How many times have you heard the phrase, ‘don’t fix it when it isn’t broken’? In other words, maintain the status quo until change is the only option. However, drawing upon my life experiences, I am making a case for the opposite – fix it while it isn’t broken.
As we grow through life experiences, our priorities, purpose and values change and mature. My family and I reflect on this regularly and make adjustments to ensure our lifestyle – our choices, and how we spend our time – is aligned with our values. Since our values determine what activities, experiences and people make us happy, it is important that we pay attention to these. For example, we prioritise family time, outdoor activities, learning about other communities, and spending time with people who share our interests. Our experiences can be summarised in these steps.
- Identify your core values and priorities
The first step is to understand what you value the most and what you would prioritise when a situation demands such a decision.
In the early years of our marriage, we found ourselves in a situation where my husband and I were both working parents – enough of a challenge in itself. However, my husband’s travel for work was extensive and often at very short notice. With two well paying jobs, we were living comfortably but my husband hardly spent time with our family, and more importantly to us, it was becoming difficult to plan important family events and activities due to the nature of his travel. Clearly, this situation was not aligned with our priorities.
Hence, my husband left his job and found another one in Darwin (a small town in Australia) that involved a regular work week and didn’t demand travelling, but paid less. We did not hesitate to make the decision even though it also meant that I would have to look for a job in a new place. This decision allowed us more time to spend with family, we could explore many natural wonders, and enjoy enriching experiences with Indigenous communities in the region.
The crucial aspect of this decision was that we made it while the status quo was still manageable. We could have considered the financial stability as a reason to continue with the status quo, and in the process, got (perversely) comfortable with a life which was misaligned with our values. However, there are trade-offs involved in making such decisions, and had it continued over the longer term this situation would likely have become far less sustainable for our family.
- Know the trade – offs
Another important point to note about our decision above is that we had to consider the downside, for example, I had to leave a great job and settle for less pay and a more junior position. However, this change worked for us as our bigger life purpose was fulfilled. Conversely, if financial security was our priority or if we did not value living in and learning about other communities, this would have been a bad decision. This is especially critical to understand since the internet is telling us that there is a universal formula for attaining happiness, and stories like, ‘he/she found bliss after quitting their job and travelling around the world.’ Just because they found bliss after quitting their job does not mean that others would have the same experience if they quit their job, too. However, what is universally applicable is that we should consider making changes while we have the option to choose the new direction, and not when a new path is imposed on us.
- Make changes while it is still manageable
Sometimes we find ourselves in a good enough position where inertia rules our life, as we have no apparent reason to make any changes, for example, when we have a well-paying job and a comfortable lifestyle. There is no doubt this is a very privileged position to be in that many people take for granted, and it may seem pointless to mull over a change in direction. But what if we are confusing comfort with happiness? In our case, an opportunity presented itself and allowed us to realign our actions to suit the priorities at that stage of life, which we may not have recognised on our own.
We were living in Anchorage, Alaska when our eldest daughter started attending grade 10, and things were going well for us at work as well as home. However, six months later, my husband was repatriated to Brisbane, Australia. Once again, I found myself without a job, and as always, I began the process of looking for a new opportunity. One day, while I was filling in yet another job application, we recalled our plans for spending more time with our daughter during the final three years of high school. Since I was the one without a job at that time, it seemed prudent for me to reassess the job search and focus on whether what I had always done was compatible with how I wanted to support our daughter.
However, I also had the desire to continue to be involved in the issues that I cared about, and this presented a dilemma as we saw my desire for giving more time to my daughter and to contribute outside our family as both equally important priorities. After a lengthy discussion, we decided that I could continue to address both priorities in slightly different ways by undertaking research studies in an area I was passionate about, which would also give me the flexibility to support my daughter. We realized how comfortable we had become in our situation and why, despite the comfort, we needed to change directions.
- Take actions that are aligned with values
As a result, I enrolled in the University of Queensland business school research program to undertake research in community wellbeing. I chose Anchorage as the key focus community to base my research on while expanding internationally into India, Norway and Australia for comparative purposes. I can say with confidence that this has been one of the biggest life changing decisions we have made when we could have just continued with the status quo. Through research, I learnt about wellbeing in much more detail and found new and more meaningful ways of connecting with different communities, as well as the flexibility in organising my time around family needs. Thus, having made this decision, we saw how well our actions and experiences were now aligned with our values and priorities. Again, this decision came with some compromises, i.e., loss of income and career growth (while I’m studying) but it works well for us because we value everything the opportunity presents.
- Don’t wait for it to break
As you can see, we learnt to identify and reflect on what we value and how we should prioritise our actions on a regular basis. As a result, we continue to make adjustments even when everything seems to be working well. At various times these have been incremental or monumental, depending on the circumstances within our own control.
The specific decisions that we have made do not apply to those with different priorities or at different stages of life but what applies to many of us is that sometimes a seemingly comfortable life may need changes to make it aligned with our core values.
I hope these examples from my personal experiences help you reflect whether your actions are aligned with your values and priorities. I invite you to spare some time from your busy life and ask whether you need to fix something while it’s still working.