Lizzie Shupak - She/Her
CEO at Curve, Author and Helping organisations facilitate change through the power of their people
How has being Neurodivergent shaped the direction of your career?
Profoundly. Though for almost two decades of it, I was unaware I was Neurodivergent. I'm fiercely independent, vision-driven, very responsive to my energy, able to build-the-plane-while-flying-it, drawn to difficult strategic and creative problem solving and always living outside my comfort zone.
Which industry do you work in and what do you love and/or loathe about it?
I work in the creative leadership/culture change space, with a focus on the creative industries. I guess people would call us a creative consultancy, although I never really think of us in that way. I love the people; I love their ambitions and their capacity to create change on a huge scale. I love dealing with big ideas, solving challenging problems and feeling like am being useful every day. I loathe politics, the focus on money, the poor boundaries between work and rest, and the endless requirement to "be productive".
How did you get into your job/industry?
The honest truth is hustle. I couldn't bear the idea of doing a grad scheme (I now understand that my ADHD is a big reason for that; intuitively understanding that being an "analyst" in a big organisation, churning out PowerPoint, could never have worked for me.) So I went on an internship programme to New York, I networked harder than you can imagine, I met an entrepreneur who took a chance on me, and I worked for £50 per day until he trusted me to run an ad campaign with a well-known creative agency, worth £1m. (There's something very messed up about that story, as I write it, but let's not get into being a 23 year-old woman in the communications and advertising industry). After that, I knew I wanted to understand digital and I took another badly paying job to build a digital team for a non-profit in Brooklyn, to get the skills I needed to start freelancing in agencies. With each new project I increased my fees and credibility, and, fast-forward 7 years, found myself in a senior role in one of the big network agencies. Ultimately I left to found my company, and yet again, hustled to find business and define the category that we're in.
Have you always wanted to work in your industry?
No, I never knew I could be paid to do what I do. I had a very narrow view of the world of work and pretty low self-esteem. Every career survey I did at school said I should be a textile designer... Funnily enough, I started doing textile design courses while out on maternity leave, and am now designing patterns and making clothes for my kids on the side, but I never felt entitled to have a burning ambition. I just knew I wanted to be financially independent and needed to rely on my wits to make that happen.
Does it feel like a good 'fit' for you as a neurodivergent woman?
Now, yes. Now that I run my own company, I am in control of our vision and our positioning, the fit is great. Although, while the entrepreneurial side is amazing, supporting a growing team that needs process and structure, is proving to be very challenging. I do feel though that finally my strengths are being harnessed. That I'm able to realise my potential, and, more importantly, I don't have to cover or hide my challenges. That's a huge privilege.
Any anecdotes that you feel might be insightful?
One of my employees recently gave me some feedback. She told me that I was the most caring, generous, challenging and fiercely protective boss she'd ever had and that my ability to take her ideas and to build on them and make them better, never saying "no, that's not possible", was something that she valued more than anything. I guess I had never heard someone frame personal traits which have been so damaging to me earlier in my career, as strengths. I have always been different. I've always been the person given the briefs that "no-one else knows what to do with", but I'd always seen that as my inability to fit in, and something to battle, not lean into. So it's very humbling to know that I can use those differences to be a supportive boss and leader and that they are what makes me unique and special.
What advice would you give to another Neurodivergent woman navigating their way through life?
Self-compassion (and possibly forgiveness), ask for what you need, surround yourself with people that will support you and bring out the best in you, learn your triggers, destructive habits, and the things that enable you to thrive. Never apologise for being who you are.
If the previous questions did not feel relevant to you, please share something else that captures your experience as a Neurodivergent woman.
Too many years of not understanding myself and self-harm/self-sabotage. Such relief to understand what is going on, that I'm not alone and that I can be a "success" on my own terms. A constant struggle with gender expectations (to be a tidy, well-organised, demure working mum).