Women of Impact: Nikki Ross, Children’s creative opportunities

Nikki Ross, Executive Director and co-founder of Twirl Play and Discovery Space for 14 years, started as a business consultant, and then marketing and playspace manager before becoming executive director of the nonprofit enterprise. Morgan Timms/Taos News

What is your occupation and for how many years?

I am currently the executive director of Twirl Play and Discovery Space and one of its founding members, so I’ve been with the organization for 14 years, also the age of my oldest daughter. I started out as a consultant, helping develop the business plan when Twirl launched as a for-profit toy store and play space, before becoming the marketing and playspace manager. In 2014, Twirl became a 501(c)3 play-based learning nonprofit to reflect its expanded mission and I became the executive director.

How did you get where you are today, and who/what helped you along the way?

I fell in love with a man and the mountains!

I met my husband, Jake Caldwell, in Chamonix, France, where I had moved from England at the tender age of 37 to become a ski bum. Prior to that, I had skied a total of 20 days in my life, period. The first time I put on a pair of skis, I was 34 years old and I was completely smitten. I knew I wouldn’t be able to ski much if I remained in the UK, so I moved to France, leaving a lucrative career in advertising behind me, and never looked back. I never imagined I’d end up in a small quirky ski town in North America.

Prior to Chamonix, I worked in London in a global advertising agency for 10 years. I also worked in Hong Kong for two years as communications manager for a regional sports federation and in a Manchester marketing firm for four years after leaving college.

In 2005, I moved to Taos, got married and had my first daughter, Anabelle, in 2006. Shortly after, Jake introduced me to Molly McMullin, Twirl's original operations director, who was looking for someone with marketing experience to help launch Twirl.

If you could go back in time and tell your 18-year-old self anything, what would it be?

My 18-year-old self was actually at university studying to be a dentist. My 53-year-old self would have laughed at how ill-suited that career choice was and would have introduced me to the concept of ikigai. The Japanese believe that your true purpose in life can only be found when you combine what you’re good at with what you love, what you can make a living at and what fulfills a need in the larger world.

I wish someone had told me back then how important it is to find a way to do what you love and to love what you do.

How do you achieve work-life balance?

Hmm, I hope my work colleagues don’t read this … they might dispute that I have one. It can be very hard when you are an organizational leader to switch off, especially as you have most of your eureka moments in the middle of the night when you’re not dealing with day-to-day stuff. But I have a great team whom I love dearly and they make going to work fun, so that helps with the balance.

Outside of work, my family and the outdoors remind me that all work and no play is simply not an option in Taos. I love getting outside skiing, hiking, walking the dog, playing tennis and doing all of those things with my family. I love to read and I have been in a book club with the same group of women for over 10 years, which is soul-quenching.

I also love watching soccer. I am lucky to have my husband’s family here in Taos and they help me achieve that balance, by being very present in my kids’ lives and also supporting me in my work.

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

Giving back to a community that has given me so much is motivation enough. I am passionate about Twirl and the work we do because I know we provide many opportunities for kids and families to play and be creative together that wouldn’t otherwise exist in Taos. I am deeply indebted to the original founder and visionary behind Twirl, Amy Wyss, and her husband, Ed Jaramillo, who continue to support Twirl’s mission and programs, and in doing so, continue to demonstrate their trust in me. Making the most of that gift and opportunity is a huge motivation for me.

Traveling fuels my desire for new adventures and keeps me inspired. I love going to museums and art galleries and conferences and coming back brimming with ideas that I can turn into opportunities and programs for kids here in Taos. Just because they live in a small town doesn’t mean Taos kids shouldn’t have access to big-city experiences.

What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?

After my two daughters, I would have to say Twirl. I have invested 14 years of my life in it and I feel that it’s been a worthwhile use of my time. I think Twirl has made a visible difference to the landscape of Taos and to the lives of a lot of families who live here.

As an invisible mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?

Do the right thing, even when people aren’t looking. You can’t really go wrong if you act with integrity, it’s a win-win situation.

Meet all of the Taos Woman 2020 Women of Impact:

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