Imposter syndrome isn’t your fault. Everyone asks how you can overcome imposter syndrome, but I don’t think that should be our focus. We should focus on WHY women and marginalized folks feel like they’re imposters in the first place. It’s not because we’re inherently less confident; it’s because we’ve been told for centuries that we don’t belong. We shouldn’t be talking about imposter syndrome; we should be talking about systemic barriers that have let us down.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life ” we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nivi Achanta.
Nivi Achanta is the Seattle-based founder and CEO of Soapbox Project, a platform that makes social impact easy for busy people by sending them bite-sized action plans. Prior to starting Soapbox, she worked as a tech consultant at Accenture and spearheaded a cross-industry disaster response program in their San Francisco office. In her free time, she takes circus classes, doom scrolls on Twitter, and experiments with new recipes.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Sure! I was born in India and moved to the United States when I was a baby. We lived in a few different states before settling down in California for a few years. We moved back to India again when I was in middle school, then back to California. (Yup, lots of moving.)
I spent a lot of my childhood reading, playing outside, speaking different languages, and making friends whom I’m still close with today!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“All that you touch/ You Change./ All that you Change/ Changes you.” – Octavia Butler
I came across this quote recently as I was reading All We Can Save. It resonated with me because it shows how dynamic change is, and how everyone has a hand in the outcome.
I’m mulling over how we can be more intentional about what we touch – not only thinking about what we’re changing, but thinking about what all we’re letting change us.
How would your best friend describe you?
I crowdsourced this answer from a few of my best friends. My favorite response was “life-enhancer”, and my least favorite response was “gremlin”.
When my friends are being nice, they describe me as generous, funny, spontaneous, and good at getting stuff done.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much?
The top one quality is persistence. I don’t think there’s a lot that inherently separates me from others; I felt I had a fairly average life but I don’t give up on my ideas. Most people have amazing ideas and either lose steam or keep shifting focus, but I won’t stop until something tangible comes out of what I want to do.
The second and third qualities are helpfulness and curiosity. I’m always willing to help people out; of course, I try to be a “good” person, but I’ve also noticed that helpfulness takes you places. The number of people willing to help me out has grown as I try every day to pay it forward, so it’s really a win for me too.
People see curiosity as endless wonder for technology or the natural world, but I’m just mostly curious about people. Sometimes this just means I’m super nosy until I get the answers I want!
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I was working at Accenture, a huge multi-national corporation.
I worked there for three years. When they recruited me, a huge reason I was drawn in was the apparently large number of social impact projects and opportunities. I soon realized that it wasn’t easy at all to work in social or environmental change at the corporation, and I spent almost my whole career trying to fight for mission-driven projects.
Consulting and corporate life did not go as imagined, and honestly I felt a little scammed. Not by the company, but by colleges spending four years telling you that you can achieve your dreams, but once you leave, the dreams are actually quite limited and don’t belong to you anymore.
I met some wonderful people at Accenture and picked up some valuable skills, but I realized that there wasn’t any way I could meaningfully make a difference at that time. It seemed that impact always had to come at a cost to my career or my time and energy.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I’m now a startup entrepreneur! I went from working at a company of ~500,000 to a company of 1. It’s been totally wild.
I went from working on making rich people richer to executing on my own vision, which is to make social impact easy for busy people. In my previous life at Accenture, I always had to choose between work and social/environmental change, because it took SO long to learn about a specific subject and figure out what I could do about it.
For example, I really wanted to get involved in fighting climate change, but I had no idea where to start. My efforts would always lead me down hours-long internet rabbit holes, and it wasn’t a productive way to spend my time because I’d never actually do anything after my research had ended.
Soapbox Project, my startup, is a content-supported platform where people can find bite-sized actions and a community to participate with. It’s something I desperately needed during my time at Accenture, so I reinvented myself doing exactly that!
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
To be candid, I actually got laid off in 2020. I was quite surprised by the news; as far as I knew, my career was going well. I seemed to be the youngest person to share a stage with the CEO during a North America broadcast in 2019. She interviewed me about my work launching an entire wildfire response program during the 2018 Northern California fires.
I got opportunities to work on some of the most high-visibility projects because leaders at the company recognized my skills, so I didn’t really see the lay off-coming. This is purely conjecture, but I suspect that some people might have thought I was sending the wrong message seeing so much career “success” through my impact work, because my interests weren’t actually making the company money.
After I got laid off, I decided I couldn’t go back into the vicious corporate cycle of money and profit at a cost to the planet and people.
At Accenture, every time I met someone new, I’d ask, “do you love your job?” and I never, once, heard a resounding yes. (Most of the time it was “no” or “yeah, it’s okay.”) So I wanted to leave and do something where I loved my job and felt fulfilled in the work I was doing, and could also spread that fulfillment to others. Mission accomplished!
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
I didn’t discover a new skill. I just learned to build the ones I already have and cobble together different technological tools as best as I can.
People glamorize entrepreneurship far too much. 2020 and pandemic life has been really hard for me, and I’ve struggled with staying positive. There’s been a lot of crying in my closet involved (I say that kind of jokingly, but it’s not a joke).
Something that really helps is celebrating the small wins and reframing the way I perceive myself. For example, I used to never describe myself as a creative person. I thought my ideas were fairly average and I was never particularly gifted at art. But now, I proudly embrace the identity of a creator – I write articles multiple times a week and people love my writing style!
The emails I get from readers and users keep me going and help me validate that this journey is worth taking.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Good, mostly, when I’m not crying in my closet. I can look back on it now and be really proud of what I’ve accomplished, but it’s hard to see the wins on a day-to-day basis.
At the time of this interview, I have over 4,000 people who read our Changeletter (Soapbox Project’s newsletter), we’ve had a few high-impact events like a letter-writing campaign to incarcerated people where we wrote to 300 folks, and we just launched our new community in private beta.
I’m proud of what we’ve done so far and there’s so much left to do.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I don’t want to go too much into this, but I couldn’t have done any of this without my partner’s support. He works in science, so he doesn’t make that much money either, but he hasn’t for a second stopped to question that Soapbox would be successful.
It would have been impossible to do pandemic solo entrepreneurship without his support and belief that I would “make it”.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
I got profiled in the New York Times for my work with Soapbox, specifically around consumerism! It was totally unexpected!
It happened shortly after Christmas in 2020, and I finally decided to take a day off. Suddenly, my email subscribers started increasing wildly and I had no idea why. I was on my way to a snowy city in Washington state with barely any signal and I had to piece together what had happened while replying to hundreds of emails from new friends. It was one of the best days ever!
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
Yes, quite regularly. I can’t share a story or example on overcoming it, because it’s still a work in progress. However, one thing I pay attention to is how many people born with privilege (often rich, white, straight men) display exorbitant, unearned confidence when talking about their own work. It helps me bring in perspective about my own journey and at least act like I believe in myself, even if I’m not fully there.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
I have friends I’ve known for decades and they hype me up every day. I also have a strong founder network of people I’ve met in person, specifically through fellowships for women and non-binary people. I keep in touch with them weekly and we have accountability groups.
Support during the pandemic has been really hard, but I actually turn to Twitter; I’ve made many good friends online during 2020 who are thinking and talking about the same things I am.
Finally, in early 2021, I launched a beta version of the Soapbox community, so I’m creating my own support system for users! It’s overwhelming to feel like your choices don’t matter in a world run by new injustices every day, so I’m supporting people by helping them take bite-sized actions with new friends.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
A few years ago, one of my friends asked me: why should you have to step out of your comfort zone? You deserve to be comfortable; why not just expand it?
That kind of changed my life, and I saw every uncomfortable situation as an opportunity to get used to the feeling and eventually be comfortable with it.
Something that was very nerve-wracking for me was having to set my own routine and schedule. I used to be the type of person that filled my free time with Netflix, and I was so worried that, once I got laid off, I’d just watch TV all day and be a couch potato.
I challenged myself to work out every day, keep a to-do list, get my calendar up to date, and for the first time in my life, fold my laundry. I’ve been doing it for over six months and have gotten comfortable with this lifestyle, and I wake up happy every morning knowing that I’m working to execute my own vision, making social impact easy for busy people.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Personal habits are key. I started exercising, eating well, and keeping in touch with my friends for years before starting Soapbox. It would have been so much harder to build those habits post-startup life.
- Your online friends are your real friends. I learned this through my new friend Jackson Dame, who sent me a “harnessing tech” challenge in 2021. Jackson says that in the times we’re in, our online friends are just as real as our IRL ones, and that perspective influenced the amount of effort I put into authentic online connection and networking. It makes a huge difference!
- The United States healthcare system sucks. I knew this one after getting hit by a car in 2018, but entrepreneurship has made it way more real. My biggest stress other than keeping the company afloat is how I’m going to pay for all my doctors’ appointments. No one should have to choose between debt and death.
- You have to learn how to ignore the noise. There are so many haters and obnoxious people who think they know what they’re talking about, especially on the internet. I used to be bothered by the man-splaining and the online bragging that goes on in many entrepreneurship circles, but I’ve had to teach myself that it doesn’t matter. At all.
- Imposter syndrome isn’t your fault. Everyone asks how you can overcome imposter syndrome, but I don’t think that should be our focus. We should focus on WHY women and marginalized folks feel like they’re imposters in the first place. It’s not because we’re inherently less confident; it’s because we’ve been told for centuries that we don’t belong. We shouldn’t be talking about imposter syndrome; we should be talking about systemic barriers that have let us down.
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?
It’s what I’m doing now! I’m a huge believer in progress over perfection. A 2020 Deloitte study estimates that ~1.4 billion zillennials (millennials + Gen Z) want to get involved in global crises affecting our communities, like climate change.
I want to talk to those 1.4 billion people and anchor on the basic principles that our choices matter, and we have the power to do something positive for the world. Radical change can start with baby steps, and that’s my focus with Soapbox — helping people take bite-sized actions while making a meaningful difference.
What do you want to be remembered for the most?
I want to be remembered for taking care of the people I interact with — my friends, my family, Soapbox users. I want to be remembered for positively impacting people’s lives and communities and helping people feel less overwhelmed by all the challenges our society faces.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
For better or for worse, I’m online all the time — oops. I’m @niviachanta on most major social platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram in order of preference. I’m also very responsive over email for my free newsletter readers.
I love making new friends who want to have conversations like these, so I hope people reach out!
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you — same to you!