In a former life, I was a wife, full-time corporate employee, and mom to a crazy, murderous, orange tabby cat named Riley Kitty. I lived in a lovely two-bedroom Sears catalog home (Yes, you used to buy homes from the Sears catalog!) in Cincinnati. I volunteered for our neighborhood’s business development organization and directed fundraising efforts for the installation of a new mural at the main intersection. I belonged to the local country club, even though I didn’t play golf or tennis. My career in financial advisory services was promising and positively tracked. Talks with my husband of upgrading to a bigger house and starting a family found their way into conversations. I had it all.
And then, I didn’t.
“I can’t do this anymore.” I muttered those five words to my soon-to-be ex-husband in 2014 and transformed my life forever. The mold I was forcing myself into finally cracked.
My initial thought was, “Where am I going live?” I was essentially homeless and my future, erased and wiped clean. A blank slate. My life as I knew it was gone, just like that. Poof! Holy shit, that was scary.
Weeks later, as an epic hangover faded and my brain began to fire on all cylinders again, I realized I was a free woman. I was presented with the greatest gift of all: a do-over! I failed at the conventional American dream meaning those “rules” no longer applied. I could do whatever the hell I wanted! I made the decision to recreate the life that I wanted to lead. I couldn’t wait to take off running with boundless liberation.
But, first, I needed a vacation.
Not the same old, ubiquitous beach vacation. No. I needed a trip that made me feel alive. As an athlete and adrenaline junkie, I needed the kind of travel that would feed my adventurous soul while pushing my boundaries. Of course, there was one teeny tiny problem: I was out a travel buddy. I was rearing to go, but at the same time stuck. I felt completely at a loss. There was no way I was the only woman in this predicament.
The gears started churning and an idea was born. I decided I would create a company that brings together women looking to truly experience real adventures on their vacations. (Remember, no more rules to follow or someone to tell me, “No!”) There would no agendas! Hell, there is enough of that in a woman’s daily life! It would just be playing in extraordinary destinations with zero expectations attached. To put it simply, we would do cool shit in cool places with cool chicks!
But what the hell would I call this rambunctious tribe of adventurous misfits? I found the answer at the bottom of a wine bottle and a page from a coffee table book. A good way into enjoying my grapes while relaxing on my balcony, I randomly decided to open a coffee table book that had been dutifully collecting dust. The very first page I turned to was 25. I read the following quote by Evelyn Lauder:
“I’ve always believed that whatever you are when you are young, as you age, you become more so.”
In the margins, I immediately wrote: “I am an Explorer.”
Explorer Chick officially launched in November of 2014, but I spent the entire first year traveling. I rappelled from a 75 foot waterfall practically in tears at the bottom. I second guessed a jump from a 35 foot waterfall, before learning to shut down my brain and trust myself. I climbed my first big mountain learning to ‘focus on the task at hand’ approaching the summit and scrambling down a boulder field. I checked surfing off the bucket list in Costa Rica. I met incredible people from around the world throughout my travels forming lasting friendships and business partnerships. Mind you, I always believed I was socially awkward. Travel reminded me I never have a problem finding new friends (if even for 24 hours)! With each terrifying, new experience I grew. This growth seeped into all aspects of my life –friendships, family, business, and happiness.
These days, I have the privilege of witnessing that same empowering growth in the Explorer Chicks on our adventures. I never know when it will happen or the form it will take, but at some point during an adventure there exists a monumental shift. It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. It’s impactful.
THIS. This is why Explorer Chick has quickly grown from meager roots to a fiercely strong community of Real Women embarking on Real Adventures. There were 3 women who joined me in Cabarete, Dominican Republic for Explorer Chick’s inaugural adventure in November 2015. Since, we have traveled with thousands of women embarking on Explorer Chick Adventures to incredible destinations. In a million years, I would have never guessed the magnitude of Explorer Chick. It has grown to be so much bigger than me. It is no longer my story, but the story of thousands of women who all embody a boundless spirit and call themselves Explorer Chicks.
I’m just grateful to be along for the ride.
With Love, Gratitude, and Boundless Adventure!
Nicki Bruckmann, CEO and Founder
PS: Curious about my choice to reinvent myself at 32? I wrote a blog about it after pitching the idea to TEDx.