Nikki Yeager sees her life in waves. The mom-to-be has time to recalculate her goals and reflect on recent accomplishments when the tide is calm. The stillness in Yeager’s life doesn’t last long, though, because tidal waves of ambition often come crashing in, flooding her with unwavering determination to check off every item on her ever-evolving bucket list.
“I’ve always been acutely aware that no one seems to feel they have enough time on this earth,” says Nikki, 25, of New York, NY. “Ever since I was much younger I wanted to make sure that no matter when my time came, I’d be able to know that I did as much as possible with the time I was given.”
Getting On The Board
Yeager says her ambition set in soon after graduating from high school in 2007. Though she’d earned a year’s worth of college credits through a program at her school, Nikki, then 17, chose to spend the following year exploring what the world had to offer, and what she could contribute. She uprooted from her hometown, a small suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, to the Bronx, where she says she felt at home for the first time in her life. “When I landed in New York it was like, oh, these are my people,” says Yeager, feeling naturally connected to the go-getters of New York.
She spent her first year of independence working 100-hour weeks for City Year New York, an education-focused organization under AmeriCorps’ umbrella, which partners with public schools in high-poverty communities around the world. Nikki kept friends and family back home up-to-date on her adventures by documenting her experience on her preexisting blog and social media.
Her plan was to earn a degree at Syracuse University once she finished her time with City Year, but Yeager says a two-week trip to Japan kick-started her travel bug, making it difficult for her to transition back to a slower paced environment. “It’s hard to live somewhere so fast paced and not want to have more all the time,” she says. “It’s easier to be more complacent when you live in places that move at slower paces.” Yeager knew that she could sacrifice her happiness and submit to the stillness of the current, or she could challenge herself and the ideas of society by going against the flow.
Guided by her heart, she applied to work for a nonprofit organization in Cambodia for sixth months, and upon returning, set off on a three and a half month stint running a different nonprofit in the Bahamas. “It sounds silly but I’ve never felt more alive than when I’m in an airport terminal,” Yeager wrote on her blog following her Cambodian adventure in 2009. “The presence of jet fuel and uncomfortable airport chairs always has an intoxicating effect on me.”
Nikki returned to New York and the tides of her life slowly rolled in and out, bringing with them a bevy of opportunities. After settling into her new job as a software trainer, which she says she enjoyed partly because it allowed her to travel, Yeager made time to focus on her art. Her work was displayed in two galleries and some other shows in her first two years of returning to New York.
Then, another wave of ambition crashed over Yeager, then 20, when she decided it was “time to find a husband.” She says she went on dates with anyone who asked for her number, but took to the internet because the process seemed to be dragging. She then posted an advertisement on Craig’s List which included important personality traits only, and made no mention of appearance or income. “All it said was that he had to be passionate about something,” says Yeager of the post, “even if it’s taking out the trash.”
Yeager figured the website would yield many interesting stories, which would at least provide her with interesting writing material for her blog. Still she was surprised when the post introduced her to the man she would marry. He was the first man she met through the post.
He was exactly her age and Yeager says she adored him immediately. She continued to date other people though, because there were some things that left her feeling uneasy, for example, the fact that he was living with his parents at the time. Fate, however, cared little for Nikki’s expectations. “I kept denying him and he’d keep popping back up when I needed someone to talk to, or when he showed up at my art show,” she says. “He kept hammering away at me but I finally gave it a try. The rest is history.”
Picking Up Speed
A wave of panic washed over Yeager on her 21st birthday. “Another year older, another year closer to being undeniably, permanently, always and forever… old,” she wrote on her blog. “And that terrifies me because I still have over a million things on my ‘do before I die’ list, maybe even twelve million.” Determined to make the most of her days, Yeager compiled another bucket list called “21 Things of my 21st Year.”
“On the 21st list, I completed everything before my birthday which was my goal,” Yeager said in an email to BE. Magazine. “Some things included: flying a plane, driving a race car, skydiving, seeing Cirque Du Soleil, riding in a helicopter, eating a five course meal at a fancy restaurant, shooting a gun, skateboarding, surfing and getting a Brazilian wax.”
An opportunity that wasn’t on any of Yeager’s bucket lists faced her two years later. Nikki was working as a software trainer when she received a phone call from her mother who presented her with a business plan. “The initial idea was to have a software product that we’d sell to nursing and health schools as a way to do electronic charting,” Yeager says. Since paperwork in most medical facilities is now done online, Yeager’s mother devised a system for teachers to incorporate into their curriculum, that would help prepare students for the revolutionary world of medicine.
Yeager was responsible for the sales and marketing department of her company, Electronic Health Record (EHR) Tutor, which was founded with no outside funding. Six months after the company’s launch, Yeager left her position as a software trainer to work full time for EHR Tutor. Now, Yeager, her mother, her husband and a handful of other employees service dozens of clients.
Riding the Wave
Life’s waters slowed down just long enough for Nikki to adjust to her new marriage and position as cofounder of EHR Tutor, then picked up again eight months ago, when she became pregnant with her first child. “The process of having a baby happened a lot faster than we’d planned, and one of the biggest things I’ve wanted to do before having a child was see all 50 states,” says Yeager, who will welcome a baby boy into her life this month. “I only had about 20 states left on the list because I’d traveled to most of them already from my last job, so my husband and I decided to take off for two months and visit the rest.”
For her “Before Baby” bucket list, Nikki attempted to see all 50 states, with the exception of Alaska, this past spring and missed only three: Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arkansas. Though Nikki says there are many things she’d still like to accomplish, the only item on her immediate bucket list is motherhood. And that’s a wave she’s happy to ride indefinitely.
Photos courtesy of Nikki Yeager