How a late ADHD diagnosis boosted my career

Emma Castle shares her experience of being diagnosed with ADHD and the importance of being authentic

Emma Castle

Founder and Owner of Bright Island Bright Island


Last year, at the age of 41, I was diagnosed with ADHD. And despite knowing I’m in good company, particularly in creative agency land, actually writing it down in black and white feels really vulnerable. And I can’t lie, unmasking myself as a neurodivergent agency owner in a highly competitive industry is nerve-wracking, to say the least.

When I cast my mind back to when I was first diagnosed, I think my brain went into panic mode. There are a million things whizzing through my mind at the best of times - it kind of comes with the territory - but suddenly there were a whole host of new questions rattling around in there. Like do I need to keep it hidden? What will my clients and colleagues think? Will it affect how they value my work? Will they even want to work with me?

But I soon got more comfortable with the diagnosis and felt a sense of relief. I’ve always apologised for my ‘Emma-isms’, but maybe I now don’t have to. Things I thought were just quirks in my personality took on new meaning. So that’s why I have a collection of 50 vintage West German lamps, a heavy reliance on noise-cancelling headphones and a tendency to blurt out my love of yoghurt to unsuspecting colleagues who are deep in concentration (sorry Terry). Did I really ping-pong my way through 41 years of life without people noticing?

I decided it was nothing to be ashamed of, so I pulled up my big girl pants and was candid about it. I opened up to my colleagues, friends and family. The responses ranged from “Well, duh” (thanks Ed) and “Yeah now you mention it, it makes total sense” to “Oh that surprises me” and “Aren’t you brave!”. The more I talked, the better I felt, the weights were dropping off my shoulders and the mask was falling.

Now I know what kind of brain I have and better understand how I work.

Emma Castle, Founder and Owner of Bright Island

But perhaps the response that really helped me frame things positively was from my very wise dad. The one who never questioned my childhood collections and obsessions and supported my random creative projects. He reminded me that knowledge is power. And it was now up to me what I did with this new information and self-awareness.

On reflection, I’d say my ADHD may have been the power behind my skills and talent all along. A superpower, if you will. I’ve always been highly creative, I can solve problems and see things from perspectives that others maybe don’t. I can spot patterns and see trends emerge, I have huge amounts of empathy and I’m hugely passionate. Yes, I may lose my train of thought but it often leads me to somewhere quirky and unexpected. I can also hyperfocus and keep going until 2am on a pitch because I'm so invested and really do care.

All this time, I thought this was just me: creative but scatty at times. Now I know what kind of brain I have and better understand how I work. I'm learning to reframe it as part of the reason I’ve been successful so far. To consider it a positive thing, an advantage and strength in this industry and my profession.

I’ve just launched my baby - my very own agency Bright Island with the values of authenticity and connection at the core. I’ve chosen to lean into the power of divergent thinking, to tap into that advantage and fully celebrate it. I can’t operate authentically in a world that’s notoriously all about smoke and mirrors if I’m not being true to myself and putting myself out there.

Things are changing as more of us discover more about it, more awareness and more authentic conversations with friends and colleagues. I consider some of the attributes associated with ADHD as really valuable in the creative world. Great minds don’t always think alike, after all. Thinking differently is what clients strive for. They’re after ideas and visions of something that feels almost impossible in advertising - something new. Something that will take the world by storm and help them grow and be successful.

And despite it being scary, it was totally worth having those conversations and letting myself feel vulnerable. My agency is live and I'm unapologetically Emma. I still have friends, and a very supportive fiancé even. Clients haven’t run away and left me. Business has continued to come in. Work has gone out into the world and it’s some of my best stuff.

I’ve also seen a ripple effect of positives since discussing it openly. Close friends’ diagnoses have been a comfort and source of deeper connection. I’ve never felt so connected to myself and others around me. More people are curious, more people are aware, more people can relate, be it to themselves or to someone close to them.

And it all boils down to authenticity. Not just a buzzword, but something that all of us want more than ever. We value realness. In a world of AI perfection, something that marks us out as different or quirky makes us even more human. Being vulnerable is where the magic happens, after all.

So back to my dad’s words, knowledge is power. Let’s harness that knowledge to share our stories, celebrate our neurodiversity and continue that ripple effect - empowering others in the industry to embrace it and be proud of it. And who doesn’t love a conversation about yoghurt?

Guest Author

Emma Castle

Founder and Owner of Bright Island Bright Island


Emma Castle is the founder and owner of Margate-based creative agency, Bright Island. She has over 20 years’ experience in the industry as an art director turned creative director, transforming fashion, retail, interiors, beauty and lifestyle brands. Emma now uses her unique perspective to connect brands to their audiences through joyful, emotion-led 360 campaigns, tapping into her local creative community and little black book of industry big-hitters to make it all happen.