many. Most importantly, it’s the first step towards true collaboration and what Cyndie refers to as “collective graciousness.”
In order to serve the needs of many, we really need to get clear on what are our individual strengths. Then, she says, the entire collaboration between us and our partners shifts from a self-centered approach of, “What can you do for me?” to, “How can I serve you?” And that is where the magic happens.
Cyndie calls this approach, “Pitching the Dream,” and explains that it is different from “selling” something to a prospect. As you share your vision with someone else, you are inviting them to collaborate with you — to join you, as you both strive toward a shared vision together.
“You are pitching the core of the message to someone who is going to care as much as you do, if not more,” she explains.
Cyndie reminds us that if you pick the right partners and pitch the dream, you move together toward a greater expression of your shared vision, forming a fruitful collaboration.
This is where the pragmatic Cyndie kicks in. Once you have done the work, know your why and have pitched the dream, you’ll want to follow these essential steps:
Have a transparent conversation about the dream. What is this collaboration worth? What will I do for you and what will you do for me? Be specific.
Get a contract in place that lays out the steps needed to execute the dream. Present the contract as a gift to your new partner. You are presenting the contract in an effort to make sure they get out of it what they expect — and vice versa. “If we are always thinking of serving the other person,” she says, “then it doesn’t feel icky.”
Do what you have said you’re going to do. You pitched the dream, so it’s up to you to make sure the work is done in the way you originally envisioned. Cyndie suggests, “Manage a collaboration as if you were watching someone’s kid. Manage it and take care of it responsibly.”
To this end, it is helpful to use a project management tool, like Asana, Basecamp or Trello, for example. This way, Cyndie points out that you are letting your partner know, “I pitched you a dream, and this is how I’m making sure it gets done.”
When a collaboration finishes, continue the theme of giving by sending them something. “I send people presents,” she says. “I think it’s really important when a collaboration finishes to send them something. I’ll send gemstones, I’ll send a personal thank-you card, and then keep that relationship going.”
Ideally, the collaboration will lead to other partnerships or referrals as time goes on. “You want to consider other ways in which you can support that person going forward.”
Ultimately, Cyndie believes women can change the world. “I care about bold women,” she says. “My job is to collectively empower women to be the best at what they do and not compete with other women, but instead, to collectively rise.”