GenCon is, without a doubt, my favorite event of the year. It’s the one event I get to see most of my “Internet friends,” I get to check out a bunch of games I wouldn’t normally see in a FLGS, and I get to celebrate new projects, new awards and other major accomplishments (including a marriage proposal!) with some of my favorite people over food and beer.

When I first started going to GenCon in 2012, I was immediately embraced by a wonderful community of writers, editors, artists and game designers, many of whom (at the time) I didn’t realize were Kind of a Big Deal in the tabletop gaming world. Little ol’ me, who had barely even began playing tabletop games, came in not knowing what the heck an “ennie” was and trying to figure out if the name “paizo” meant something to do with pies.

I’m serious, I was that clueless. But no one seemed to care anyway, and that’s why I love this community.

There’s a problem in the gaming community (and, arguably, any creative industry) called “impostor syndrome” that plagues even some of the most talented, successful people I’ve ever met. Like depression, it lies to people and makes it hard for them to fully internalize their own accomplishments, making them feel as though they are not qualified enough to be successful. (For example, many people who are offered work with major game publishers often feel this strain, as they don’t feel qualified enough in their gaming or game design experience to do the job.) It has something I have unfortunately experienced, especially when I first started going to GenCon. Combined with depression, it can be absolutely career-halting.

For the first time at GenCon, though, I did not feel this way, and the clarity I’m feeling from this realization is amazing.

Last September, I was laid off from a very comfortable day job. It was simultaneously devastating and freeing. I was upset over my loss of salary, but the gaming world was full of full-time freelancers, who not only supported me in this huge lifestyle change, but also sent me work and encouraged me to keep going. I did apply for full-time work and did a few interviews that fall, but freelancing took off in a way I never expected, and now this year I’m proud to have participated in a panel with John Adamus (long-time freelancer and editor), where I got to help mentor and inspire future freelancers whom I hope will one day have their own badass projects to work on, too.

The transition from student to mentor has been a weird one for me. 2012 was the same year I graduated college, and now two years later I’m already considered an authority in my line of work (which sounds horribly pretentious to say, but I’ve had so many people ask me for advice that I guess you could say it’s true). It’s not something I expected to happen already, and yet people were stopping me in the halls of GenCon thanking me for my advice, which is seriously the best compliment I could ever be given. Freelancing is something I’ve been doing for years, normally under the blanket of a day job, but I’ve only been doing it full-time for a year now. Although it is incredibly challenging at times, its moments like this that really remind me why I’m freelancing. I am proud of every single project I work on, and have had the opportunity to work with some incredible game designers. I saw quite a bit of my own work floating around at GenCon this year (mostly in responsive-website-on-a-phone format), which was a mindblowing first for me. So I guess, in some way, you could say that I’ve Made It with capital letters. I’m working in a community that I love, and I’m thankful that they have embraced me.

So, thank you. Thank you to everyone who has ever gamed with me, encouraged me, hired me to do work, mentored me, asked me for advice, helped me network, introduced me to various gaming companies, complimented or shared my work, IMed me at 3am with their companionship, or otherwise supported me and my full-time freelancing career. It is possibly one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I am excited and hopeful to keep doing it in some capacity for the rest of my working life.

If you missed me at GenCon, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email, or find me on Twitter. I’m available for projects, or even mentorship, if that is what you are after. (I’m also open to emails that simply say “hi.” Those are nice, too!)