You might be settling down to read this article, knowing I wrote this for you. And I did - for the person with a formal diagnosis, the person with a hunch, the person right at the start of exploring if they have a neurodivergence to the person who isn't even sure what "neurodivergence" actually means.
Don't worry if you haven't heard of neurodivergence before; it's ok - every day is a school day! Someone who is neurodivergent is classed as having cognitive differences from what is considered typical or normal - Not "neurotypical" (people with typical cognitive function).
People can have more than one neurodivergence, and many cognitive differences fall under the neurodivergent umbrella. Common ones are -
Dyslexia (difficulty with reading);
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD);
Dyscalculia (difficulty with math);
Dysgraphia (difficulty with writing);
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD),
This list is not exhaustive and is in no particular order. You might be reading this article knowing you already fit under this umbrella, or you don't or may want to explore if you could be neurodivergent. Recent studies have found that over 80% of the world's population (approximately 6.2 billion people) are considered neurotypical, with typical cognitive functions forming most of the population. This means that 15-20% (approximately 1.5 billion) are classed as neurodivergent in some way, with only half of that percentage (7.5%) aware that they are neurodivergent. At first, that percentage seems relatively small, but when we consider that 20% of the world's population is 1.5 billion, it becomes a scary and overwhelming statistic. Then comes the realisation that the world isn't designed for 1.5 billion people.
We have found ourselves here because society and the world around us have been formed to work for the majority of the population - logically, this makes sense. And it's human nature to categorise, label and make things fit into boxes. Take left-handedness or right-handedness, for example. You will likely already know that left-handedness is the minority (around 10% worldwide), and those reading this who are left-handed, or know someone who is, can attest to the daily struggles we leftie's have. We often have to use specific left-handed household items like scissors, pens and can openers because the typical products were not designed with us in mind.
This is an oversimplified example, but we are essentially the 'left-handers' of society in a world that's not designed for us. You could still be in that 20% of people who are neurodivergent, even if you feel like you identify as neurotypical, working twice as hard to move through a world that hasn't been made with you in mind.
This notion that we have to do things in the same way as the masses can actually be detrimental to us. We can feel worse when we are focused on "keeping up with the Jones's" and the person sitting next to us. And I go back to the issues with being left-handed here. I used to get very frustrated as a child in art class at school. All my peers easily cut through their paper with the scissors they'd been given. I, being a leftie, snapped and hacked at my paper. Unable to create a neat cut, I tore and crumpled it, getting increasingly frustrated. "Why can't I do this?", "Everyone else makes it look easy" and "What is wrong with me?" - If I'd just been given the appropriate tools, I'd have cut through that paper confidently and easily.
The struggle here applies directly to how we move through the world as neurodivergent people without the right tools and knowledge in our arsenal. Imagine, for a moment, how much easier life would be if we had the knowledge and the permission to do things differently. If we went against the grain, we focused on what nourished and served us rather than exhausting ourselves, trying to fit our square peg into their round hole.
As business owners and creatives, we have already broken out of the typical 9-5 hustle culture and likely don't report to anyone else but ourselves. The entrepreneurial space hosts a large percentage of neurodivergent people. Possibly the appeal of working for oneself and not being constrained to a loud, bustling open-plan corporate office on the 14th floor in New York. It works better for us.
But you can still do more to invite ease and flow into your world daily. I want you to know that you have the ability and the permission, should you need it, to show up in a way that serves you best. And you have the right to ask for things to be changed to benefit you - from your team and your clients.
Just because they do things a particular way in your field, you don't have to follow suit. Just because people have obtained results doing ABC doesn't mean you can't get results doing XYZ instead.
A web designer with Dyslexia, for example, may struggle to read and decipher the main points in a text-heavy email. This business owner is fabulous at what they do and is beyond capable, but they must spend valuable time re-reading the email to pick out all the action points. Instead, they could ask the team to succinctly bullet point all the action steps at the bottom of future emails for clarity and ease, so they can immediately see what needs to be done and dive in.
A business coach with ADHD might struggle with being able to focus as the day goes on, being unable to pay attention to long back-to-back Zoom calls. This person may find that limiting the number of calls they participate in on any given day works for them. That opting for a brief email exchange rather than taking unimportant calls keeps their energy up. Equally, they might trial having a break between calls that involves something that stimulates and engages them to break up the day.
A wedding photographer who finds themselves with the immense task of editing a photo shoot may feel overwhelmed and choose to procrastinate by doing other menial tasks. Ease for this person might look like breaking the big task down into smaller, more doable chunks and then making a start on the first thing on their list.
You might find that you are more able to focus on tasks at specific points of the day, or you benefit from going on a walk when you need to think through a problem, or you need a nap mid-afternoon because your brain feels like it's turned to mush. Often, we feel like we "aren't cut out for this" when what our brain and body need right now doesn't fit into society's expectations or doesn't fit with how we currently operate in our business. This same feeling can leech into how we see our home and family life: and this quote comes to mind, "It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society" (Jiddu Krishnamurti). The quote isn't linked to neurodivergence, but I think it applies all the same. It is no measure of health if people with cognitive differences try to adjust to the ways of a society that isn't made for us. Instead, we need to accept who we are and that we are the way we are. No amount of wishing, praying, or comparison will change that. But as humans, we are adaptable, we can think outside the box (and neurodivergent people are surprisingly good at this on the whole!), and we can change what goes on in our daily lives.
You are capable of greatness just as you are and need not be afraid of breaking out of the mould that society tries to constrain you with.
Listen to your body. Listen to what it's telling you when you next feel exhausted, unable to focus or overwhelmed. Ask yourself, what could I do differently to make this easier and more interesting/engaging/easy to understand? Then go ahead and implement. Figuring out how to create ease for ourselves is a very unique thing. Yes, some books touch on likely systems, processes, and ways of being that will likely help if you have a specific neurodivergence. The best thing to do is to try something, tweak it and try again. It doesn't need to work the first time. Heck, many things don't work the first time, give yourself compassion and try something else.
As a business owner with ADHD (as well as a chronic illness to boot), I have had to turn my focus away from what others in my field are doing and how they are doing it. I work in a way that creates ease and flow for me. I have planned my work day around when I am most able to focus and take on more challenging tasks. I build in buffer time between clients' calls and tasks because I know my ability to estimate how long a job will take is poor. I listen to audiobooks when driving or cleaning because the information goes in better when my body is busy. I do as little work as possible in the evening because it is much harder to string coherent sentences together late at night. I reiterate important times and dates to the person I'm speaking with to ensure I have got them right. I work with a coach to make sure the swirling thoughts in my head actually get out so I can begin to make sense of them rather than feeling paralysed by them. I also take my big tasks down to the tiniest, easiest jobs I feel able to accomplish.
My neurodivergence is a part of me, I accept it, and I create workarounds when the world does not work for me. I implore you to do the same. Imagine how much easier life would be if we embraced our difference instead of running from our needs and pretending we don't struggle. We permit ourselves to belong just as we are, in all our glory, with all our quirks, abilities and cognitive differences. And then imagine, for a moment, that all 1.5 billion of us stepped into that way of being, living and moving through the world. Neurodiversity is currently just a ripple in the ocean, but if we all voted for ease, a wave would replace that ripple - the world and society would change. Workplaces, schools, families and communities would become more aware, more accommodating and more accepting of those in the minority. More neurodivergent people would gain access to the tools and knowledge they need to have the confidence and the ability to do great things rather than getting frustrated at age five, wondering why "it's so hard for me, but everyone else can do it".
Wherever you are on your journey to understanding more about yourself, know that you don't have to know or decide which box you fit in. Just know that you are human, you belong, your experiences are valid and don't ever be afraid to make a change.
Posted on: January 7th, 2023
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A sporadic newsletter to help you get unstuck and thrive as a creative in all areas of your life