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  • Leah Sayles

How to Recognize Success, When You Feel Stuck: 2019 in a Nutshell

Updated: Jul 30

Before the winter holidays, I attempted to write a blog post about my 2019 year and it's accompanying successes. What goals had I reached? What achievements? Instead, all I could do was compare what I felt was a mediocre year to social media facades of those who I look up to, and most of all to the success and progress that I want to achieve over time and felt I wasn't close enough to. I scrapped my post, feeling stuck and overwhelmed.


What exactly had I done in 2019?


I went about my holidays after that, doing what I could to not feel as if the time I was allowing myself to take was unworthy and that I should get back to work ASAP, which was extremely hard. Like many independent creatives, especially those who are ambitious and hardworking (which, let's be honest, you can't be dedicated and successful in a self-employed profession and NOT be ambitious and hardworking), I often find myself being far too hard on myself; telling myself that I should be more than what I am.


Over the holidays, I gave myself time. Time to think; contemplate how 2020 was going to be different than 2019; how I was going to further my success. I also thought about how far I've come, having stepped away from a 9 to 5 to strive towards my passions; how I've learned so much about the field of illustration – the field I so greatly want to find a steady foothold in. I thought about the 2010's in a nutshell, and what purpose 2019 meant and brought as a finale to that decade.


If the first seventeen years of my life were the sprouting of my being, the 2010 decade was my budding period. I finally accepted my talent, realizing I wanted to be a part of the art world. I started as a young artist who grew into a well-versed graphic designer. I took my first steps towards professional growth in that profession, not knowing or realizing that graphic design was the perfect base to stand on while I understand my true goals further. The 2010's helped me learn so much that I didn't know I needed in order to take my next steps in this new decade as an independent creative – and especially as I find the footholds I need to as an illustrator.


At the end of this budding decade, 2019 was a year of transition.


I worked on so many different types of projects, both graphic design and illustration, for a variety of different fields and in so many different styles. Magazines. Advertisements and promotions. Layout. Branding. Line work. Realism. Black and white. Flat color. Vectorized illustration. Character design. Science fiction and fantasy illustration. Portraiture. Architectural illustration. Movie poster illustration and design. Surface design and pattern illustration. Fine art. Painting. I launched my web shop and Patreon pages. I researched and found out more about so many of the pathways to graphic design and illustration that I could take as I grow my business further and further. I learned so much and grew with each project.


I moved my studio back to my hometown of Atlanta, Ga and created a home for myself and my husband, who traveled most of the year abroad for the US Marines and whose 2019 home base was nowhere near the city. I moved back to Atlanta just in time to care for my mother, who had a stroke half way through the year. I worked through my long distance relationship, while taking care of my business, my mother, and my own self care. I took care of my family.


I focused on my health and fitness journey. I started working out every day – dancing, running, yoga, barre. I started eating healthier foods. I lost thirty pounds before I started strength training half of the week and gained fifteen of those pounds back, but instead of fatty tissue, it's all muscle. I also focused on my mental health. I combatted my own sense of anxiety and depression and pushed through so many barriers – loneliness, fear, insecurity. I am stronger and healthier, both mentally and physically, than I have felt in quite a long while.


I rekindled old friendships, and made new ones. Not only was I able to closely reconnect with some of my oldest friends, I was able to find a community of amazing fellow artists and designers by attending Illustration Master Class at Amherst College in June as well as getting more involved in my local AIGA chapter. In those settings, I found peers who have the same worries that I do, as well as mentors who have been able to help guide myself and my work in the right direction. I found footholds in the communities I needed in order to grow, both personally and professionally.


And all of this is only a small sample of everything I achieved.


Dreams take time, and my dreams are no different.


The 2010's were a decade of self realization and growth, a decade of transition into the person I truly want to be in this life. I am so different than the girl that I started this decade as. 2019 has helped me in so many ways to prepare for the life that I have so desperately been in search of – a life with the most amazing friends, family, peers, and mentors; a life full of optimism and opportunity; a life of professional and personal balance; a life of achievement and success.


Maybe I felt that, before the holidays, 2019 had not been as successful as I truly hoped it to be, but in retrospect I now realize that it was exactly the opposite. It was the perfect wrap-up to a budding decade.


Now, I'm ready to blossom.


From here, I will continue to grow and change and adapt while standing on a base of professional and personal support that I never could have imagined having in my life.


My lesson to you?


Never give up. Never surrender.

Work hard, be ambitious, and persevere.

Be honest and authentic.

Be bold and vibrant.

Be you.

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Leah Sayles © 2020