For Cindy Smith, the path to becoming both a runner and business owner started by taking it one step at a time. She grew up far from the world of endurance running. Cindy describes herself as never having been athletic growing up. Born in New York City to immigrant parents from Burma (now known as Myanmar), academics were emphasized. Her parents had come to America with almost nothing, seeking a better life for their family. They worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for Cindy. This immigrant work ethic and focus on education shaped Cindy from an early age.
Searching for More After a Quarter-Life Crisis
When Cindy moved across the country to the Bay Area for a job in the tech industry, she felt something was missing. Searching for fulfillment beyond work, Cindy had what she calls a “quarter-life crisis.” She considered artistic hobbies and further studies, but ultimately landed on an unlikely passion: running.
Despite no prior experience, Cindy set the ambitious goal of running a half marathon. When she first attempted to train around a nearby lake, she struggled—wrong shoes, wrong clothes, barely able to make it a third of a mile. But Cindy persevered, determined to push beyond her comfort zone. As she puts it, “If it doesn’t make you uncomfortable, you’re not growing.”
Discovering Inner Strength Through Running
Finishing that first half marathon across the Golden Gate Bridge taught Cindy she was capable of far more than she realized. The sense of accomplishment hooked her on endurance running. Throughout her tech career, Cindy continued training, using races to supplement work. She found community and fulfillment in her runs. Running became her loyal friend, helping her “be herself.”
Combining Passions as a New Mom and Entrepreneur
After giving birth to her son (now 10 months old), Cindy reached a crossroads: return to work or launch a startup merging her passions? She took the leap with Pen and Paces, a business selling designs and stationeries with one goal: show people the sport’s transformative power and help them through hard days of training. Cindy’s immigrant parents had worked tirelessly to provide opportunities for their children. Drawing from their work ethic, Cindy built Pen and Paces to create opportunities for others to discover running’s joys.
Initially anxious about straying from her tech path, Cindy embraced the learning experience of business ownership. Motherhood also brought new physical and mental challenges. Training amid baby schedules and prioritizing her child’s needs before her own goals wasn’t easy. Cindy found new strength through her motherhood journey. At the Chicago Marathon, she set a 33- minute marathon PR with her proud family cheering.
Lessons Learned: Believe in Yourself
For Cindy, running requires perseverance but cultivates self-belief. Her advice for new runners: “Take it one step at a time, one day at a time.” She emphasizes the power of small consistent efforts over time. Cindy plans to continue sharing running’s benefits through expanding Pen and Paces’ uplifting product line. She also aims to run more marathons, despite never imagining herself an endurance athlete earlier in life.
From non-runner to marathoner, tech employee to business owner, Cindy shows that confronting discomfort can lead to remarkable personal growth. By taking that first running step outside her comfort zone, she found the self-belief to take other leaps in business and motherhood. Cindy’s story inspires beginners in any endeavor to trust the power of taking one step at a time. These small steps will add up to big strides.