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“There’s a very technical aspect to what we do that used to be dominated by men,” says party-planner extraordinaire Nicole Charuvastra. “In the early 2000s, my boss at the time still referred to us as secretaries. After six years, I was moved into the field, and I knocked it out of the park and set the precedent of promoting within and recognizing the talent of young people.”
Nicole is the powerhouse event director for Bright Event Rentals, a full-service special-event company in Santa Barbara. She started working at Regal Rents 22 years ago and stayed on board as the company became Classic Party Rentals and then Bright.
“That’s half of my life, which is sort of ridiculous,” she reveals with a laugh. “When you think about it, I literally have done nothing else. The office I currently occupy is the same office I’ve had since 2004.”
The secret to her longevity? “What I do is always different,” Nicole explained. “After 22 years, I’m still learning.”
As an example, she tells me about hanging drapery earlier that same day. “Decorative fabric is not something that has been part of our wheelhouse,” she explains. “We should have double-sided. We’re constantly catching mistakes and learning from them. There’s always some challenge that we have to find a solution for. The team I work with are real MacGyvers.”
Nicole grew up in the heart of West Los Angeles. “I wasn’t a great kid,” she admits. “My mother told me she’d never thought I’d make it to 21. By the time I got to college, I wasn’t interested in partying, for I had done it all.”
After graduating from Concord High School, she opted for pre-law at UCSB. But after earning her bachelor’s in law and society in 1999, she decided to take a year off. “I was all ready to go to law school, but I had a 21-year-old meltdown,” she says. “I answered an ad in the paper for an event rental company, and that was that.”
In 2009, she married a chef named Ron True; they celebrated their 10th anniversary on November 14, 2019. “We’re both stubborn and strong-willed,” she concedes. “After my mom passed away, I mellowed out. I was 34 years old when she died. It was the hardest thing I had experienced. I put off having a child until I was 40.”
Nicole’s words of workplace wisdom? “I have used zip ties numerous times to hold my hair up,” she says. “There’s nothing you cannot fix with duct tape or zip ties.”
Nicole Charuvastra answers the Proust Questionnaire.
What is your motto?
“Get it done.” Even if the “it” is relaxing on the couch with my husband because I’ve been running around all day. I always try to do things to the fullest and with complete commitment.
Who do you most admire?
My mother. I remember when I was a kid, the last thing I wanted was to grow up and be like my mother. Now as an adult, I try and embody everything I can remember about her and how she held herself in public and in private. She was an incredible woman who raised three children, practically by herself. She tried and failed many times to create a niche for herself in the business world, never gave up, and finally found great success in the second half of her life. Witnessing her persistence and drive in my youth has certainly shaped the person who I have become today.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would like to learn to be a better listener. Often, I feel like my brain is moving at light speed, constantly checking off the endless list of things to do in a day. With this constant thought process, I find that I miss listening well to others around me. When I force myself to stop and really listen to what someone is saying, I feel like I am being a better wife, friend, or coworker.
What do you like most about your job?
The team who I work with. Truthfully, they are family. We support and challenge each other, just like any family might, to try and pull the best out of one another. I’ve worked with the company for over 20 years, and I have so many people who have worked alongside me for a similar length of time, who have seen me through many milestones in my life. I couldn’t imagine doing what I do with any other group of people.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I feel like I have so many moments of pure happiness, when watching my daughter laugh or discover something new or gaze into her father’s face just before smacking it with her hands. I’m not sure that any of it is perfect, as there usually seems to be tears or a tantrum that follows, but for that fleeting moment, I couldn’t be happier.
What is your greatest fear?
Failure. There is such a broad scope of what “failure” could be. To me, it’s when I let people down: my work family, my clients, my loved ones, and especially my daughter. The fear that I will fail her as a parent drives me in almost everything I do.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Most recently, we enjoyed a family vacation to Hawaii. It was amazing! Certainly extravagant to make this trip during the holiday season, but well worth it to spend time with family.
What is your current state of mind?
Excited. I’m ready for what 2020 will bring to my life, at work and at home. I have a feeling this decade has wonderful things in store, and I’m excited to begin experiencing them!
What is the quality you most like in people?
Loyalty. Knowing that the people I have surrounded myself with, both personally and professionally, will support me through thick and thin is essential to my well-being. Trust in those who I know are loyal allows me to take risks and push the envelope to find the best parts of myself.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Laziness. Of course, we all have moments when we don’t want to go that extra mile or even just get to the finish line. But I truly believe that if I’m going to do something, anything, I’ve got to push myself to make it the best I possibly can, and I hold others to the same standard.
What do you most value in friends?
Aside from loyalty, I value friends who support one another in a judgment-free environment. In this day and age, everything seems to move so quickly, and sometimes with the speed comes mistakes, and any good friend, I would hope, will understand and accept me with all my flaws and mistakes without judgment.
What is your most marked characteristic?
Honesty, sometimes to a fault. My friends would tell you that if you want the truth, go ask Nicole. My mother would have told me that I need to think before I speak.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Quite frankly.” I picked this one up from a former boss, and if there’s one thing I am regularly, it’s “frank.” So I’m not sure why I always feel the need to preface my comments with this one. Aside from that, there is a host of 1980s adjectives I use regularly in conversation that date me with the millennial segment of my clients and co-workers.
Which talent would you most like to have?
Anything musical. As a child, I played violin and guitar, and one regret I have as an adult is that I didn’t continue to hone my musical skills through my teenage years. I have longed to learn how the play the piano. I’m hoping that one day, I’ll find the time and space in my life to pick up a new skill. My dream would be to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on a piano in my own home.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement hasn’t happened quite yet. Once my daughter is older and her father and I feel like we can say that we’ve “raised” her, I’m sure this will absolutely be our greatest achievement.
Where would you most like to live?
Any place where my friends and family are. Truly what makes me happy with where I live are the people who surround me. I could be happy in the middle of Siberia so long as my family and good friends are near — certainly a whole lot colder, but just as happy.
What is your most treasured possession?
After having experienced great loss when my mother passed away and then inexplicable happiness when my daughter was born, I really don’t have any possessions that I truly treasure. I think your outlook on everything changes with these types of milestones in life, and possessions become passing things that come and go from your life. It’s funny; my dad always told me to enjoy spending money that I had earned, because when you die you can’t take it with you, and he’s not wrong.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My daughter makes me laugh all the time. Especially when she has found something she loves and wants to do it over and over and laughs every time at the exact same moment. But also, the group of guys who I work with out in the field — they make me laugh all day. I spend a good portion of my life at job sites all over Santa Barbara County with my work crew, and we find humor in the littlest of things.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
There are so many great women in history. I’m not sure there are any who I feel I could live up to the notion of identifying with, but certainly there are many whom I admire greatly.
One in particular is Sandra Day O’Connor. She was the first woman nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and was key in many important decisions of our generation, including upholding the protection of women’s rights issues protected in landmark cases like Roe v. Wade. I remember my mother telling me as a young girl (and all her granddaughters subsequently) that if I worked hard enough, one day I too could be a Supreme Court Justice.
Needless to say, my mother was not very happy with my decision to abandon law school for the event business. But as with everything else, she accepted that I would follow in my own footsteps and find my own happiness.
On what occasion do you lie?
Every day, to my daughter. No one tells you all of the white lies and stories that you have to imagine just to get a toddler into bed.