Female Disruptors: Nikki Butler of The Autistic Joyologist On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
21 min readSep 17, 2023

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Curiosity: Approach everything with an open mind and curiosity! One of my first ever business mentors asked me what I was curious about, and my initial answer was ‘everything’! And there’s a lot of truth in that, I am generally a curious person. My brain naturally explores why things are the way they are, particularly when it comes to the human brain, mind, and body. I struggle to accept things as they are — as facts, and love to explore alternative angles and explanations for things. One of my core values is curiosity, as a result, so I can continually learn and grow.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nikki Butler — The Autistic Joyologist.

Meet Nikki Butler, The Autistic Joyologist, an ex management team leader in the legal world, turned award winning entrepreneur, on a mission to enable other autistic & ADHD females & entrepreneurs to create a fulfilling & thriving life, and redefine success on their terms. She is setting out to empower women to show up and live boldly, as their true, authentic selves. Nikki is passionate about playing her part in creating the change she wishes had come earlier for herself, whilst smashing apart outdated legacy stereotypes and ensuring that younger generations don’t grow up with the same experiences and challenges and are free to live authentically & unapologetically from the outset!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

At 45, I was diagnosed as autistic ADHD, prompting a deep reflection on my life experiences and the challenges I’d endured. Failed relationships, an incessant craving for isolation, persistent struggles with planning and organisation, and a relentless feeling of not fitting in or belonging. I recognised that my life didn’t have to be this challenging. Had I have known about my diagnosis earlier; my life could have been very different.

After finishing my law degree in 2000, where I’d endured bullying and isolation, I entered the corporate world. I struggled continuously with interactions and workload management and felt perpetually on edge and out of control. I trained in Management & Leadership, leading me to a decade of managing legal teams, both in private practice and in a global organisation.

The move from private practice to a large corporate organisation was the straw that broke the camels back, as they say! The politics, the agendas and the magnitude of the organisation and processes were near on impossible to manage. Throw in big personalities and egos, and a culture where you were expected to be available all the time, I couldn’t cope. The last 18 months of corporate life saw me driving home crying, a chronic insomniac and eventually considering driving my car off the road one night, in a bid to escape it all. This was the point I knew I had to get out.

At 36, I left corporate life for good, after what I now know was an autistic ADHD burnout. I barely functioned for a year, and when I did return to working, I chose to set up hobby businesses and do simple tasks, for little money — feeling that I wasn’t capable or worthy of anything else. I was embarrassed and humiliated by my seeming inability to cope with ‘adulting’ and felt like a failure. It was 3 years after I exited corporate before I had any sense of self worth or belief.

Knowing I couldn’t return to corporate life, I set up businesses, utilising skill sets I’d acquired due to the many training courses I’d studied. A prolific learner, I loved to take courses and discover new skills. It wasn’t until 2016 that I became serious about running a business and retrained as a medical tattooist and scar specialist. I have since founded a multi award winning specialist skin & scar clinic, earning 2.5 x my corporate salary.

When I received my autism and ADHD diagnosis in my mid-forties, my world clicked into place, yet paradoxically, seemed to crumble around me. I grappled with feelings of clarity juxtaposed with profound confusion. I knew that I needed to make significant changes to my lifestyle, to support myself as the neurodivergent women I was getting to know and understand.

Drowning in a sea of “what ifs” and yearnings for a different past, I found solace in self-compassion and forgiveness. I thought about all those years spent chastising myself, the relentless negative chatter and it all suddenly dissipated. I embarked on a journey of radical self-empathy and discovery, delving deep into my core, peeling away layers built from over four decades of moulding myself to others’ expectations.

I had an overwhelming fear that my autism and ADHD diagnosis had come too late in life. I knew I needed to make some significant changes in my life, to support my neurodivergent self, but I didn’t know where to start. I was running a successful, award-winning clinic and feared I had been the author of my own misfortune — that there was no way I could create the balance I needed. I searched online for the answers, reached out to coaches, and connected with other women — and whilst there was a lot of information and support groups available, I couldn’t find a way to move forward.

And so, I stopped searching and started looking within. I drew on over a decade of leadership and coaching experience, another decade of entrepreneurship and mentoring — and went back to my personal development work that I embarked on when I left corporate life. From there, I became my own best client! I coached myself to a place of realigning my life to my values, goals, passions, and dreams, and I redefined success on MY terms! I stopped looking to societal expectations, and created a life that felt safe and calm, whilst allowing me to thrive in every way possible. This is how my RADIATE model was created — a 7 phase model that helped me to align my life and keeps me aligned. I love that it can be adapted to every individual’s unique needs, and that it can be used for a whole life alignment, specific areas, or even a day-to-day situation. I use the tools daily.

Being able to align my life in this way, and stay aligned, has given me a peace and happiness I had never thought possible. I have been able to thrive in a way that feels so good for me, and I wanted that for every other autistic & ADHD woman too! And ultimately, I am on a mission to transform the future for our younger generations, by empowering today’s female autistic and ADHD leaders and entrepreneurs, so that we can inspire future generations to live boldly, authentically, and unapologetically, from the outset!

The Autistic Joyologist feels like the perfect combination of my life experiences and more than a decade in both corporate and as an entrepreneur. I can now bring this together to help other women like me and drive change for the younger generation.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

So much of the resources and information online focuses on helping women with autism and ADHD to fit in. I don’t believe in fitting in, I believe in standing out! I believe that our neurodivergent traits are the secret to our success and happiness. If we create a life around our values, dreams, passions, and goals, and align to our strengths whilst advocating for our needs, then we can shine and achieve incredible success.

I have two missions with The Autistic Joyologist. The first is to empower and enable autistic and ADHD female entrepreneurs to lead thriving, joyful and fulfilling lives, where they can play to their strengths, advocate for their needs, and show up authentically and unapologetically. A life where they redefine what success means to them and stop trying to live by societal standards of what success *looks* like.

The strategies and tools within my Signature RADIATE model are carefully crafted, so that everyone can adapt it to their own unique lives and needs. And the beauty is, the elements can be used as often as needed to keep you aligned, and to guide you through situations as they arise.

In empowering the autistic & ADHD female and entrepreneurs of today, we are creating inspiring and bold role models for generations to come. My ultimate mission is to smash apart outdated legacy stereotypes of what autism and ADHD *look* like, especially for women.

Not only do I want to smash apart these damaging and limiting stereotypes, but I want to open people’s minds to start truly listening and accepting what someone’s experience is in life. Everyone is an individual and just because it doesn’t fit our checklist, label, or box for what we were expecting, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

Research PROVES that embracing a neurodivergent workforce is the secret to success, and there is also research to support that people with ADHD are 500% more likely to be an entrepreneur! Our unique traits are often misunderstood and the very traits that can drive innovation and change, and result in unparalleled success!

It’s time we, as a society and as individuals, open our eyes and our minds and accept each person’s experience to be real and true. And to accept and believe the person’s experience, exactly as they are sharing it. We need to stop trying to make people fit into the boxes we have carefully labelled and start embracing each person for exactly who they are.

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?

As I was launching The Autistic Joyologist, I was so caught up in the excitement, passions, and momentum. I was interviewed by a journalist for my skin & scar clinic and mentioned The Autistic Joyologist and the fact I was diagnosed in my mid-forties. The journalistic piece was supposed to be around tips for other entrepreneurs that had left corporate jobs to start up their own business.

When the article came out, there were none of the tips I’d shared, but my new venture got a mention, and a backlink. Whilst I was over the moon, panic set in, as I wasn’t prepared to have eyes on The Autistic Joyologist! I had to work fast and beg and plead with my digital and web team, to get things moving ahead of schedule and pull some very long hours to get everything in place! I can laugh now, looking back at it. And I was very lucky my digital team came to the rescue!

I learnt that I should be careful with what I share and where! This was a happy moment of madness, but a stark reminder that I tend to rush ahead without much forethought — an impulsive ADHD trait that has got me into hot water many times in my life. Now, I have a careful plan and my virtual team holds me accountable for what I need to be doing!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I have worked with a variety of business coaches and mentors since 2015, but two have really stood out for me.

I had read all of Daniel Priestley’s books, and attended webinars, prior to joining his KPI Accelerator. I was in the early stages of setting up The Autistic Joyologist (it wasn’t called that then), and I was running a multi-award-winning specialist skin & scar clinic. I had just had major spinal surgery, which had left me with permanent nerve damage, making my clinical work difficult.

I had also been diagnosed autistic and ADHD in my mid-forties, and knew my life wasn’t aligned to supporting myself as a neurodivergent woman. I was running a pure in-person, service led business and after the pandemic, my surgery , and then only returning to work part time due to nerve damage, I was deeply aware that every time I couldn’t carry out treatments in person, I wasn’t impacted financially.

I started Daniel’s KPI program, and his advice, guidance and insights were transformational in my skin and scar business, and many of the learnings I have implemented for The Autistic Joyologist too. Daniel has changed the way I run my businesses forever, both from a practical and mindset point of view.

But my huge epiphany came when working with Mark Leruste, as part of the Profile module on KPI. Mark’s webinars were focused around sharing your story to help you stand out, to deeply connect with your audience and to create a business with purpose. After the first session I was left feeling both uneasy and excited. I felt uneasy, because I was 10,000 words into a book, I knew I wasn’t supposed to write. Uneasy because I was ignoring what felt like my calling. After the second session with Mark, I knew to my core I was putting my energies into the wrong thing. I stopped writing my book. I picked up Mark’s book — Glow In The Dark — and devoured the content and exercises. I was starting to get a picture of what I needed to do, through unpacking my own story and sharing it. I reached out to Mark and signed up to his Own Your Story program, and this was where The Autistic Joyologist was born! And it flew, I instinctively knew what to do and how to share my story for good, to create radial change for others. It was as if I was being driven by an external force.

The funny thing is, that as soon as I made that decision and put my energies into The Autistic Joyologist, my energy for my skin and scar business increased, and I created an online skin school, to share my knowledge and expertise.

I will always credit Mark for being the catalyst for changing the trajectory of my life forever! I am so grateful to be able to create a business with purpose and passion, that enables me to support other women like me, but also to shine a huge spotlight on the incredible talents, skills and value that autistic and ADHD females bring. Through sharing my story and experiences, I can play a part in smashing apart outdated legacy stereotypes, to ensure that our future generations can fly, and live their lives boldly, authentically and unapologetically.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

What a great question! I don’t believe that being disruptive is always a good thing, and this is my perspective and view on it.

Being disruptive is a positive thing, if the reason for being disruptive will bring about genuine positive and lasting change. During my time as a leader in corporate legal management, I was known for being a disruptor. When I joined, I would ask the question: “Why do we do it that way?” — and my team were banned from saying ‘because we always have’! I was curious about whether there was a better way, a more efficient way, and a way that created positive change for the business and the individuals involved.

With The Autistic Joyologist, I believe being a disruptor is essential, and positive. The purpose is to enable autistic and ADHD entrepreneurs to thrive on their terms. The purpose is to shine a spotlight on the strengths and gifts of these incredible women, to radically shift perceptions and destroy damaging legacy stereotypes. Combined, these factors will change the future for our younger generations, who will not be bound by the same experiences I, and women like me have faced. Being disruptive creates a better world both now, and in the long term.

I believe that being disruptive is a negative thing, if it comes from a place of ego, desire for power or personal gain. Scaremongering, creating fear and disrupting the lives of others without a genuine positive outcome, either now or for the long term. Where I have experienced negative disruptive behavior are with things like trends and fads, there is a lot of this in the health and beauty industry, where there’s a new trend launched, celebrities get involved and promote a product or service, without truly understanding what they are saying, and this can have a negative impact on the consumer.

For me, the distinction comes down to these questions:

  1. Will being a disruptor drive positive change for multiple people, in the short, medium, and long term?
  2. Does it shine a spotlight on a need for change, that will benefit generations to come?

If I can positively answer these two questions, against my actions and intentions, then I know hand on heart that being a disruptor is the right thing to do.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Curiosity: Approach everything with an open mind and curiosity! One of my first ever business mentors asked me what I was curious about, and my initial answer was ‘everything’! And there’s a lot of truth in that, I am generally a curious person. My brain naturally explores why things are the way they are, particularly when it comes to the human brain, mind, and body. I struggle to accept things as they are — as facts, and love to explore alternative angles and explanations for things. One of my core values is curiosity, as a result, so I can continually learn and grow.

Bravery: I love the feeling that being brave gives me! When I think about being brave, I think about where I can push myself out of my comfort zone. I think about doing something most days that helps me to push my own boundaries and discover what I’m capable of. A few years ago, when I was feeling stuck and lacking confidence, I decided to take horse riding lessons. I am terrified of horses, after a few bad childhood experiences. Nevertheless, I decided that I wanted to take some lessons to overcome my fear — to remind myself what it felt like to step out of my comfort zone and know that I’d be just fine. I was terrified most of the time I was on the horse, but the feeling of pride and accomplishment was amazing! I remember that feeling each time I feel fear creeping back in — and it was a lesson I held on to when I stepped out as The Autistic Joyologist. As a naturally introverted and private person, I could easily have just hidden away and kept my diagnosis to myself — continued to fly under the radar. But I knew in every inch of my mind and body that I was supposed to step up and drive positive change for our younger generations. So, I was brave, and I continue to be brave each day.

Failure: Failure is a part of life; we can’t be amazing at everything and not everything will work out the way we hoped. I personally don’t believe in failure on any level. I believe in lessons and opportunities for growth. It is impossible to get through life without having some perceived failure or another. Learning to get up, dust yourself off and look for opportunities to learn and grow, is the best attitude you can have. If you looked back through my life, particularly my 10 year + entrepreneurial adventures, you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d made many mistakes along the way. To me, those were the moments that I got to move in a different direction, think differently and create some magic. From every moment that looks like a failure on paper — something better and bolder was born from! Start seeing failure as a gift, and your mindset will be changed forever.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Absolutely, this is just the beginning! Whilst my core work is focusing on supporting autistic & ADHD female entrepreneurs and leaders to create thriving, fulfilling and joyful lives — and to redefine success on THEIR terms, the wider mission is much bigger. In supporting and walking alongside these incredible women, we are collectively smashing apart the outdated legacy stereotypes of what autism and ADHD *looks* like, particularly for females. We are creating a bold and special Movement!

We are showcasing the unique talents and strengths of neurodivergent entrepreneurs and leaders, and are becoming bold and inspiring role models, for future generations to come. Through us being bold and brave, and transforming our own lives, we pave the way for autistic & ADHD females to live authentically and unapologetically from a young age, letting their true selves shine through, rather than trying to adapt and force themselves into a version of themselves that society deems to be acceptable.

In doing this, my hope is that we bring awareness to the uniqueness of autism and ADHD in females, and that the diagnostic and support functions will be radically overhauled, so that the traits and needs of females are better understood and supported.

My vision is for our younger generations to live in a society that embraces and supports them, exactly as they are. When they feel seen, heard, and celebrated for the incredible neurodivergent selves.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

I believe that challenges come from multiple angles. For women, it can be hard to build powerful networks, as many industries predominantly have men in position of seniority, who have outdated misogynistic views on women in business. I experienced evidence of this firsthand, during my corporate career, where it was rare to see women in senior positions, and those that were, were not treated fairly or with the same level of respect as their male counterparts.

I believe that women are unfairly questioned and judged about their commitment, often based on whether they have family or an intention to have a family. This can impact whether women are considered as committed or capable of fulfilling demanding roles.

Which leads me to the outdated view that work is supposed to be long, painful hours, with no balance between personal and work life. The mistaken belief that you must be working insane hours and enduring immense stress and pressure. As if long hours and stress are a badge of honor! Many of the most incredible businesswomen I know, other female disruptors, are turning over multi-six figure businesses, and some multi-millions, from business that they run whilst travelling, spending time with their families and generally enjoying life. There is certainly no lack of commitment there — just smart ways of working, which allow for time with those that are important to them.

There is also a huge disparity in funding, for businesses that have women at the head of the business. In the UK , according to exclusive data from the Startups 100 Index, research has shown that men get 6.2x more funding than women in 2023. There are some female led funding initiatives in the UK, but as you can see from these 2023 figures, there’s a long way to go!

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

I have two books that changed my life forever!

I read The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday during the pandemic, and it shifted my mindset completely. After reading it, I decided to make the pandemic my way forward and create an opportunity for positive change. And that is exactly what I did. Whilst everyone else around me sipped on G&T’s in the sunshine, I made a commitment to work 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. I transformed my business — from my website to my services and even took on a brand-new High-Street clinic in October 2020 — just before the December lockdown. Everyone thought I was crazy! But my commitment paid off, the first year after the pandemic I had my most successful year — turning over 3 x what I was earning pre-pandemic, offering treatments I loved, to my perfect ideal clients. Now, when any challenges come my way, I think about how I can make it my way forward.

The second book is Glow In The Dark by Mark Leruste. This book was the catalyst for The Autistic Joyologist! Reading this book made me realise I had a calling — to change the future for autistic and ADHD women, not just now — but for future generations to come! I had had a niggling feeling for around 6 months before reading this book, that I was *supposed* to be focusing my energy on autism and ADHD, but I was pushing it to the back of my mind and working on my skin & scar clinic practice. I read Mark’s book, which focuses on sharing your story in business, to create connection and impact — but it’s a clever and beautiful blend of a business book and therapy, in the same sitting! Ever since I embraced the calling to focus on autism & ADHD for females, I haven’t looked back. And, for anyone that has found their purpose or ‘thing’, this book will be invaluable in helping you share your story for even greater connection and success. It’s a ‘must read’, in my opinion.

The podcast I most regularly listen to is Diary Of A CEO by Steven Bartlett. He has such a diverse range of guests and topics that there’s always something to gain from listening to his interviews with his guests. I love that I can listen to a podcast interview with someone that I know little about but gain so much value from. I prefer to watch the interviews on YouTube, in truth, because you gain a wonderful feeling of connection.

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. :-)

I love this question and it’s an easy one for me to answer! I am on an absolute mission to smash apart outdated legacy stereotypes of autism and ADHD ‘*look* like, especially for females. I want to empower this generation of female & autistic women to create lives that are aligned to THEIR values, goals, passions, and dreams, where they can show up authentically and unapologetically as themselves. Where they can create thriving, fulfilling and happy lives and redefine success on THEIR terms, and stop trying to fit into the versions of ‘success’ that society hold up as normal.

In doing this, we transform the perceptions of what autism and ADHD *looks* like and shine a spotlight on the capabilities and unique skills that females have. And as we transform our lives as neurodivergent adult women, we become bold and inspiring leaders for our younger generations.

Something I feel passionate about is the belief that we, as a society, need to stop looking at checklists and stereotypes, and trying to force people to fit into the boxes we have carefully labelled in our own minds. We need to start to listen to what others are telling us about their personal and unique experiences, and we need to BELIEVE in them! My autism and ADHD diagnosis’ have been dismissed by people in my close circle because I don’t fit their version of what autism and ADHD *looks* like. They aren’t interested in my lived experiences or feelings, and it leads to a deep feeling of rejection and isolation that is worse than the disconnection I felt for most of my life. There I was, sharing my true self and it was rejected, because I didn’t fit into their carefully labelled boxes.

We need to do better as a society. We need to open our eyes, ears and hearts and start to accept people as exactly who they say they are, and we need to embrace and support them.

I will continue to work tirelessly to support autistic and ADHD women in shining and thriving, and my hope is that the diagnostic and support system will be radically overhauled. My hope is that support services are tailored for individual needs, and that I can be a voice for change, that will leave a lasting positive impact for generations to come.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are” Brené Brown. I also love Brené’s quote “I am not going to negotiate who I am with you”.

I spent much of my life, pre-autism, and ADHD diagnosis, trying to fit in and find my place in the world. I was a prolific people pleaser and always tried to be the version of myself that others needed or wanted from me. As a result, I was constantly compromising who I was, and I was afraid to let the real me be seen or heard, for fear of judgement or rejection.

Post diagnosis, I have been able to truly understand and connect with myself and start to show up in my life authentically and unapologetically. I know who I am, and I no longer look to be the version of myself that others want or need from me.

I love the quote “I am not going to negotiate who I am with you”. If I am being asked to do something in a way that doesn’t feel aligned for me, I don’t do it. I feel empowered to advocate for myself, to look after my needs and stay true to my own values and goals. After decades of bending and twisting myself to suit others, this has been one of the most liberating and powerful mantras in my life! It also works beautifully with my RADIATE model, and helps me stay aligned to my own values, goals, and self.

These are lessons I take through all areas of my life and have had such a positive impact on both my professional and personal life. Being able to embrace authenticity and truly live it has enabled me to create a life where I feel calm, safe, seen and heard.

I’m living life on MY terms — It feels like freedom!

How can our readers follow you online?

Home — The Autistic Joyologist

https://www.facebook.com/autisticjoyologist

Nikki Butler — The Autistic Joyologist (@autisticjoyologist) • Instagram photos and videos

www.linkedin.com/in/nikkibutlerautisticjoyologist

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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