The ‘Fake Lifer’ Who Has Found Her Dream Job

Lizzy Paulson ’03 laughs freely and frequently.

Lizzy and Rob Kesselman ’03 in Kindergarten at CA

She laughs when she calls herself a “Fake Lifer” at Colorado Academy. Yes, the typical Lifer would attend CA from Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade. But Paulson left Colorado for seventh grade, so her CA career was interrupted. She believes that she made up for it by attending Kindergarten twice and thus has earned the right to call herself a “Fake Lifer.”

She laughs when she recalls the nickname she earned on the soccer pitch at CA: “Tenacious P.”

She also laughs when she talks about how she “became a much cooler auntie” with her latest career move. After all, what child wouldn’t want an aunt who has the word “Disney” in her job title?

But when she talks about the professional path she has followed to her current position, she becomes serious.

“The role that I am now in is my dream job,” she says. “I built my career to get to this place. It was very intentional.”

And, as she approaches her 20th Class Reunion, she is serious about how her CA classmates have continued to be valued friends and inspired her through the years, starting on Commencement Day when Michaela Icenogle delivered the student address.

“She said we are all born with a spark, and we can do anything with that spark, so it is our responsibility not to let it die,” Paulson says. “For me, that meant pursuing a higher purpose and a greater good to the best of my ability.”

How she makes the impossible possible

At that Commencement she remembers so well, Paulson was one of 62 Seniors. Five of them would head to the University of Southern California (USC) along with her. At USC, she found “a much bigger pond” where she was one of 40,000. And that gives her another reason to laugh.

“Coming from CA, I was under the impression that I should know everyone’s middle name and their siblings!” she says. “So I introduced myself to every stranger. By the end of freshman year, people thought I was a senior because I knew so many people.”

From USC, she headed to a California event-planning company, an experience where, she says, her work was “trial by fire,” teaching her to become “a very creative problem solver—really embracing the concept that nothing is impossible.”

Case in point? Well, there was the day the CEO of the company stopped by her desk to tell her she needed to find a functioning 747 jet engine to be used in the reveal of a prototype car at a New York auto show—the next day.

And there was the Academy Awards Governors Ball where, at the very last minute, she discovered that 1,500 custom-sewn slipcovers did not fit the 1,500 chairs that had been custom built for the event. With Good Morning America ready to broadcast live from the location in a matter of hours, Paulson set up an on-site workshop to deconstruct the chairs, adjusting them just enough to accommodate the ill-fitting covers.

“I think that developing a superpower was inherent in my CA education,” Paulson says. “One of my superpowers was the ability to take an over-the-top idea or concept and project plan it into reality.”

Her event-planning experience, combined with her inherent tenacity, served her well at her next position, where she could exercise her passion for giving back to the local community as Time Warner Cable’s Events Director, Corporate Brand and Reputation. In that role, she oversaw the company’s philanthropic outreach, including the $100 million Connect a Million Minds initiative.

“We set out to inspire the next generation of STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) students by connecting one million minds to various programs in the STEM field,” she says. “It was my job to bring those partnerships to life.”

Paulson’s next career move was to United Way of L.A. where she worked with C-suite executives serving on the board. She realized that even though she had a lot of real-world experience, these executives had a common point of view and shared language that was not wholly familiar to her. She decided to return to school for an MBA at Stanford to better fit into their world.

“If I am able to speak in a way that people understand in any room, I can better advocate for social and environmental justice issues,” she says. “If you are a CEO, it’s important to do the right thing. But I have to be able to explain how doing the right thing helps people, the planet, and profit.”

How she is starting a revolution

“I was a Disney kid,” Paulson laughs. “I grew up watching the movies, wanting to go to Disneyland.”

Today, the Disney kid is a Disney professional, fulfilling her goal to work for a company that has grassroots activations with investments in hyper-localized communities as well as large-scale global campaigns. As Corporate Social Responsibility Manager at Disney Media & Entertainment Distribution, she has major opportunities to influence one of the biggest and best-known companies in the world. She can distill her job into two simple sentences.

“My role is building social campaigns and programs around Disney content and intellectual property that is being distributed,” she says. “My mission is to inspire a better world through the power of stories.”

Currently, she is implementing programs that fulfill Disney’s significant commitment to the patient journey in children’s hospitals by donating Disney-themed hospital gowns, toys, and merchandise. In addition, Disney builds and donates mobile movie theaters playing first-run movies in hospitals to create “a moment of normalcy for children who can watch their favorite show.” Disney also provides Disney+ at no charge globally in nearly 500 children’s hospitals.

“We work with child life specialists who are trained to decide whether to leverage our content with children,” Paulson says. “The goal is to help alleviate the stress, anxiety, and fear a child might have in a hospital setting.”

For an adult, understanding a sick child’s fear and stress in a hospital means putting oneself in someone else’s (very small) shoes. For Paulson, her natural ability to feel empathy for others was enhanced throughout her time at CA but especially in one department.

“I absolutely loved the theater,” she says. “You were always putting yourself into a character, and you had to understand their background. Now, I approach every person with the understanding that they have a backstory—their own experiences, challenges, and triumphs. If you connect with people in a way that is meaningful to them, you can unlock infinite potential.”

Lizzy with her partner David McKenzie

Visit Paulson’s LinkedIn page, and you can’t help notice that the first sentence of her self-description refers back to her days at CA. “In high school, my senior superlative was ‘Most Likely to Plan a Revolution,’” she writes. But Paulson’s vision of a revolution has nothing to do with flag waving. Instead, it speaks to her passion for being a “catalyst for good within my organization.” That commitment started at CA—in her classes and in the theater—and continues today.