Meet Nicole O’Brien | Human Resources Manager

Posted on: October 26th, 2018 by Nicole Kessell | No Comments

Purpose fuels passion, and passion drives purpose. For Nicole O’Brien, CITY’s human resources manager, giving 110 percent in everything you do and being a compassionate person are the best ways to maximize your potential and the potential of others.


“We all affect one another,” Nicole said. “And I think compassion stems from just being aware of others and trying to find commonalities with others. That applies to everything in life – being compassionate for people in your immediate family, people you work with, and for people you don’t even know.”



According to Nicole, one of the best ways to not only help yourself but to help others is to support your wellbeing in all dimensions – in mind, body, and soul.




Self-Discovery in Nature

Nicole grew up in a small northeastern Iowa town called Elkader. Her family lived on a grass strip airport where they also had a Christmas tree farm in the winter. Summer time meant spending time helping with agricultural activities.


“In the summers, my dad took crop photos for farmers from his small airplane,” Nicole said. “I would sometimes ride with him while the doors were off the plane so he could get clearer pictures. ”


With her peaceful rural upbringing, Nicole spent a lot of time focusing on pursuits of the mind. Spending hours connecting with nature, she learned a lot about herself by getting lost in her own thoughts.


“My whole life has been about seeking peace, serenity, and security, so I would spend hours out in the timber by myself enjoying the peaceful canopy of 30-foot pine trees creaking in the wind, climbing trees, and discovering hidden wilderness treasures,” Nicole said.


Pursuing Education

After high school, Nicole went off to college and earned a Master of Arts degree. She then worked in the nonprofit sector as a curator in a museum. While working full time, she decided to go back to night school to earn a master’s in business administration at University of Iowa Tippie College of Business.


“I transitioned to the profit sector where I started off at a bank working on their compensation plan,” Nicole said. “I also spent a summer in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, right after communism collapsed, as part of the University of Iowa’s MBA program. We worked with businesses attempting to transition them successfully to capitalism.”


While earning her MBA, she met her husband and they both earned their degrees together. Nicole also worked in human resources for a short time in Wisconsin. She then traveled with her husband to Tennessee where she worked for the next 12 years.


“I transferred to Tennessee as part of my husband’s work and accepted a job managing human resources in a large call center,” she said. “I also held positions as a training and development manager, and in operations where I managed the call floor.”


A Learning Adventure

While living in Tennessee, Nicole and her husband had three children. Because the state had limited educational opportunities, Nicole decided to leave her career for a while so she could homeschool her children.


“Out of necessity and research, I discovered it was the best option for our family at the time,” Nicole said.


Homeschooling is an eye-opening adventure, according to Nicole. And although homeschooling was the best option, it wasn’t always the easiest choice. First of all, every child has unique interests and learning needs, so tailoring the curriculum was necessary to see that each of her children got the most out of their education.


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“I got to learn right along with them. They each have their own unique challenges and interests, just as all human beings,” Nicole said. “It was fun to be able to specialize their education to each skill set and interest of each child.”


Secondly, homeschooling can create both a positive and negative consequence of extra family time.


“We spent all our time together and learned a lot about each other,” Nicole said. “We have some strong personalities in our home, so there was a lot of negotiation going on and a lot of learning. But we were able to talk as a family and have more in-depth conversations than you might be able to have in a public setting.”


According to Nicole, homeschooling helped her expand three important skills– patience, flexibility, and self-awareness.


“It allowed me to realize not to stress the small things. There might be some jags and jigs along the way, but it’s okay and everything will work out,” she explained. “For example, as much as I wanted that first curriculum I bought to work out for all three kids, it just doesn’t work that way.”


As a homeschooling parent, you become the sole provider not only of your child’s education, but also of their entire behavioral development. This can create it’s own distinctive challenges.


“When there is something wrong with a child’s development or how they’re acting, you have no one to blame but yourself,” Nicole said. “It’s a really big mirror that you’re looking into when your kids are at home 24/7. You have to ask yourself the tough questions, ‘am I modeling that behavior or where did they learn that from?’”


Learning Never Ends

Nicole continues to challenge herself through her passions. This means intense focus that makes her un-distractible, particularly with continuous education.


“I’m always fascinated about learning more because you’re just never done,” Nicole said. “My family teases me and knows that you can’t distract me when I’m learning something. They know I’m going to research it to death, and annoy them with it for months on end until I’ve exhausted it and moved on to the next thing.”


Two of Nicole’s education interests lie in the arts and psychology.


“I really like anything in the arts, including visual, music, and theater,” Nicole said. “I also love to write, paint, and I love reading psychology books because you learn so much about people and how to relate to them.”


Returning Home

In 2011, Nicole and her husband moved back to Iowa for his career. Five years later, she chose to take on a new challenge.


“We decided to enroll all the kids in the public school system,” she said. “I decided to return to the challenges of working full time at which point I saw CITY’s ad for a human resources manager, and I thought I’d give it a shot.”


With her passion in psychology and her past experience in human resources, Nicole believed she would fit well as the human resources manager at CITY.


“Human resources appeals to me because it allows me to apply psychology, wellness, and health, and just helping people,” Nicole said. “I think that’s something just part of my nature. We’re all here for a reason, and we’re all here to help each other. That’s what’s cool about HR. I can connect everything together, the psychology, wellness, and helpfulness.”




Being Well

We all know that when you’re healthy, you’re able to achieve more. For Nicole, in order to live a full life, it’s important to maintain your wellbeing.


“For me, your health drives the quality of your life. You really can’t have a fully maximized life if you don’t take care of yourself,” she said.


Although, as said by Nicole, you’re not the only one affected by maintaining good health.


“Being healthy pours over into your family as well,” she said. “If you’re not maximizing your health, you’re not maximizing your ability to be with your family or care for your family.”


As a high-energy person, Nicole devotes her morning routine to at least 30 minutes of physical fitness. She believes exercise, in combination with supporting her mental health with positive thinking, allows her to achieve her ultimate goal of maximizing her overall health and immune system.


“Strength training and cardio make a difference in how well our brains function and how we feel, which affects our entire day,” Nicole said. “All this ties together so I can maximize my life and hopefully maximize the positive impact I am able to have on the people around me while I’m here.”


Because she is so passionate about health and wellness, Nicole encourages her children to follow similar good health measures.


“I believe it’s my job to help my children understand the importance of health. Because of my diligence, my children try to focus on clean eating as well,” Nicole said.



Our mind and body, according to Nicole, are not the only things that influence health.


“Spirituality is a huge part of my life, even more so than healthy eating,” she said. “I figured out for me personally, if I do things God’s way instead of forcing things my way, things go a lot smoother.”


The World Around Us

Also known as the butterfly effect, every single thing in the universe is connected, meaning everything we do each and every day affects everything else. Because of this connection, it’s essential to always be aware of how we are influencing others.


“I believe we have to be aware of the energy we give off, whether that’s negative or positive,” Nicole said. “We need to make sure that we’re not unintentionally discouraging people and go out of our way to encourage them in the right direction in our lives and ourselves as well.”


One way to encourage yourself and others is to have a positive mindset.


“I believe that negative self-talk is a very common thing for human beings,” Nicole added. “Negativity is like a giant black hole with a gravitational pull that pulls you and everyone you interact with into a negative repetitive thought pattern, so I feel it is extremely important to guard our thoughts and either learn from them or move on and focus on the positive that is all around us.”


Nature Connection

According to Nicole, compassion and positivity for others should also include animals.


“I don’t wish to see anything suffering, be it a human being or an animal. I believe it’s our duty to take care of all living things,” she said.


Nicole’s empathetic personality also drives her to rescue baby pygmy goats that need a place to call home. The first adoption started with Nicole’s husband.


“My husband is a veracious Craigslist shopper,” she said. “One of his favorite games to play is to pull up cute baby animals for sale on Craigslist and then tell them I can’t have them. One day he took it a little too far and showed me a cute little baby pygmy goat that the mother had abandoned.”


After her husband showed her the abandoned goat on Craigslist, Nicole knew she had to adopt it.


“I decided to teach my husband a lesson,” Nicole said. “I took note of the information he gave me and called them, and the next day I went to get it.”


After rescuing the goat, Nicole learned the baby goat would be very dependent on her and her family. It was very small and had to be bottle fed and diapered.


“We kept her in the house because she needed feedings throughout the night,” Nicole said. “She grew up very spoiled.”


The goat rescuing didn’t end there. After rescuing Lindy, her first goat, Nicole found another buddy on Craigslist.


“It has become sort of this rescue mission,” she said. “We got another goat that has a defective leg and hip. That became the buddy. Then we got another pygmy goat that was previously a breeding goat. Then we got a male goat so that we could have baby goats. Their names are Lindy, Luella, Loki, and the two babies are Molly and Mickey.”


Nicole’s family of goats also has big fans with many people often coming to visit them.


“Everyone likes to come and see the goats,” Nicole said. “The president of CITY, Colin Wetlaufer, and his family come out often to see them. And Colin’s daughter actually got to name the two babies. We also send her videos and photos to keep her up-to-date.”



Living a fulfilled, meaningful life stems from maximizing your potential, according to Nicole. It’s all about growth of the mind, self-awareness, and support of your wellbeing to be the best you that you can be, for yourself and those around you.


“That’s always been a passion of mine,” Nicole said. “To make sure I’m maximizing my potential so that I’m able to be there for my family, and to hopefully influence others to do the same.”


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