End of the Year: Looking Back with Gratitude, Looking Forward with Hope.
Whenever the end of the year is upon us it can release a hurricane of emotions: relief, anger, weariness, disappointment, sadness, and a plethora of other emotions. Many of them may feel negative—at first. This is because as we start preparing for the New Year, we need to process what all happened in the past. There's a reason the internet is filled with memes about how the past year "had the audacity" or variations on a visual representation of getting beat up by some manifestation of time, and that's because the last few weeks of the calendar year bring with it the sense of closure and fatigue of processing twelve months of life events and emotional baggage.
Every year there will be ups and downs to it, and some years may lean heavily toward one and then balance out next year with a little more of the other.
Life is like a handcar. You have to move the lever up and down to move forward on the track to wherever you are headed.
All the ups and downs over the course of a year come together to be the propellant that moves you forward—or backward, depending on the direction you choose to take. How you process these year-end emotions will make a huge difference in the direction your handcar goes.
It's easy to find the all-too-true humor in the memes and laugh it off, telling yourself that the past year "sucked" and diminishing the lessons you learned to nothing more than circumstantial hardships that are over and to be swept aside at midnight on the 31st. Instead of brushing the past year off and moving on, only acknowledging your emotions with a hefty dose of sarcasm and resentment (and hey, why am I suddenly crying at nothing? I'm totally fine), take a moment to pause and really look back. Each year is filled with lessons (some harder than others) and wisdom to be gained.
Instead of looking back with a "good riddance" attitude, look back at the past year with gratitude for all the experiences you had. Not just the good ones, but the hard ones that cleared away toxic mentalities, people, lifestyles, and things that were no longer serving you on your path. It is the culmination of all life experiences—the good and the bad—that make us who we are.
We are where we are in life because of them. We are who we are because of them.
If you aren't happy with your current status in either of those categories, then taking a look back will give you a chance to really consider how you want to move forward and what steps you can take to make the changes you want to experience that will lead you down the track you want your life to go.
Yes, this is by far easier said than done and not everyone is in a position to easily make the changes they want to see. There are many hurdles that seem like brick walls, blocking you from getting to the track you want to be on. This can be poverty, health issues, mental health issues, a co-dependent relationship, family obligations, or past mistakes that only time will be able to clear from your record. None of these can be changed overnight.
Some things in life can't be changed at all, and I know how pointless and privileged it sounds to say, "change your perspective and all will fall into place!" But, while it is not a magic fix, it actually does make an impact on helping you get where you want to go.
It can be difficult to look at the past this way. To be grateful for hurt seems counter-intuitive—especially if you are facing brick wall after brick wall blocking you from your desired path. Sometimes, the emotional avoidance is all an attempt to minimize the hardships, the struggles, and the hurdles in a survivalist attempt to just keep going.
There is nothing wrong with a "just keep going" mentality. Some years, it's the very best you can do and that's okay.
But, it's important to know the difference between surviving and accepting a defeatist attitude.
Those years when it is difficult to keep going, when you're surrounded by walls and feel like the hardships are closing in around you and the very idea of trying to grow is overwhelming, it's okay to just keep going and doing what you need to do to get from one year to the next.
A "just keep going" attitude isn't a defeatist attitude.
It is the opposite, actually. It means you're not giving up. This year or ones in the past may have rung your bell and it's all you can do to stay in the ring, but you're still fighting. Not every year is going to be a "just keep going" year. Some years, hopefully many, you will have the emotional capacity for more and can look to lay track for a future path.
A defeatist attitude comes in when it's no longer "just keep going" and it's a "why bother" or "what does it matter" attitude. When you're not fighting to stay in the ring, you're just complacent and letting life happen to you without active participation. This is when it's incredibly important to remember you do have a choice. You can't change everything, but you can change this perception. You can change your outlook from "what's the point" to "what have I gained." This simple alteration allows you to start seeing all the little things in life that make it worth participating in.
What did you learn from all those hardships? It may not be anything monumentally profound, but I guarantee that if you look for it, there is wisdom to be found. Every experience is worthwhile if we can learn from it—good and bad. Looking at life this way, helps you you’re your fight again and make tiny changes or adjustments that will lower that brick wall until you can see it for the hurdle it is and jump over it.
Like all things, it will take time, but if you keep shoving those emotions down at the end of each year—bowing your head, laughing the struggles off and just keep plowing forward—it will take even longer.
You have to retrain your brain to find a silver lining, and not just the pain and exhaustion. If you lost your job, you can gain wisdom from whatever the reason was. If it was out of your control, you still gained experience for your resume.
If you lost a loved one, you have memories you can cherish forever and have learned how to love so deeply, that their absence registers in your life.
If you're stuck in a job you hate, what skills has it given you that you can add to your resume and start looking for a new job? Because, now you know what you DON'T want to do.
If you had hardships with relationships and lost friendships, what lesson can you take from it? Did you learn something about yourself you can work on so that your next relationship can be more successful and caring? Did you stand up for yourself and enforce important boundaries that cleared away toxic people who didn't respect you? Or, maybe you learned an all-important lesson in how NOT to communicate effectively.
If you have poor health, how can you take steps to help improve it? Not all health conditions can be cured, and if you can't afford medication there are often other solutions that can ease the effects. The internet is a wealth of knowledge (and misinformation, so tread carefully and only look at certified and credentialed medical sites, health care providers, and researchers.) You can find your condition online and doctor recommended steps you can take to help yourself feel a little better.
Being grateful for the wisdom you've gained from all experiences helps you get a broader perspective on your own life and how you're interacting with it. When you're in the thick of it, it can be difficult to see the whole picture because it's easy to focus on one aspect of it.
The end of the year is a great opportunity to take a step back and see the whole road map. How each experience got you to where you are, how each one had something to offer you, and how you have choices.
I promise, you always have choices, they may not be huge life-altering ones all the time, but there's always a choice to make that will lead you somewhere new.
Being grateful for all you've experienced allows you to feel all the year-end emotions and release them so that you can make space for something new. In that moment, when you no longer have all these repressed emotions bottling up; when you no longer have bitterness, hurt, and brick walls clouding your vision; you can see what choices lay before you and make one—an informed one based off all the wisdom you learned in the last year—and move forward, one step or ten, toward the path you want your life to go.
With each choice you make—big or small—it opens up new doors and new possibilities. You never know when a tiny choice may lead you to the biggest breakthrough. Be grateful for the life you've lived, the experiences you've had, and all you've gained from them. Use those to empower you and give you hope for all the experiences you've yet to enjoy.