She sat outside on the patio, under the stars, on an uncomfortable lawn chair in an even more unbearable emotionally uncomfortable moment in time. Head thrown back, tears streaming down her cheeks, Cindi frantically searched the stars for comfort in the unusually clear August night sky. “Please... please... please... tell me...” was the only clear thoughts that could be mustered, having just minutes earlier delivered the definitive decision to her husband: our marriage is over, it's time to move on. “Please tell me this is right... please,” she whispered. Then it happened. First one, passed off as fluke. Then two. Could it be? Then three. Three? Yes, three shooting stars. In that moment the universe opened up in a way she has never experienced before. An answer and an awakening. Cindi knew that in this moment, nothing would ever be the same again, and it was all meant to be. “Thank you,” she sobbed, “thank you.”
Cindi has always been an overachiever. An odd concoction of perfectionism, creativity, and empathy created an outlook of believing anything was possible. But others always seemed to come first. She grew up with strict parents entrenched in traditional values and conservative outlooks on life. There were things you just had to do, and life isn't always fun. Cindi followed the plan, but suffered from restlessness, which often translated to recklessness. Yet nothing ever fell through the cracks. She played by the rules, while continuously making up her own. In her last semester of college, studying Special Education, she deciced she didn't mesh with the poitics in the school system and switched back to her first love of Graphic Design. Nevermind it would take an extra year, it was what felt right.
Cindi fell in love with the digital world early on. Being part of the first group of people to truly embrace the Internet, she sought out and found an internship in 1997 with a web company, and her career-long passion began. Over the course of the next 12 years Cindi's experiences unfolded like a page out of the American playbook. She married her college boyfriend in 2000, bought her first home in 2001 and had the amazing opportunity to bring two little men into the world; one in 2003, the other in 2005.
Her career path was lit brightly as well. Having found a niche in the creative agency setting, Cindi moved from the small web company she began at, to the Interactive Group within one of the largest marketing agencies in town. There she expanded her knowledge and interest into the strategy and planning aspects of the interactive work she was doing. “We should really give some thought to how we are thinking about the designs we are doing, and formalize that,” she said to the Director of the department. “Yes, that makes sense... go make that happen.” was the reaction. And that's exactly what she did. In the remainder of her time there, Cindi established the disciplines of Strategy, Information Architecture and her specialty, User Experience.
In 2006, Cindi moved agencies to an up and coming shop that was gaining momentum and attention for the work they were doing in the digital space. She was excited at the opportunity to be in an all digital atmosphere. She began as a digital strategist, but soon Cindi got another chance to refocus a team and agency. She introduced UX and user-centered design; developed project processes and approaches, built a team and worked to reshape the work the agency produced. There were bumps in the road to overcome, and doubters to influence. Change is hard for anyone, but her passion and belief in what she was doing, and the success the agency began to see, could not be denied.
Then it all began to change. All of it. Every area of her life started to unravel it seemed, and Cindi was left grasping for guidance and strength.
“I can't do this all. How do I even begin to process?”
She would learn her answer was within, she just needed to find it.
The changes for Cindi at the agency started slowly at first, but quickly became blindingly obvious. The agency had experienced tremendous growth and success since she had arrived. seeing double digit profits and a hearty client roster the company seemed poised to represent a new digital agency model as an example for others. Cindi was proud that her work with strategy and the UX team had helped garner this position, the agency leaning on the focus she introduced as lead philosophy with clients and the industry as a whole. But then tragedy struck, and the agency was dealt a tremendous blow; their top client was going away, a multimillion dollar loss was inevitable.
Agency leadership panicked, and they began fostering an atmosphere of disrespect and fear. For Cindi, the work she poured her heart and soul into began to come into question. Work that had once been celebrated was now questioned and dismissed. She could see it happening in front of her eyes, and yet on some level could understand. It was a scary time, but Cindi stayed true to her beliefs, and worked harder than ever to bring teams together to do even greater work. But the daily disresepct continued. Her work ethic now called into question, she began to crumble under the dismissive culture she was operating in. A culture she built and no longer recognized. She still felt a strong connection to the agency and her teams, but it had become unhealthy. “What do I do?” became a daily question. Things at home were bad, she had two kids to think about, and she was sick, really what options did she have? Fortunately she found alignment with people she trusted, who recognized her contributions and shared in a vision for the passion she has always had. Talks of starting an agency began to build momentum. And even though there was no rational reason to stand on, Cindi decided to listen to her instincts and start her own agency—the classic jumping off the cliff moment—and so chose to stay true to her own beliefs rather than living with the what-ifs.
At the same time Cindi's professional circumstance was spiralling and requiring emotional and intellectual focus, her personal life began to fall apart as well. First, the onset of a chronic, undiagnosed autoimmune condition that involves loss of function and sensation. Layer that with fatigue, headaches and an unpredictable episode schedule, it was devastating. “How will I take care of my little men?” became the only question.
In the middle of chaos, Cindi found a clearness of thought to evaluate the rest of her life. Her marriage had not always been a healthy one. While there were no major problems such as abuse or addiction to deal with, there was un undercurrent of control and self-worth errosion, weaving a shroud of unhappiness, stunted growth and discontentment. During this time the reality of what living in this atmosphere was doing to her became clear. She was disconnected from everyone, including her boys, unable to emotionally invest in anything after the years of trying. Her health now in question, the work she lived for slipping through her hands, she couldn't deny what became painfully crystal clear; she had to leave her marriage.
“How can you be so selfish?”
“Are you insane? You are sick.”
“Life isn't always candy and flowers Cindi, you can't run when it gets hard.”
The litany continued from family and friends. She waited for her soul to tell her something different, but it never came. She was going to be a single mom, with a chronic disease, who was starting a business in order to live a life based on her passions, her art, and what the universe gave her the clarity and strength to pursue. Yes, it didn't make sense, but very few right decisions ever really do.
Today Cindi is happy. She struggles with the physical effects of her still undiagnosed disease, but she doesn't let it stop her. She has reconnected with her children, found her self-confidence, and a belief that anything is possible. The agency she helped start experienced a rough beginning, but Cindi was able to tap into her instincts which told her not to give up. Today the agency has found success, even without following expected models.