Get rid of what you don’t need. One of my clients relentlessly decluttered her home during her divorce. The process was so emotionally liberating that it led to her starting a business as a professional organizer, and now she does work that she loves. Other examples of getting rid of what you don’t need are ending toxic relationships, eliminating limiting beliefs, and cutting down on regular commitments that you no longer enjoy.
Nikki Bruno is the founder and CEO of The Epic Comeback™, as well as a 20-year veteran of the publishing industry and a published author. Her experience of reclaiming her power after a high-conflict divorce inspired her to help others do the same. Bruno is a thought leader on high-conflict divorce, verbal and emotional abuse, and intuition. She holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Princeton University, a master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and coaching education and training from iPEC. Bruno has been featured in NBC Palm Springs Tipping Point, the Boston Globe, Best Self, Cosmopolitan, Bustle, and Glassdoor. A single mom of two, Bruno loves scuba diving, traveling, salsa dancing, and helping women (re)discover how incredible they are.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In 2015, I’d been a solopreneur running a successful editorial services business for eight years, and I was getting restless. I wanted to impact people more directly instead of sitting alone at my computer editing manuscripts amid the sounds of crickets. One day a new friend of mine, who had been an internal leadership coach at a major corporation, told an anecdote about a workshop she’d led. It sparked something in me. I took my friend out for coffee and grilled her about her job. The more I learned about professional coaching, the more I realized it was my calling. The most rewarding moments of my life have been times when I’ve helped people realize how amazing they are. As a coach, I have moments like these every day. I pinch myself that I get to do such fulfilling work.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
My authority on divorce comes from personal experience, an elite academic and intellectual background, personal research, and expertise in personal development. I went through a three-year-long, high-conflict divorce that began when my children were 1 and 3. The process brought me to my knees. I had to learn about how and why to get a divorce; it was a trial by fire. My own research was a major part of what got me through and beyond the crisis. I became determined not to let divorce define my life and the lives of my children — and to pay it forward by helping other women triumph over trauma. As I developed my new coaching business, The Epic Comeback, I consumed hundreds of studies and articles on divorce and its subtopics: co-parenting, trauma recovery, abuse, high-conflict communication, negotiation, reinvention, litigation versus mediation, and so on. Today I create my own content on these topics. Finally, through my own client work, which is a form of qualitative research, I’ve become intimate with the lows and highs of divorce and its aftermath.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
Catapulting myself into coaching has been an overall story of manifestation. I keep thinking about the image of vertebrae zipping up into a perfect spine. Since I found this career, my mind, heart, body, soul, professional vision, and personal vision have come into alignment. I’ve been an overachiever all my life, but my work ethic as a coach is twice as strong as it’s ever been. Nothing feels like work. I wake up ready to tackle whatever is on my to-do list and more.
This combination of alignment and drive has led to totally unexpected gifts. Each person I’ve chosen as a coach, teacher, or mentor has catalyzed something I needed, from discovering that I’m an empath to narrowing my niche to implementing new systems in my business. For several months I was having difficulty describing what I do — until I woke up in the middle of the night and my entire brand, The Epic Comeback™, was laid out in my brain. My move across the country to Los Angeles, where life coaching is culturally better understood and more readily accepted than it is in the Northeast, was a gift I didn’t even initiate. For most of my life I was a generalist, and I felt a bit envious of people who knew their life path starting at age 5. But right around age 40, I found it.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake I made was flopping around about my identity as a coach and assuming people would understand what the heck I was doing. My original plan was to be an executive and leadership coach, but I put that idea on the back burner when my marriage fell apart. After a couple years of crisis and healing, I dabbled in fitness coaching, which was awesome for me but muddied the waters of my brand identity. Then I had an epiphany and started calling myself a power coach for women, but nobody knew what that meant! People were like, are you a yoga instructor? Do you teach women how to use power tools?
I learned several lessons from this mistake. One, as an entrepreneur, it’s important to figure out who you are, no matter how long that takes. Two, messaging matters!
If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
1. Work out. Robustly. Let fitness do its magic for you. Let it help you feel sexy again. Let it be a way of expressing your strong emotions — sadness, rage, loneliness. Let it be a powerful form of self-care.
After my husband and I separated, I took about a year to recover and heal from crisis and trauma. I call it going fetal. After that year, I looked at myself in the mirror one day and said, “Bruno, this isn’t funny anymore.” I had gained 30 pounds’ worth of comfort food. I hired a fitness coach and immediately began a fitness program and a nutrition program.
Within two days, my energy level shot up. I was twice as excited to play with my kids. Over the next several months, I got into the best shape of my life. My depression and anxiety vanished. I felt my mojo again. To this day, I view fitness as the number 1 shortcut to an Epic Comeback.
2. Practice self-compassion. For example, if you have a tendency to get down on yourself for canceling a commitment, give yourself a break. Remind yourself that you’re human, that you’re going through something rough, and that you need time to yourself in order to be at capacity to take care of others.
3. Get rid of what you don’t need. One of my clients relentlessly decluttered her home during her divorce. The process was so emotionally liberating that it led to her starting a business as a professional organizer, and now she does work that she loves. Other examples of getting rid of what you don’t need are ending toxic relationships, eliminating limiting beliefs, and cutting down on regular commitments that you no longer enjoy.
4. Start something new. Take up a new instrument. Join a networking group, a hiking club, or a church. Build something for your home. Volunteer for a nonprofit organization. Start a business. Revamp your image. If it’s something your ex-spouse always disapproved of or otherwise judged, all the better!
5. Play. Reconnect to joy and what that has always meant for you. Rediscover who you are. Find joy in your new FREEDOM. Seek laughter. Rebel. Get silly. Ask yourself, “What did I always love to do when I was a kid?” Let joy be your justification, your goal.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
One of the most common mistakes is to stay mired in blame and victimization. The best ways to avoid this are to process your emotions, to accept what has happened in your life, and to keep your eyes on the future. Most of the time, blame doesn’t matter. What matters most is to take responsibility for yourself and what you can control. When I was growing up, my mom would appoint one family member to be at fault for everything that happened on a given day. No matter what happened — bad weather, a late arrival, a missed phone call — we would blame the appointed person. We all found it hilarious. More important, we learned that fixating on blame is ridiculous and arbitrary. Everyone messes up, and stuff happens. What matters is moving on.
Another common mistake is to let your divorce define you and/or dominate your life — by talking about it, thinking about it, and bemoaning it every chance you get. The best ways to avoid this are to reconnect to who are you are, and were, apart from your spouse. I’ll refer straight to my tips for surviving and thriving after divorce. All of these tips will help you move on.
Finally, many people hop straight into a new committed (or uncommitted) relationship before their divorce is even final. It’s understandably tempting to think that a new relationship will solve all your problems — emotional, financial, and otherwise. But there are so many downsides. The primary one is that you’ll almost certainly bring fresh emotional baggage, plus old, unresolved patterns, into your new relationship. In addition, you’ll never get to experience the space and freedom of being single and independent. You’ll miss out on getting to know yourself so much better. To avoid this, stay off dating apps and focus on your other relationships — with your friends, with your family, and with yourself.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
· An exceptional resource on high-conflict communication — especially helpful if you’re sharing custody of your children after a high-conflict divorce — is BIFF: Quick Responses to High-Conflict People, Their Personal Attacks, Hostile Email and Social Media Meltdowns by Bill Eddy, co-founder of the High Conflict Institute. I recommend anything by Bill Eddy, actually.
· My show, The Epic Comeback™ Podcast, features guests who have come through life-shattering experiences and are now in a place of triumph and wisdom: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-epic-comeback-podcast/id1482779695
· Constructive Uncoupling is a wonderful podcast by Los Angeles divorce mediator Judith Weigle.
· Susan Guthrie’s Divorce and Beyond is an excellent podcast as well.
· A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield is a beautiful read for post-divorce thriving. It’s not a divorce book. It’s a book about meaningful living that applies well to any time of transition.
· For folks who are considering dating again, I highly recommend If the Buddha Dated by Charlotte Kasl and How to Be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo.
· A timeless classic is The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman.
· Check out Joint Custody with a Jerk. I can’t stand the title, but this book is both practical and helpful in addressing co-parenting and parallel-parenting issues after divorce.
· How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish is a non-divorce-specific parenting book that I love. It helped me — and my kids — a lot when I became the head of my own household.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell
For me, the greatest pain of divorce was the loss of narrative. I grew up telling myself that I’d get married, have kids, and be with my husband forever. The moment I first contemplated divorce was the moment I began grieving the narrative I’d cultivated for my entire life. I can’t describe the pain of it.
My divorce has been final for 15 months, and I’ve done a lot of grieving. Now I’m used to being unmarried, and I’m kind of accustomed to being without my children half the time. But what took me longest, and still occasionally makes me angry or sad, was the loss of the narrative — the simple fact that this wasn’t what I planned.
Some people let this loss destroy them. But here’s a secret: You can thrive without being married to a specific spouse. You can thrive without full custody of your children. You can even thrive without the narrative.
How? By creating a brand-new narrative. By becoming the architect of your own life. By staging an Epic Comeback.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now I’m launching the updated, power-packed 2.0 version of my flagship coaching program, The Epic Comeback™. In this program, people who have gone through divorce reclaim their self, body, and community. The result is nothing short of an Epic Comeback. My clients restore their confidence, get their mojo back, and make epic moves in their lives. For example, they start businesses, revamp their careers, rebuild their social lives, attract and create financial abundance, find amazing new partners, and more. I run the Epic Comeback Program as a three-month intensive or a year-long VIP experience.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
My movement is my brand: The Epic Comeback. As a movement, it means that we use crisis and trauma as a springboard for personal liberation, success as we define it, and social impact.
On my show, The Epic Comeback™ Podcast, I interview women who have come through trauma and triumphed on the other side. It’s not a coincidence that every single one of my guests now extends a hand to help others through life-shattering challenges. The movement is already happening, and I’m one part of it.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
This is so easy for me: Melinda Gates. She knows how to take a mission, vision, or big idea and make it global. My vision is huge. It’s a world in which every woman on the planet knows and understands how powerful and amazing she is. To transform this vision into reality, I’ll need a global movement and a massive amount of resources. Gates has the intellect, experience, and passion to point me in the right direction.