Practicing Gratitude: Looking Back at 2016 to Look Forward to 2017

A reflection on the things that I am grateful for and how I have been trying to practice gratitude in my life.

Practicing Gratitude: Looking Back at 2016 to Look Forward to 2017
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Over the last few weeks, I have spent at least 10 hours writing and re-writing a 2016 year-in-review/reflection post. My husband and trusted editor, Dana, keeps sending them back. I just can’t seem to get it right. I think part of the problem is that it was a pretty mixed year for us. It was challenging and frustrating but also had many joyful times. I have been struggling to give enough context while still capturing the right tone. Through all this reflection, I have come to the conclusion that if I were to summarize my feelings on the year in a sentence, I would say:

It was a year that I am relieved to be done with, but grateful to have experienced.

When things are rough for me it is not easy to be grateful for the things that are going well. I have had to work on balancing experiencing hardship, with all the negative emotions that come with it, and practicing gratitude as an intentional way to move past it. I still get angry, frustrated, and feel sorry for myself. But I have been finding that the more times I practice gratitude in the face of adversity, the easier it is to look at the challenges I am facing with clarity.

So, instead of a reflection on the year as a whole (with all its complexity), I want to focus on being grateful and practicing gratitude.

I am grateful for what didn’t happen

Ashley & Dana.jpg

This could cover a multitude of things, but the one thing that mattered most to me was that my husband’s cancer didn’t come back. He has been going for scans every 3 months since he finished over a year of treatment in October of 2013. I go with him to every appointment, hold my breath until the doctor comes, and let it out when she tells us everything is fine. He still has about 2 years of scans to go until they stop and he is declared cured, but so far so good.

There is nothing like having gone through a serious illness with the person you love most in the world to make you appreciate the things that are going right in your life, in spite of the things that are not. In amidst some of the tougher times last year, I regularly reminded myself that we had been through much worse, and come out on the other side. That is not to say that just because we went through something terrible, we were not allowed to be upset about other hard things that happen in life, but it certainly adds perspective.

I am grateful for what has already happened

Love Collage.jpg

We had to cancel a vacation in the spring of 2016. We had planned it 6 months previous but the challenges we were facing in our businesses meant we couldn’t go. It also meant we probably weren’t going on vacation at all that year (which we didn’t). I was pretty upset about it at the time, despite it being a fairly minor thing in the grand scheme. Things at work were not very fun and I wanted to escape, or at least have an escape to look forward to. I felt a sort of grief over the loss of that time and the experiences we might have had. That feeling stayed with me for a while.

The completely unintentional thing that helped me accept/ move past it was a photo collage I made for Dana for our wedding anniversary in the summer of 2016.

This collage is made up of pictures of us that span our 14 years together. We were 18 years old when we started dating and over the last 14 years we grew into adulthood together, went to university, traveled, built our business and moved through several crappy apartments to end up in our lovely home with our cats. The collage is on the wall that our bed faces. I see it every day when I wake up in the morning and every day before I go to sleep. It has ended up being a daily reminder of what a privileged life I have led. Those pictures are evidence of the incredible life Dana and I have already had together. Whenever I am feeling sorry for myself I look at all those pictures, which are just a handful of snapshots of our many adventures, and all I can think is that I need to get over myself because I am so lucky.

I am grateful for what is to come


2016 was a hard year for us but also one that pushed us to learn and grow. This time last year we were in a very precarious position and had to make some hard calls, including layoffs, in order to keep the company afloat. Because we were also small and nimble, we were able to try a few different approaches to manage our resources and revenue in creative ways. We did what we had to do to keep the business running, pushed through the hard months and successfully stabilized.

With all these challenges, we were given many opportunities to reflect on the business as it had been, as it was, and what we wanted for the future. We came to the decision that we wanted to shift into some new directions. This wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t been forced to take a hard look at ourselves and what we wanted out of our business. It is only looking back at all the challenges we faced, decisions we made, and sacrifices we made that I can really appreciate the path that led us to where we are today. I certainly did not appreciate the path as I was walking it. I am pretty sure I was actually fairly surly at times. But every single time I have had something challenging happen in my life, something awesome has come out of it. Crisis breeds opportunity and I think we have done a good job identifying those opportunities.

2017 is primed to be a really exciting year for us, both personally and professionally. Currently, my business is in, arguably, in the best position it has ever been in. It is a stark contrast to this time last year. We are better entrepreneurs and we know ourselves and our business better than we ever have. We wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t gone through the challenges of 2016.

Looking forward

I hope that 2017 is a challenging year in that it pushes us to learn and grow, but not in the same ways that 2016 did. We have many interesting things happening over the next few months that we are not ready to share yet, but will be soon. In keeping with the spirit of a fresh, new year, the following is from a print I have at home with words from one of my favorite authors, Neil Gaiman. To all of you:

A Wish for You

May your coming year
be filled with magic
and dreams
and good madness.
I hope you read
some fine books
and kiss someone who
thinks you are wonderful,
and don’t forget to make some art –
write or draw
or build or sing
or live
as only you can.
And I hope, somewhere
in the next year,
you surprise

In summary: Bring it, 2017!