Woman on Purpose: Nicole Andrea Rapista

Changing your work-life to welcome more freedom and fulfillment is a process and a journey. Here, every month, we will share stories of women who are doing it. Real stories, real transformation. This is a virtual treasure chest -- full of the challenges, struggles, lessons and insights of others -- which you can use to enrich your own path.

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This month’s featured “woman on purpose” is Nicole Andrea Rapista “Andy”,  a 24-year old educator, social entrepreneur, and public speaker. Andy is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Watson Institute Philippines, an incubator for next generation leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators who want to create business solutions to our toughest social, environmental, and economic problems. She’s currently based in Manila, Philippines where she is building a hub for social innovation and social entrepreneurship.

Describe the big shift you’ve made in your work-life. What led you to that change?

The biggest shift I have ever made was changing my mindset: I decided to take full control and responsibility over my own life by reflecting on what my values, strengths, and talents are, how and with whom I wanted to spend my time, the kind of lifestyle I wanted to live, and design my life around it.

I used to believe in climbing the corporate ladder, but I would observe the lives of those around me and I’m not sure if they were happy. I didn’t want to climb “the ladder” my whole life, only to realize at the end that it was up against the wrong wall. I realized that I had never questioned the systems that were designed for me: go to a good school, get a good job, make a lot of money, and live a good life. It felt so formulaic for me, and I wanted to forge my own purpose, passion, and meaning. I say this of course, with utmost respect for the paths that other people have - I know that there are a lot of people that are also perfectly content and happy in choosing the corporate lifestyle.

What were you most fearful of in making that change?

Unlearning systems of thought, overcoming social pressure, and financial stability. I realized by the time I was 19 that a lot of myself self-worth was whether or not I was fulfilling a certain archetype of success - the “First Generation Asian-American Immigrant” has a common narrative and a lot of it is about security and the drive to overcome our circumstances and succeed; I was suffocating and suffering from deep anxiety for a very long time. But what happens when I reject that story and decide to write my own? It was terrifying, but I had to jump into the void to figure it out. I learned to identify negative thought patterns that ultimately limited my own potential, and I realized that the most liberating thing I could ever do was to believe in myself and own my light. Perhaps it sounds so simple, but when you’re coming from a “first-generation college student, first generation american, low-income, woman, and minority” background, you’ve grown up with the system stacked against you, with all the negative narratives that come with it. It took a lot to break from that mold and transcend my circumstances.

How is your experience of life different now?

I am a lot more intentional about what I think, say, and do. The story I’ve decided to write is one of empathizing with those who share my common narrative and helping carve a path for them. I realized that a lot of the freedoms and privileges I enjoy now were all bled for, fought for, and even died for. The greatest way to honor the sacrifices of those who have come before me and allowed me to live the way I do now, is to dedicate my life to serving others. That’s why I started Watson Institute Philippines - it allows me to live out my values, use my gift for counseling and teaching, and follow my bliss in helping others start their own businesses. I get to wake up every single day knowing that I am living my life with purpose and that's all that matters to me.

What’s your biggest concern in this moment?

I’m only 24, but one of my biggest fears is not living up to my potential. I’m not sure exactly what that means yet, but I do know I just don’t want to wake up one day when I’m 80 and realize I didn’t fully “suck the marrow out of life,” (to quote Thoreau) and fully use all my gifts for a greater purpose. One of my favorite quotes from Howard Thurman, says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

What are you most excited about going forward?

Making an impact. My best friend and I have this crazy goal of impacting 1 million people by the time we’re 30. My team and I are building Watson Institute to help young entrepreneurs all over the Philippines and the world create solutions to our toughest social, economic, and environmental challenges. So far we’ve had 25 entrepreneurs who have created ventures in 14 different issue areas, such as sustainable agriculture, women empowerment, tech development, education, LGBT rights, and local economic development. Collectively, they’ve received over 1.5 million pesos in funding through grants, investments, and donations. That’s only within 2 years of starting. My goal over the next 5 years is to help create 75 more.

If you could travel back in time, what’s one piece of advice that your current self wishes that you could tell your former self?

Relax and let yourself breathe a little. It’s something I still tell myself everyday.

About Andy Rapista

Nicole Andrea Rapista “Andy”,  a 24-year old educator, social entrepreneur, and public speaker. Andy is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Watson Institute Philippines, an incubator for next generation leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators who want to create business solutions to our toughest social, environmental, and economic problems. She’s currently based in Manila, Philippines where she is building a hub for social innovation and social entrepreneurship.