In this series, Open Every Door, Entrepreneur staff writer Nina Zipkin shares her conversations with leaders about understanding what you have to offer, navigating the obstacles that will block your path, identifying opportunity and creating it for yourself and for others.
For 17 years, Cyndie Spiegel worked for some of fashion’s biggest brands, including Coach and Narciso Rodriguez. She also worked to help mold the minds of young fashion students as an adjunct professor at Parsons School of Design and her alma mater, Fashion Institute of Technology. But one day she realized that as much as she loved the world of fashion, it wasn’t the work that she was most excited about.
In 2015, with her experience as a yoga teacher as well as her work as a speaker, small business strategist and coach, Spiegel founded The Collective (of Us), a business accelerator designed to help women entrepreneurs develop their companies through networking, community building and the sharing of helpful tools and business strategies.
Spiegel says she started the accelerator because she found herself unmoored after forging ahead to be her own boss. “When I joined the entrepreneurial space, it was completely by accident. I felt like I was a little bit too old for this space because I was 35 at the time, and I didn’t have the community anymore,” she told Entrepreneur. “I needed women with no other thing in common except that they had businesses and a common thread being that they wanted to empower other women. And I would be the one to curate that community.”
Spiegel’s application process opens once a year and she says that her requirements are straightforward: “How open are you and willing are you to share your experience with others? I do want to know that you’re willing to share your expertise with others without feeling as though they’re trying to steal your idea. It’s a very safe space,” Spiegel says. “I’m really comfortable talking about uncomfortable things without making people feel penalized for not understanding. And so my role is that of a community leader and a builder.”
She started with 37 women from a callout on Instagram — where she has more than 10,000 followers — and now the accelerator has 120 members. Read on for Spiegel’s insights about how to be your most confident self at work, stop imposter syndrome in its tracks and make a career leap and never look back.
Why is your work meaningful for you?
I grew up very poor in New Jersey. My mom had a business at one point when I was growing up. We had a video arcade for about three or four years. And my mom was a very different person with that arcade vs. when she lost it. My aunt also had a record store, which she eventually lost. I saw the difference between who women are when they own something and the power that they lose when they don’t.
I don’t think it really connected for me until maybe a year and a half ago when I realized the power that comes from owning something. It doesn’t have to be a hundred-million-dollar business, it doesn’t have to be a billion-dollar business. But it means that you have some level of control over your life and the ability to take care of your family. And as somebody who grew up in poverty, I think that’s something that we really undervalue as we focus on really large scale businesses. They don’t have to be large to serve you and make your life exponentially better.
What advice do you have for people who are dealing with imposter syndrome?
The first thing to know is that no one’s ever going to say to you [that you’re a fraud]. It’s 100 percent in your head. And if it’s of any help at all, Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey, Tina Fey — all of these women have experienced this. So it’s not just you, it’s not just me. I think we subconsciously invite impostor syndrome in by using social media. We follow people that make us feel like imposters. Not because they’re trying to, but because we feel as though they’re better than us. So we’re following them in the name of inspiration when really all it’s doing is breaking us down on the inside to feel like we’re not enough. So stop following them. And if they’re doing anything worth doing, they are not going to care that you stopped following them.
The very first thing I always suggest to people is to clean up your social media. Do not invite that into your life. Do not invite comparison into your life. Don’t judge whether it’s right or wrong. [The question often comes up] shouldn’t I be able to handle that? And the answer is no. Because you’re human and sometimes you can’t. And so when you can, then you go right ahead and you follow them again. But part of this work is about acknowledging how you feel. If we can just consciously acknowledge that and stop trying to feel like we should do something, that we should be able to handle it.
What should you be thinking about when you are work to be your most confident self?
When we get reviewed and let’s say our boss says a million nice things about us [but] it’s one thing that’s a developmental area, that’s what we carry around. We don’t carry around all of the really positive things. We carry around the one thing that we’re not good at. So in the workplace, consider for yourself what you’re really strong at and go all in. Write that shit down, put it on a post-it and put it everywhere: on your desk, on your computer. I have stuff like that in my bathroom cabinet, no kidding. So when I open it I’m like, “Oh, I forgot, I’m awesome.”
Another thing I ask people to do is to message five to 10 people and ask them what their positive characteristics are. People freak out at first and then it’s one of the best exercises they ever do because it’s a reminder for us. And don’t just do this once — don’t do it every day because that feels creepy — [but] every year or so, tap back into this.
In your career, what was a mistake you made and how did you move forward from it?
A few years ago when I was first transitioning [from fashion to starting my own business], I was in a group with other women entrepreneurs, and I remember sending an email to a woman who was a founder of another similar group. I was in the corporate mindset of professional development, not realizing at the time that if you’ve never been in a corporate setting, that language doesn’t connect for people. You don’t know what you don’t know. For me, I thought I was just giving developmental feedback. But she didn’t ask for it. And she was super upset.
It was a very immediate learning curve for me to say, [if] people don’t ask, it’s not your job to give them feedback because you’re not in corporate America anymore. This is not your team. Also for me, I learned that I have to be mindful of the language I use if the other people in the room don’t understand it. She felt like I was accusing her of something. She didn’t take the feedback the way I had given it, and I can’t blame her.
How have you grown and changed as leader?
I’ve become a lot less guarded of who I am. I show up now in a way that I never could have three years ago. And I’ve realized that by showing up as myself, that is as right as I’m ever going to get. That doesn’t mean that everybody is going to want to be a part of that, and that’s OK.
Is there a piece of advice that a mentor gave you that you still take to heart today?
I [asked] an author who’d written multiple memoirs, how do you tell multiple stories, how do you even do this? She said, “Cyndie, you decide at any particular time the story you want to tell.” It gave me permission to say you don’t have to tell everything. You tell the parts that you feel a connection to today. Even though that wasn’t specifically about my business, it was pre-business. It was powerful.
What do you tell yourself to work through tough moments?
This too shall pass. No matter if it is a good moment or bad moment, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, they’re all going to pass. Don’t get stuck in it. Don’t get stuck in the ego when it’s a high moment and don’t get stuck in the loss when it’s a low moment.
You’ve gone from fashion and wellness to consulting — what is your best advice for someone about to make a career shift?
Be honest with yourself about what you’re willing to give up, especially if you’re going to transition from working for somebody else to your own business. You are going to have to give up something. So get super clear and make sure that you are excited enough about what you’re moving into that you’re willing to give up whatever it is. Just know what you’re getting yourself into and go full on. And don’t let that scare you into not doing it.