"Daring to succeed" by Izzi Lerwill, Public Services Advisory Executive
"Daring to succeed" by Izzi Lerwill
Public Services Advisory Executive
“I’m often told I’m a very smiley and happy person. I guess what my smile hides is that I had a very difficult childhood. I’m proud of myself for daring to succeed and my resilience to overcome challenges in my life. I hope my story inspires people to be the best versions of themselves and not to be deterred by comparing themselves to others or allowing others to restrict their potential.”
Chapter 1: Growing up
I grew up in Kent and went to the University of Bath to study Natural Sciences. While in Bath I also worked in event management and the nightclub industry – we ran local music festivals and organised mansion house parties. I’m part of the first generation in my family to go to university. Coming from a lower socio-economic background I had to work multiple jobs while I was studying, but this turned out to be very helpful when it came to balancing studying for the ACA alongside a full-time job in Audit. When I graduated, I started an ACA training contract in audit in Leicester/Nottingham, but relocated to St Albans after two years where I joined Grant Thornton. When I completed the ACA I transferred from audit to public services advisory as an executive in the Financial Modelling team in London.
Growing up I used to spend most of my time outside of school volunteering at animal sanctuaries and working in wildlife rehabilitation. Working closely with rescued pigs was one of the main reasons I became vegan when I was 12. I’ve always enjoyed baking and write my own recipes – baking without eggs/dairy is a lot easier than most people expect. Outside of work, I can often be found watching Drag shows. I’m lucky to live in Brighton, home to some of the most fantastic local drag queens, kings, princes and performers. I find juggling a great way to relax and learnt to juggle while I was in secondary school. I enjoy travelling and have recently visited Australia, Japan, Germany and Norway. Tasmania is my favourite place to visit – there’s a fantastic wildlife sanctuary there called Bonorong that does amazing rehabilitation work.
I’ve learnt to pay no mind to anyone who tries to tell me I can’t achieve something just because of who I am (a very wise lesson taught by mama RuPaul).
Chapter 2: The resilience part
I’m often told I’m a very smiley and happy person. I guess what my smile hides is that I had a very difficult childhood. My parents divorced when I was in infant school and initially my biological mother got full custody. I grew up in poverty and often the free school lunches I received would be the only meal I had that day. My biological mother was highly abusive but, with the encouragement of support staff at school, I moved out when I was 17. Despite this, I finished school with four A-levels, two AS-levels and 12 GCSEs. I moved to Bath when I was 18 to study Natural Sciences at the University of Bath, which was such a fantastic experience. I was diagnosed with complex post traumatic stress disorder in my final year of university as a result of prolonged childhood abuse. Counselling helped me learn how to best manage my mental health and on the days when I struggle with my PTSD I remind myself of how resilient I am and how far I’ve come.
It took me a long time to fully appreciate that although my immediate safety improved when I left home at 17, and the physical scars faded, the emotional damage would leave a long-lasting impact on my mental health. I’m no longer ashamed to say I have a mental health condition as a direct result of childhood abuse. I’ve seen multiple fantastic counsellors and proudly say that cognitive behavioural therapy massively changed my life. I’d always encourage everyone to talk about their mental health and wellbeing with friends, family, your GP or anyone you feel comfortable speaking to.
The day before I sat my ACA Tax Compliance exam, I discovered a lump in my breast, so went to see my GP about it the following morning after my exam. They referred me to the Nottingham Breast Institute, which took scans and decided I needed to have minor surgery so they could take several biopsies. Unfortunately, the results came back with undetermined malignant potential. The surgeon explained I needed to have surgery to fully remove the lump to be sent for more extensive testing as well as samples from the surrounding tissue. It was a really difficult time. At just 22 it’s not the sort of thing that you expect to be happening. I was studying for my final professional stage ACA exams at the time and had to miss some classes to be at hospital. Fortunately, when my final results came back they showed definitively that the surrounding tissue was healthy and my surgeon described the lump as just a precursor and they were satisfied it had been removed fully. It was a huge relief! I share my story as a reminder to others to regularly check yourself for lumps, regardless of your age or gender, and if in doubt to see your GP. Literally anyone can get cancer and the key to survival is early diagnosis.
I’m so glad to have my Dad fully in my life now and for him to be so supportive of who I am and what I do. I get my strong work ethic from him – he grew up on a working farm and used to work as a private firefighter. Despite being past the UK retirement age he still works 12 hour shifts in security. I’m so lucky to have three incredible sisters who are all so talented and wonderful. There’s about a 10 year age gap between my elder sisters and me, and they’ve always been there for advice and support. There’s only a year between my younger sister and me. Growing up together we were often mistaken as twins and we share such a close bond. I live in Brighton with my amazing girlfriend and our little boy (okay, he’s a dwarf hamster that we rescued, but he has a heart of pure gold). I’m lucky to have a wide-ranging friendship group across the world, some of whom I’ve known since school. My unique childhood has made me into the highly motivated, optimistic and compassionate person that I am today and I’m really excited to see what the future brings.
Chapter 3: Kindness costs nothing
We unfortunately live in a world with some individuals who are racist, sexist, homophobic, biphobic, transphobic, ableist etc. I’ve learnt to pay no mind to anyone who tries to tell me I can’t achieve something just because of who I am (a very wise lesson taught by mama RuPaul). I’d love to help to inspire people to be the best versions of themselves and not to be deterred by comparing themselves to others or allowing others to restrict their potential. There’s a phrase that really resonates with me: “The enemy of the good is the perfect.” It reminds me that we’re only human and so long as you honestly try your best, that’s all that really matters.
I've spent most of my life to date in a place where I didn’t have my freedom. I promised myself as a child that once I escaped that situation, I’d live my best life and be free to be me. That’s why it’s so important to work for an inclusive employer where I can bring my whole self to work. I walk through those doors knowing that I won’t be judged simply for who I am. I’m comforted by the knowledge that when things go wrong, my employer will support me.
The culture at Grant Thornton is really special. Unlike other places I’ve worked, we don’t have restrictive dress code policies here that police your self-expression. I can have “unnatural” hair colours, visible piercings and tattoos, because my employer respects that these don’t have a negative impact on my ability to work. If anything, enabling people to self-express in a way they feel comfortable allows them to bring their whole self to work and, as such, their performance will be even better.
Izzi's story is part of our 'Stories of our diverse workforce' where we've asked our people to open up and share their own personal story. To read more stories, follow the link below