Self-Reliance: 2020 in Review

Another year has come and gone and, like previous years, I'm spending the first day of 2021 looking back on the things that happened. I heard someone say recently that "we learn not by doing, but by reflecting on what we have done", and it stuck with me as a good way to explain why one shouldn't just slam the door shut on 2020 (however justified that would be). 

(Photo by Temily @lostinstacks)

Every year I pick a "word of the year" instead of a New Year's resolution. I find it useful because it focuses on the present and not an end goal. The simplicity of it also means that it can be applied to life in different ways, business as well as personal. An example of words from previous years:

  • 2016: Fail (to see failure as a sign of progress)
  • 2017: Create (to take every opportunity to create things)
  • 2018: Focus (manage time better and clarify priorities)
  • 2019: Breathe (to slow down and experience one thing at a time)

My 2020 word was "self-reliance". When I chose it, I had the vague idea that it was about confidence, courage and independence. As the year went by, I realised that, for me, being self-reliant is about about trusting myself before and instead of seeking validation from external things. So how did it go?

January was good. I was excited to get back to work after my first Christmas as my own boss (I became self-employed in 2019). There were lots of interest from Irish zero waste and gift shops after a busy December, and I found it both thrilling and a bit daunting. My first market of the year, the Zero Waste Festival in the Science Gallery, was a huge inspiration. I met customers who cared about the environment and inspiring brands like The Upcycle Movement. I created my very first sourdough starter and named it Frankenstein.

Beginner sourdough bread

(February: My most photogenic sourdough loaves to date!)

Fuelled by the success of the Zero Waste Festival, I spent February signing up for new craft fairs and markets in Dublin - Sustainable Fashion Flea Market, Cork Vegfest, Dublin Wizard Con, and more. Between wholesale orders, yoga classes, business seminars and learning to bake bread, I was busy and happy. 

Then March came and Ireland went its first COVID-19 lockdown just a day after I had dropped off my first delivery to the Museum of Literature. It brought all my carefully laid plans to a screeching halt as market after market was cancelled, and suppliers experienced delays and shortage of goods. We had to cancel a planned trip to Italy. I applied for government support for the first time in my life. My home office was suddenly shared with my partner 24/7.

(Compostable Literary Lip Balms by Lotta @notesandteacupstains)

In April and May, things went better. After the initial panic, I decided to roll my sleeves up and launched hand sprays and sleep balms to meet customer demand. I could do this! I also made a more conscious effort to support local businesses and it was heartening to see others around me do the same. The hard work paid off when Literary Lip Balms was selected for the Building a Craft & Design Enterprise (BCDE) Programme, as one of a handful of Irish businesses with growth potential. 

(Dirtyhands Hand Spray by Celt and Kiwi)

June saw another lockdown in Ireland, ironically just as I received another order from the Museum of Literature. I was starting to wonder if my deliveries were cursed and if I would ever actually get to see my products on the shelves! My partner took some vacation to go to cooking school and I enjoyed a week of having the apartment to myself by day and 3-course dinners in the evenings.

In July the fourth and final seasonal lip balm collection, Childhood Summers, was released. While I'm sure I'll keep adjusting and perfecting the collections, I feel very happy with the final themes: Winter Tales, Nomad Spring, Autumn Shadows and Childhood Summers. My partner and I went away to Wicklow to get away from the city, and it was heaven to walk around in nature for hours and just talk.


(Photo by Claire @velutlunabooks)

In August and September, I was accepted into a postgrad part-time program in Creative Entrepreneurship and my partner decided to apply for a 3-month cooking school program. I had the nagging suspicion that his cooking skills had already surpassed mine. Well, at least I could make sourdough. I made 2000 balms and got my first print mention in The Gloss Magazine.

October was surprisingly warm, full of golden sunlight and streets empty of tourists. I was lucky to have scheduled a photoshoot with Deirdre Rusk from Meath in Co. Cavan right between two lockdowns. Seeing the final photos, I felt incredibly proud of how far the business had come in the past 10 months despite everything. I got a pastry class for a birthday present and learned how to make sausage rolls, pies, and mille feuilles.

(First official photoshoot by Deirdre Rusk Photography)

Things went a bit off the rails in November. I was attending two certificate programs online (LEO Dublin's Craft & Design Business and Trinity College's Creative Entrepreneurship), and one NCAD course in printmaking. Wholesale orders started coming in for Christmas. A third lockdown spurred another peak in orders and we suddenly saw a backlog of 100+ orders. It was brilliant for the business but I felt a bit overwhelmed and frustrated over not being able to plan better. The frustration, I think, stems from a habit of wanting to do everything perfect and fear of disappointing people.

In November we also received the bad news that my partner's cooking course, due to start in January 2020, was cancelled. It was not the first blow we had been dealt by the pandemic, but it felt particularly tough since it was a major career and life decision. We soldiered on, and with his help I managed to catch up with orders and assignments. 


Museum of Literature Dublin Gift Shop

(Literary Lip Balms handmade soap displayed at the Museum of Literature in Dublin)

December arrived in the wake of the US election and Brexit negotiations, bringing with it a flurry of panicked customer emails. Orders to the UK suddenly took five weeks to arrive, and USPS seemed to have swapped out their trucks for mules. Most customers were incredibly understanding, luckily. I reached another milestone as we got our first independent bookshop stockist - in Colorado of all places - and revealed Literary Lip Balms shiny new logo. Inspired by classic fairytales and vintage packaging, it reflects our passion for creating sustainable products that spark your imagination.


Throughout the year I've been feeling that I was failing my intention of being more self-reliant and confident. With the exception of January and February, I was constantly scrambling to catch up with things or feeling downcast because of things happening around the world. But last week, as I was writing this post, I realised something else:

2020 is the first full year I have been self-employed. And being self-employed, by definition, means relying on yourself. It has meant dealing with crisis, picking myself up, reaching out for support, learning about rules and regulations, pursuing education, making mistakes and owning/fixing them. Looking at it this way has helped me realise I'm at a stage in my life where external praise and certifications have become less important. I've always pushed for these things, but they don't affect the quality of my work or my ability to achieve my goals. I tend to forget this, especially when I feel overwhelmed.

Like so many others this year, I missed seeing my family and friends as often as I used to. But I'm lucky enough to have a good network in Dublin and to have met some incredible people who have encouraged, pushed and supported me through a very challenging year.

For 2021, my word will be Simplify. To examine which parts of my life and my business I am ready to let go of. To reduce my to do-lists and allow myself more unstructured time to do nothing and anything.

I'm thankful for the lessons hat 2020 brought with it. Perhaps it was needed. Perhaps the disruptions it caused will clear the way for new habits, new ideas, new growth. I hope so, at least. 

“Life's a forge! Yes, and hammer and anvil, too! You'll be roasted, smelted, and pounded, and you'll scarce know what's happening to you. But stand boldly to it! Metal's worthless till it's shaped and tempered! More labor than luck. Face the pounding, don't fear the proving; and you'll stand well against any hammer and anvil.” - Alexander Lloyd

May 2021 be kind to you and your loved ones.

- Vy xx

Click here to read my 2019 Review (Breathe)


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