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2021 – A Year in Review

Illustration version of my office space!

There's something I love doing at times like these when it's time to reflect. Some make some new habits and changes, and set ambitions for the upcoming year, decade, century. For me, it's reminiscing.

Not the naive reminiscing, like "ahh those were better times back then," but more like, "look at all that I did back then, that all led to this very moment and position I'm in right now."

Anyone who knows me knows I have a big sense of gratitude for a lot of things, big and small. I really do feel like small choices and actions lead to bigger paths and opportunities – it really does just take that first step to get closer.

And I'm telling you, 2021 was full of choices.

Let's review, shall we?

1. I. Quit. My. Job.

Something that was pretty satisfying to look back on was my 2020 – A Year in Review post, and the last item on that list was "13. Putting in my official notice to leave a company after 1.5 years." While that job may not have been my favorite experience ever, I'm still grateful for the patience I learned, money I saved, and stronger work ethic I developed in my downtime.

January 29th was my last day, and February 1st would be the first day of my newfound freedom and true independence :)


2. Officially started freelancing under Audrey Stemen Design & Creative

It's awesome that 2020 was a year of preparing to go freelance, and 2021 was actually doing the damn thing. I'll never forget the morning of February 1st where my calendar was empty for once, Justin and I's shitty coffee maker at the time made a good cup of coffee, and the sun was shining a bit brighter. (Actually it definitely rained that day but I overlooked it 😊)

I also like to look back at all of the habits I tried to set in place under my own jurisdiction, one of them (that I laugh a little at now) is keeping a Google Doc of everything I did that day. From meet & greets, to working on a proposal, even getting a paycheck... it got out of hand pretty quickly, and at some point lost the steam. Not only that, but I guess I did a video "Captain's Log" every week too of all that was done... I think I only made about 8 of them hahaha. (Peep at the video above to see my first ever log of being so nervous and excited 😆)

Not to say I won't revisit that (because honestly it's a great idea to keep a log of some kind in case you need to look back in records,) but go with grace 😅

They always say your first few months are going to be slow at first. And it was – but not as slow as I was anticipating. I had more meetings than anything, and all projects came a month or so later. I was making whatever chump change I could while trying to gain momentum. Now, by my 1-year freelance anniversary, I will have made more than my salary at my last job. Which, that in itself was a goal I always had but didn't put too much stock in it.

Goals matter. :)

A big lesson – learn to actually believe in yourself, and not leave the idea of your success in the hands of others. :)


3. Publicly launched Vandyl on March 1st

As if I wasn't already sweating with nervous laughter for the launching of my own independence – Justin, Xavier and I were wrapping up an internally-produced launch video with the help of so many amazing friends and colleagues that made it possible.

We made an entire video January through February, teased it, and officially kicked Vandyl out into the public ether and let it be judged by the Gods.

I'll never forget sitting up in Justin's office where we had pre-written copy, had the "upload" button ready to hit on YouTube, and our first Vandyl Tweet ready to be sent. Our hands were shaking, palms were sweaty, mom's spaghetti (–Eminem.) Once it was sent, we left to go eat our favorite German food in Columbus.

Es war gut. 😁

Almost a year after launching, we now have gained almost 1,700 followers (all organic growth,) had many talks with other org owners, creative directors, potential sponsors, and a lot of Vandyl fans and supporters who are looking to be a part of our mission to bridge the gap between film and gaming.

All nothing short of inspiring. And we're still trucking forward.


4. I turned 24.


5. Justin and I decided to move to Phoenix, Arizona!

That's right – I'm writing this post from The Valley and it just feels great. Justin and I made the executive decision to pack up our life from Columbus, OH in March and moved it to Phoenix, AZ by end of May... But even before that, Justin somehow managed to leave his old editor position and become a creative video lead in social content for Carvana.

It was a pretty laborious journey to move across the country, but somehow we did it. Also, it was Rocky's best car ride of his life. The damn dog got to sleep with us in a hotel for crying out loud.


6. Justin and I celebrated 2 years together.

Just another casual plug about my partner in crime and creativity 🖤 Couldn't do any of this without him.


7. Our Vandyl team grew... in more ways than one. AND COMPETED!

It's amazing what can happen when you cultivate a community that truly believes in what you're doing, and believe in it so much that they want to be a part of making it grow further.

We brought on a couple of fellows, Jordan and Andrew, to help expand our knowledge in the esports and sponsorship standpoints. We're now a strong team of 5 that are doing the work of an army. So grateful for their work and belief in us.

Not only did our internal team grow a bit, but we somehow managed to find a group of ultra-talented Halo players that wanted to play under the Vandyl name for the Halo Championship Series. We all went to Raleigh, North Carolina for Halo Infinite's first live competitive event of the season, and was an absolute huge deal. Xavier (bless his heart) ran around with a camera for four days capturing our players doing what they do best, before and after, and the event itself.

Vandyl Halo Team for Raleigh: Zurka, Karmea, Cherished, and Wensoar

Our Halo Team placed in the top 32 teams in the WORLD out of about 256. They showed the hell up for their first time playing together in person – and for two of them, their first live competition event ever.


8. Ended the year with a great list of clients and work.

It goes without saying that this year had a lot of great surprises. There were definitely some times of struggle, but fortunately, nothing that we couldn't get past. Imposter Syndrome knocked at my door many times, sometimes I answered, sometimes I had to tell it I was too busy crushing it 🔥

I'm beyond fortunate to have met some great people that became my clients over the last year, and crafted some wonderful relationships as well as creative work together. I literally couldn't do this without you!

Some of my highlighted clients of 2021:

Made by Things (shoutout to my favorite, Matt Vojacek, who I always shoot the business shit with)

Fivestone Studios (some of the coolest people I've ever met)

Hoodzpah (baddest twin sister queens around)

Adobe MAX (yes, you read that right. I couldn't believe it either.)

Cream Studio (small but ever so mighty team of visionaries I'm still doing work for, and I love it!)

But no matter what, doing is growth. And while I may think I did a lot last year, it's nothing compared to what I'm planning on doing this year.

Thanks for all of the support and growing with me, as usual. I'm so fortunate to be where I am in my career, and I only hope it keeps skyrocketing. :)

Cheers 🍻

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