2016 Letter of Review

What went well, what wrong wrong, and what I learned in 2016

It’s the time again to really look into our life to see what had happened, then, to reflect what went well and what went wrong. Of course, the core reason to do this is to pick up one or two lessons learned in 2016, and move on to 2017 with better preparedness.

I wrote a similar letter of review back in 2015. Reading back that short review, I was surprised that many things had changed for me in the time of a year – my position, my focus, my environment, my beliefs, and even my behaviors.

This review and report will be much longer than the previous one because, for me, 2016 is a year full of works, challenges, emotions, and achievements.

I’m going to start this report with ratings of each area in my life, just like how I did in 2015. However, I’m going to add a little bit more details after that, on what lessons I had learned and how to improve for the years to come.

This is more a review and report for 2016 than a new year resolution for 2017. I am not a fan of looking back and dwell on them, however, we should at least do this once, to fully reflect and digest meaningful events that had happened in the past years. Not to dwell on mistakes, but to learn from them. Then, we could gain better clarity to move on.

Progress ratings

I usually categorize my life into a few areas I personally care the most: business & career, personal development, health & fitness, and relationship. I believe these four areas made up basically everything in our life.

By categories them, we gain a better clarity on what actually had happened in the past year. Instead of believing your whole life sucks (or your world is perfect), breaking your life down into areas offers the opportunity to fix and improve a specific area.

In this progress report, I am rating each area on the scale of 1 to 10.

Business and career 7/10

This rating could be lower if I’m expecting a short-term result. However, I’m pretty happy with my progress in my businesses and career because I had pulled off quite a few feats that I never thought possible.

In case you have no idea what I’m working on, I’m currently running a specialty coffee shop in Malaysia (I’m not from the States), at the same time managing this blog. Both of these businesses started at the end of 2015, which mean both of them are only 1 years plus old at this time of writing. In fact, I didn’t expect them to make me tons of money in this beginning stage. It’s more like the period of seeding than the period of harvesting right now.

I’m very satisfied with the progress of my blog and my career as a writer and teacher, simply because I never thought of myself as one before. I had written 50+ blog posts, being featured in over 10 publications, published one bite-size guidebook, published one Skillshare class, and launched one online course.

One thing I never do for my personal blog is to focus on building products and earning revenue. This basically means I am not making any significant income from this at all. However, I really see this as the foundation for things to come in 2017.

The next part will be my coffee shop, I have to admit that  it’s not doing as good as expected when I started it 14 months ago. This has to contribute to my unrealistic expectations and inexperience in the prep works before venturing into this business.

The location is the biggest downfall for this business. Besides, the nature of F&B business required a decent starting and sustaining capital which is what I’m lacking.

Fortunately, I built this specifically for a niche market of specialty coffee and I think that’s one reason it is still running because I’m not competing with huge players out there. Of course, having a group of very supportive family and friends is another biggest contributing factor that it’s still running fine.

Putting this into perspective, I’m pouring almost 70% of my energy into this blog and the remaining 30% of into my coffee shop. This is because I see creating content and the technology today as a larger leverage for businesses right now. The odd part is that the coffee business is what keeping me afloat with a minimal income but really difficult to grow without additional investment of money, energy and time (with a bigger risk of failure due to the current market conditions for retail businesses).

2017 is the year for me to focus on growing the revenue of both businesses. Then, by measuring the possible growth and risks, making big decisions for their visions and directions.

Personal growth 9/10

I personally think health and fitness is a part of personal development, however, for the sake of clarity, I decided to review them separately. It’s about the development of mind – knowledge, insights, beliefs, character – when I’m talking (writing) about my personal development progress rating.

I’m pretty happy with my progress in this area due to a few things had happened:

  • Read over 20  books in 2016. Since the end of 2015, I promised myself to read daily after I finished the book Awaken The Giant Within by Tony Robbins. Although I never really read every single day for 2016, I managed to continue book after book without too much resistance in the process. The thing is, the benefit I gained from this routine is not just the accomplishment itself, but the insights and wisdom I received by practicing the habit of reading.
  • Published an article weekly without fail. At the same time of reading daily, I decided to publish an article every single week to build my blog into a business. I’m not holding a very high expectation to this, but I was certain that this is what I need to do even I’m not feeling ready. Surprisingly, this simple habit allowed me to gain a significant number of readers and helped many others in need. Besides, I see writing as the best routine of self-development because it encourages positive self-talk and creates the sense of contribution.

I am very interested in personal development and performance improvement for a long time. However, reading and writing truly maximize my improvement rate in this area to further building my character and helping others at the same time.

Besides, being an entrepreneur also contribute to my personal growth. With countless encounters with different types of challenges and setbacks, I was being pushed down and got to learn my way in standing back up.

Health + fitness4/10

Health and fitness is one area of my life that got loose. As I’m placing my main focus on my businesses and career, my health and fitness level slipped down in slight degrees. Looking at the three fundamentals of health and fitness, I did kind of bad in exercise and rest compared to the previous year.

I had a back injury when I was performing a heavy squat few months back and haven’t lift any weights since then. I am still practicing some cardiovascular routine like jogging and bodyweight routine, but the current performance is far below expectation. Besides, I have to admit that I’m not fully focused and engaged during my workout sessions compared to my previous year.

Due to increasing workload, I also started to sleep less. This is the area I really want to fix as soon as possible. The only part I was maintaining is my diet. I didn’t eat clean like a bodybuilder but I do carefully select my meals and been practicing 16:8 intermittent fasting.

To get a better accuracy, I did a basic body check two weeks ago and got my report a week ago. I’m always being optimistic to my body conditions, so rather assuming that I’m really healthy, I decided to go for a proper blood and urine test. The overall results are good, however, I’m a little higher in my bad cholesterol level. This might freak my family members out, but I’m grateful to learn about this before it’s too late to fix.

Relationships 8/10

Business and career is the fundamental tool we are using to build our reality, while personal development, health, and fitness are the skills we need to harness in order to fully utilize the tool we have. What about relationships? I see relationships as a big part of our identity. And in many cases, it’s much more important than the skills and tools we have.

I never take relationships as serious before this. And by focusing on building a great relationship with people around, I had gained so much value that can’t be measured with mere money. There are many great moments I had with my girlfriend, my parents, and my friends.

Besides, I’m happy with new relationships built via both of my businesses. It’s my pleasure to meet great people and listen to many interesting stories in my coffee shop, at the same time, getting the opportunity to join a few mastermind group of amazing people in the journey of building this blog.

What went well?

This is a list of things that went really well for me in 2016:

  • Got my ideas and words featured in multiple publications such as Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, Inc, The Huffington Post, LifeHack, Apple News and much more.
  • Published a comprehensive guide about habit building and got distributed to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Goodreads, Inktera, Scribd, Odilo and many other digital bookstores.
  • Published a Skillshare class about productivity for creatives and entrepreneurs.
  • Launched a digital course called the Procrastination Workshop.
  • Managed to publish an article every single week.
  • Becoming a top write on Quora in multiple topics and got featured in multiple Quora’s Digest and Quora’s partnered publications.
  • Done a few freelance design gigs.
  • Read over 20 books in multiple niches and summarized every single one of them.
  • A short getaway trip with my family and girlfriend, meeting up with a few old time friends.
  • Completed the Open Water Diving course and get certified as an Open Water Diver.
  • Meet many amazing souls at my tiny coffee shop. Got the opportunities to listen to many interesting stories of work and life.
  • Got to connect with possible business associates that might open up more opportunities in coming years.
  • Got the opportunities to join a few group of amazing creatives and entrepreneurs online via Slack.
  • Positive relationship growth with my parents.
  • Relationship with my girlfriend grows into a more maturity state.
  • Great track record of intermittent fasting practice.

What went wrong?

This is a list of things that went not as great as expected and planned for me in 2016:

  • Not validating the idea before investing a huge amount of cash into a venture, at the same time, thinking that I can do everything alone by myself.
  • Failed to hit the revenue goal for my coffee shop business and this leads to the inability of hiring as soon as possible.
  • Not focusing on building healthy relationships for my coffee business in the industry, partly due to the lack of cashflow.
  • Lack of consistency on creating content and building the brand for my coffee business.
  • Failed to properly manage the cashflow for both businesses and the effect translated to my personal financial health. This basically means I need to trim down many expenses and reorganize my spendings to stay afloat.
  • The Procrastination Workshop is not doing as well as expected. It basically flopped without making any revenue at all. The production quality of the entire course is not as good as planned and need to improve.
  • Had a serious back injury during heavy squatting that immobilized me for most movements include basic leg raise for four months.
  • A few moments of emotional instability, fears, worrisome and being pessimistic.
  • Not fully engaged and not pushing my boundaries during physical training.
  • Although I still carefully selecting my meals, I was eating out frequently due to my work.
  • A close relative has passed away, which is a great loss for everyone in the family. May her soul rest in peace.

Lessons learned

Focus. Looking at my 2016, I can’t agree more on a line by Tony Robbins. “Where focus goes, energy flows.” I can see how this scenario translates in my life. What Tony Robbins meant is if you focus on great things, you will see great results, and via verse. Although I spent most of my time focusing on positivity, I have multiple things on my plate. As you can see, my blog grows fast and I had read tons of books because that is where my focus on. However, my coffee business and fitness suffered because I got loose on those areas.

Entrepreneurship (Part One). I like to summarize entrepreneurship in three sentences from my experience of 2016. First, entrepreneurship is not for everyone. Second, entrepreneurship is not an all-glory journey. Finally, entrepreneurship is not a sprint but a marathon.

Entrepreneurship (Part Two). There are so many people claiming that the economy and the market is going down at a rapid pace today. I’m not denying it, however, I personally think the only thing that can resist this downtrend, or at least reduce its speed and the overall impact, is the collective optimism of all entrepreneurs, creators, and makers out there. A community without hope will only make the situation worse due to indecisive and inaction. The skills and ability to identify a problem in the market, and then, creating a real solution for it, is becoming much more important if not the only way to breakthrough in the current environment. This basically means we should observe and validate our ideas first, before pouring in a huge amount resources such as energy, time and money.

Relationship and connection. Just like how Gary Vaynerchuk puts it, “To win, do things that don’t scale.” And I can see building great relationship in life and in business is one of those things. With the advancement of technology and abundance of information today, who you are and what you can do are not that special anymore because there are countless of people out there who are smarter than you, fitter than you, and working harder than you. However who you are connecting with matters more than ever. But remember, a great relationship only happens with authenticity and transparency. Always set out to contribute more for him or her rather than simply asking for return or favor.

Technology. This is growing at an insane speed. Thanks to all entrepreneurs, creatives, researchers, and scientists (I can’t mention everyone) out there who push the boundaries to make a positive impact in the community. Spend some time to take a closer look at this, there are countless opportunities coming on our way with huge leverages that never exist before. At the same time, the demand for video content is growing rapidly, it’s the time for my business (and yours) to tap into this as soon as possible.

Self-awareness and fear. There are always fears in everything we do, simply because we’re not designed for today’s world. The human’s world is accelerating fast and the environment is changing rapidly that our embedded behavior and psychology can’t really cope up with. I personally think self-awareness is more important than ever in order to battle the resistance and fear of growth nowaday than a few decades ago.

What and how to improve?

The 2017 plans I have here are just some brief thoughts at the moment of time. I haven’t make up a detailed step-by-step milestone plan yet. What you will notice this that I like to improve every area of my life (and who doesn’t), however, I believe in prioritization, which basically means I’m not expecting every single area of my life to be perfect, but to improve them progressively based on the environment and timing.

Cashflow. I’m going to place more focus on creating a healthy cashflow for both of my businesses. A better cashflow doesn’t really make me any richer but is going to contribute a lot in creating better products, delivering better services, and making a larger impact. When you’re out of oxygen, you can’t do anything else. In business, cashflow is the oxygen. With a healthy cashflow, I can make better decisions based on others important factors and feedback rather than just trying to keep them afloat.

Expanding reach. Your reach is a crucial element that is going to make or break your business.  I personally think I did pretty well in expanding the reach on my blog in 2016, and looking forward to doing more of that in 2017. I’m actively looking for more opportunities on republishing, guest posting, and podcast interview to further grow the brand of my blog. I haven’t had a clear plan to expand the reach of my coffee shop but one thing I’m continuously doing is running monthly coffee appreciation event. Clearly, there are many pivots need to happen for this coffee business. Besides putting my businesses in front of the prospective audience, it’s important to deliver good values upfront to build a better relationship and form a tribe around the brands.

Emotional State. I don’t want to make myself look perfect from the outside because the reality is the opposite. One thing I really need to improve is my emotional state. There are still times I was stunned and frozen by fears, worrisome, and negativity that wasted so much of my energy and time. I have come up with some routines such as daily journaling to encourage positive self-talk and short getaway to promote truthful rest physically and mentally.

Confidence. One biggest difference I observed is that successful people always have a higher level of self-confidence and self-esteem than the average. Even they might not be 100 percent confidence from the inside, they look confidence from the outside. I think I did a decent job in projecting an image of self-confidence. However, there are times when I look like an eight years old boy who did something wrong, especially when talking in front of the camera and communicating to a higher authority face to face (both online and offline). A few ideas I have to improve this is by preparing and practicing more.

English. I like to thank a few readers who email and telling me that my English is bad, at the same time, offering helps on proofreading my works. I totally aware of this because I’m not a native English speaker and writer, and I only start learning to speak English at the age of 20 which is 5 years ago and to write in English about 3 years ago. I didn’t accept any offer to help me out because my writing schedule is usually tight and I don’t like to mess up your schedule (and mine). However, I have the plan to take a course about writing in English in line. Then, if the cashflow is right, I’m going to purchase Grammarly Premium subscription to do an automated check on all my writing, and finally, if appropriate, I’m going to hire an editor to go through my work before I publish anything publically. At the meantime, I’m going to read and write regularly to further expand my vocabularies.

Movement, rest, and diet. With the lower back injury, I don’t think I should get back to the gym and lift heavy weights anytime soon, however, this opened up another opportunity to focus on calisthenics and gymnastic strength training. I personally love the approach of Ido Portal and going to incorporate more movement training to expand my range of motion, mobility and flexibility y. At the same time, I’m looking into ways to eat better and sleep better to step up the game of my personal health and fitness.

Wrapping up

Although I did experience a much more intense (and insane) years before this, 2016 is still a wild ride for me. Not so much of an exploration of the outside world, but tons of realization of my own inner-self.

I see 2016 as a foundation and starting point of all my coming work. It’s the time I put in the work, the time I stay low and under the radar, the time I suck things up and grind through previous failures and prepare for the coming glory. I don’t just talk about the power of tiny marginal gains, I practice it. Fortunately, I’m proud to say that I am kind of enjoy it when looking back at this.

Besides, I really want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who had supported me in this year of 2016. First to my parents, my girlfriend, a few close friends, and a few business associates. All of these is impossible without their constant support financially, physically, and emotionally. At the same time, I like to thank many great authors, writers, creatives, and makers out there who spread some really amazing ideas, works, and tools that help me in further transcending myself.

Last but not least, I like to thank you, and everyone in this Monday Digest community. Without you, I won’t be on such a great journey of self-discovery via reading and writing. For most people here, we may not know each other personally, but we are fortunate enough to connect, to share, and experience this short journey we call life, together, for at least a few months (or weeks).

Thank you! – Dean

It’s my hope that this review and report inspire you in some way. If you feel like so, feel free to copy the template and start to review your 2016. And do not hesitate to share it with me if you really need a pair of ears (it should be eyes).


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