Belonging – finding my place in our community

Posted by Leah Davis on 19.10.23

Growing up in a small village on the outskirts of Bristol, I’ve always valued the importance of community from a young age. Being creative is in my blood, and so is making connections.

During my time at university studying Graphic Design, I remember feeling so at home being around so many like-minded people. I’ve always felt a bit different from others, but attending talks and events full of design professionals and like-minded students, I felt reassured and energised.

I soon realised my brain had this incredible ability to think of new ideas, and I could focus for hours learning something new or doing a task. These strengths are what kept me going when I most doubted myself, and I landed an internship at OsbornePike at the end of my degree in 2017.

This is where I spent six years, where I developed from Junior to Senior Designer. Learning from others in a warm environment allowed me to flourish and grow, with supportive mentors who had years of experience in the industry. I used this time to meet people, and form new connections with like-minded designers. As well as work on famous European household brands (that was pretty cool too).

But even after two promotions and six years in the industry, I struggled with some differences that I couldn’t understand. For years I put this down to anxiety, but something still didn’t feel right.

Through university, I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome which never left, even after six years of experience — how could someone like me be good enough to do this role? At times, I’m sure this held me back. I often wouldn’t pursue ideas because I lacked confidence.

I also find it difficult to plan and organise like others, and I’m only really motivated by short, tight deadlines. If I don’t have a deadline, good luck motivating me! My brain seemed to be wired differently to some of my peers, who could just get on with work. My productivity can vary from day to day, which is hard to plan for!

I can be extremely sensitive to criticism, and even if only a small mistake was highlighted, I would ruminate on it for hours. This could be incredibly draining and I realised I was more prone to burn-out than others.

One day, I was scrolling through social media, and I watched a few videos that talked about ADHD, and the symptoms. I felt like suddenly everything made sense. This was the reason I found things harder than others, and most importantly, I realised it wasn’t my fault.

In February 2023, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD for short.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve been incredibly open about who I am, and I’ve learned that a lot of my design peers are also neurodivergent — it’s actually more common than I thought! I’ve given a presentation to my work colleagues, and I’ve even been a part of a panel event about ADHD in the creative industries. I’ve never felt so comfortable talking about the struggles I’ve faced because I felt the full support of the community behind me.

In September, I embarked on my freelance journey, which I’m still new to, but I’m starting to understand myself and what I need to flourish. I can now take as much time off as I deem necessary to stop myself from burning out, and I realise my sensitivity to feedback was probably due to Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (intense emotional pain you feel related to rejection).

Without the help and guidance of the design community, I don’t think I would have found it as easy to open up about my true self, and to no longer be as ashamed of the things I find difficult. Creating these connections have really encouraged me to keep going when I’ve found things tough, both creatively and personally.

I still have my struggles, but I’m proud that after everything I’ve overcome, I’ve managed to have a successful career in the industry I love. I truly believe that if you want something, you can get there, no matter what barriers you have to face.

Leah Davis, Freelance Designer + WEDF volunteer
Leah Davis Design Instagram