Design ︎︎ 24 Jun 2015            


Preface: My sweet friend, Kathleen Shannon, hosts a weekly podcast called “Being Boss” with her partner, Emily Thompson. In a recent road trip to & from San Francisco, I was catching up on my episodes when I heard Episode #13 featuring The Jealous Curator’s Danielle Krysa. In it, she recalled having to begin working on her third book, the first of which she would be writing all on her own. She told the story of sitting a restaurant, set to spend the day flowing through the first parts of her project, and ending up in a full-fledged panic attack. Post-panic, she calmed herself & decided to begin writing exactly what she was going through in the moment. Shunning all feelings of having to be more polished or put together than she actually felt in the presence of this daunting project, she poured her authentic and honest feelings onto paper (a Word document) and, behold, an Introduction was born. I related strongly to this story. After months of anxiety and panic about how to utilize this oddly amorphous time in my career, I decided to take my own advice from my previous essay and choose vulnerability. I poured it out for you to see with no concept of how it will be received. My only hope is to pay the honesty forward, and, like Danielle’s mission, if I can help one person feel less alone while battling similar feelings, then it will have been worth it. Thanks for showing up.

In the last month, I have been in my new home city of Los Angeles a total of 7 days.


First, I was on a three-week stint on the East Coast celebrating the marriage of one of my best friends, with a break to visit my old stomping ground of New York City, and some time around Philly and New Jersey with family. Then, not long after my return, I ran up to San Francisco to spend time with more close friends I hadn’t seen in a long while. For most, if not all, of the people I have been reconnecting with, this is the first time we had seen each other face-to-face since I left New York; and the first question that leaves each person’s lips, verbatim, is the same across the board:

How is LA treating you?

My immediate reaction feels like someone put a sand bag on my stomach. But I wait an extra beat, one that I hope will go unnoticed, and I pull my mind back to the big picture to remember that I am exponentially happier and healthier (in mind and body) in LA than I was in New York. And, although I am not one for glazing over the truth to make for lighter & more pleasing conversation as a courtesy to my listener, I reply a neutral but honest, “Life is great. Work is hard.”

The follow-up conversation diverges at this point depending on the company, but the tone tends to stay fairly neutral. And the inquiring party, despite all genuinely empathetic intentions, tends to hit a brick wall with the conversation not long after. The problem with all of this is that the last thing I actually feel about the subject is neutral. I think the reality is that I’ve been so highly emotional about it all for so long, in so many rainbows of colors over the last few months, that I, myself, have hit a brick wall. And emotions, while valuable to show that I deeply care about building my business, don’t serve me when they skew towards total despair and hopelessness.

I, myself, have hit a brick wall.

As I type, I’m thinking, “Despair and hopelessness?? Girl, quit the Days of Our Lives drama!” And my inner critic is not wrong. Let’s zoom out: 7 months ago, I quit my full time job making art for Broadway theater advertising, I left NYC which had been my home for 5+ years, and the East Coast which had been my home my whole life to road trip across the country and start up my own freelance studio in LA. On the way, I found an apartment that I love where the street smells like lilacs & the birds chirp all the time. I found a brand of vulnerability, self awareness, and body positivity that I never knew existed. I started training at pole dancing, and have found a sisterhood beyond compare. And I have the time, space and freedom to make almost anything I want, due to not being beholden to a full time employer. How many people would kill for these opportunities? Raise your hand. I’m raising my hand…

So I count my blessings, but there is still an intrinsic block. I feel disheartened at how difficult it’s been to connect with LA’s art/design/media community in any type of consistent way. I feel invisible, because despite the large numbers of emails I have sent to various creatives at companies I’d love to work with, and despite some very sweet & supportive replies, my client list is zero at the moment. But most of all, while all communities & business minds I know talk about failure being a part of the process, and how we should not be ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it, when you’re in the thick of it, it feels incredibly shameful. It does not feel productive or like part of a larger and more sparkly plan. And I do feel horribly invisible & alone in the process. (I really can’t believe I just admitted that on the internet. You still with me?)

I don’t share this to instigate sympathy or pity. I know I will get to where I’m going, because it’s in my blood to keep going. Because I love what I do, and I feel that maybe I’ve been trying to fill a certain mold of a design professional without consciously realizing it. But as someone who has made a point to emphasize the banishment of shame & importance of vulnerability, I feel I need to put my money where my mouth is. And I can deal with the discomfort of figuring it all out, and not getting it right a few times at first, but I can’t deal with shame. I can’t deal with not sharing this part of the process. Because maybe you’ve been here or maybe you are here or maybe someday you will be. And maybe something in the sharing will give you the bit of comfort it takes to get through the rough patch; or maybe we can give it to each other.So I will continue to be a boss, a professional, a leader, an artist, a visual designer, a pole dancer, and an Instagrammer of my breakfast. These are the things that I am, because I can’t not be them. And I also can’t not be honest with you. I’m just sorry I kept it from you for this long… ︎︎

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©2017 Jillian Adel