2019 was a transformational year both professionally and personally. Here are some of the highlights - both good and bad, because what is failure but an opportunity to become better?
Every year since 2016, I’ve picked a “word of the year” instead of a New Year resolution. I’ve seen more people do it lately, so there must be some merit to it. Choosing a word is more simple than a goal. It allows you to apply it to any aspect of life, sometimes revealing new meanings and lessons along the way. For me it serves as a reminder of what I think will be really important for me in the year to come.
In 2016, my word was "FAIL" (to see failure as a sign of progress); in 2017 it was "CREATE" (to grab every opportunity to make things). 2018 was "FOCUS" (manage my time better and clarify what’s most important). And in 2019 the word was “BREATHE”. To slow down in body and mind, and experience one thing at a time. To savour silence and to make space between things to enjoy them. So how did it go?
In January I was trying to recover mentally and physically from running myself down during Christmas 2018. I was working full-time at Google, taking evening classes at the local art college, and packing orders almost every night until 2am. Being productive at all hours had become my default state of being, I felt completely exhausted and guilty whenever I was not. I was seeing a therapist at the time that gently reminded me that “just being” is also productive in its way, although parents and the education system and our workplaces often neglect to tell us this.
February and March saw some great collaborations with companies like Gunn Dean Candle, Bracerella, The Enchanted Midnight, A Bookish Flickering, Midnight Flame Candles, and The Official Brown Book Box. I did two small markets and got to practice my setup and small talk skills. I launched my second seasonal collection, Nomad Spring, and was completely overwhelmed by the positive response. The collection was inspired by stories of adventure and faraway places.
April was marked by a lot of self-rumination. I was excited and frustrated by all the ideas in my head that I simply didn’t have time for. My go-to solution for challenges has always been to “work harder” but I realised this wasn’t sustainable long-term. My partner was already shouldering more than his fair share of the work at home in order for me to do everything I'd committed myself to, and it was stressing us both out.
(Photo by Dublin Flea Market)
In May, I did my first large outdoor market at Dublin Flea. It was scary, but I loved seeing people’s responses to the products (something I don't often get to see with online orders). I also handed in my resignation at my work after months of agonising over the decision. It was a strange mix of feelings when I finally did it - relief, sadness, excitement, trepidation. Even if I would be able to live off Literary Lip Balms in 2-3 years, I could easily make five times the income with my “normal” job with all the perks and status that came with it. What pushed me to do choose differently was that I've found myself at this crossroads again and again, and every time I’d chosen the rational option over my passion. It didn’t make me happier. For once, I just wanted to see what there was on the other side.
June and July went by in a blur, and I felt more at peace. Things that used to bother me at work seemed trivial, and I felt more grateful for the good things in my life than ever. It was not a change of work - I was still in my transition period - but rather a change of mindset that made me calmer. I had to adjust the prices in the shop to reflect the actual cost because I’d gone 2 years without accurately accounting for my labour and dsepite gradually changing to more environmentally friendly and local suppliers. Pricing is my weakness, I always feel bad for charging what I'm worth (I'm sure I can't be the only business owner with this problem!). I agonised for weeks that customers would leave. There was a dip in orders, true, but luckily the turnover stayed stable.
Travel photo from Glengesh, Ireland. It was a rainy day and we had the road to ourselves.
In August Johan and I travelled to Donegal. Situated on the wild and beautiful west coast of Ireland, it was the perfect spot to get away from our hectic careers and the bustle of Dublin. We stayed in a cottage by a small lake with sheep grazing nearby, and played cards or watched a movie in the evenings. The rain would pour down some days and we would go for a drive and talk about the future, or stay inside and make a simple meal together. I stood up on the surfboard for the first time, on one of the few days where the sun warmed the beach and the waves rolled steadily in to the bay. I was reminded that we really don’t need much to be happy.
In September and October I made my business more official - I registered my company (only 2 years too late!), signed up for Dublin’s largest Christmas market, and applied for a small grant from the local enterprise office (which I got!). The business got more sustainable as I replaced all shipping materials with recycled or compostable materials. A strange but significant milestone was when I declined a large rush order because it would have required me to work around the clock for three days to fulfil it. Last year I would have said yes without a thought, but I felt relieved when I was able to stick to my boundaries. I also launched my third seasonal collection, Autumn Shadows, inspired by darker tales and mystery novels.
Johan and I at Gifted - The Contemporary Craft and Design Fair 2020 in Dublin
November and December were a rollercoaster. My nerves were frazzled about the upcoming Christmas market, and I was second-guessing everything. Did I need more stock? Would it look professional? Do I have enough materials? My insecurities made me listen too much to advice from others, which in hindsight was stupid because who else knows my business and products better than myself? But there were amazing highs as well - I got 3 new Irish stockists (Ode to Earth, Chou's Cottage, PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods), and the turnover in December was as high as the last 6 months in 2018. What a way to end the year!
However, I have to be honest about something which I feel is not mentioned enough in highlight posts from businesses. My actual profits (turnover minus costs) for 2019 is less than a third of what I would make in a month at my old job. Part of it was due to investments (new product certifications, materials, market fees), part due to stupid decisions (over-production, failed products, expensive and unnecessary supplies). There were so many curveballs, so many unexpected wins and disappointments. Running a business is no joke! But at the end of the day, I feel that my word for 2019 (“breathe”) got me through it in better shape than I would have without it.
I’m proud of what I made out of 2019; the things I learned, the things I did, and the things I chose not to do.
For 2020 I’ve chosen a different word: Self-reliance. It reflects a quality which I feel I sometimes lack, but which I’ve always admired in others. A word that means to be confident in myself, to see my opinions and decisions as valid in themselves, without the need for assurance from someone else. To look at my work without having to compare it to someone else’s. I hope it will help me take the business - and my personal life - in the direction I feel it needs to go, even though it might be outside of what others expect.
To my reps, my customers, my friends, readers and fellow business owners: Thank you for all your support and for being part of the journey. May 2020 bring you peace and growth.
PS: Make sure you’re on the newsletter to get updates on exciting things happening in 2020 <3
Polly: I wholeheartedly agree with that quote. It’s more difficult to live by than it may seem, but hopefully it will get better with practice. It helps having a great support network of friends in moments of doubt. Thank you, my dear <3
Steph: I do keep journals throughout the year :) Not strictly for the purpose of recording, but more to sort out my thoughts and list out goals, reminders, highlights, etc. At the end of the year I usually remember a few important events, and go back through my writing, photos and IG posts to see what I was thinking or doing at the time. I hope you’ll find a routine that works for you this year. Journalling through writing is one way, but far from the only one. Thank you and chat soon <3
Beautifully written post, Vy. Sounds like 2019 had some exciting things for you and some stressful things too. Hopefully there’s less stress in the coming months though. ♥️
Do you record things as you’re going through the year, like what you did/felt in this month and that month, etc.? I always reach the end of the year and can hardly remember anything I might have done or accomplished! I’m trying to get better, especially in a work sense because it’ll help me see what I’ve done and what I can do more of or what I need to do. 😊
Thank you for being so open and transparent about all aspects of your business! I wish you all the best this year. xx
Dear Vy, thank you for this post. I love your open and honest analysis and your chosen word for the next year! It reminded me of the quote by Steve Jobs: ‚Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else‘s life. Don’t let the noise of other‘s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary‘. You have the courage to follow your heart. Can’t follow to see, where your passion will lead you this year xx