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Lean in, or move on?

One of the primary questions we seem to ask ourselves in the most important areas of our lives, is whether we should continue doing what we're doing, or move on:

- Should I stay in this relationship, or should I break up with my partner and find someone else?

- Should I continue to live in this country/province/city, or should I move somewhere else?

- Should I stay in my current job, or should I find another position elsewhere?

- Should I keep my child in this school, or should I move them to a new school?

The list goes on...

Life is complex, and we need to be cautious of viewing simple one liners as definitive reference points for complex decision making. That said, I was speaking to a colleague a few weeks ago about the challenges of the education system in South Africa, and his response was simultaneously candid, clear and challenging:

Don't spend time fixing things that should be replaced.

It sounds harsh, but I'm sure you can relate to the kernel of truth in it.

I've spent a lot of time since that conversation thinking about how to ascertain (in all areas of life) if something should be replaced, or if we should lean into continuing to try to solve the challenge. Is there a simple measure that we can use as a guidepost to decide if we should run towards, or away, from the situation we find ourselves in? The best answer I have found is to ask yourself, "has there been gradual improvement over time?"

If you can see gradual improvement over time in the area of life you are questioning, then it's probably worth sticking to it. The ups and downs are inevitable, but if there is enough shared velocity and commitment towards doing the hard work of improving, then you're probably onto a good thing.

When you can see this trajectory of improvement, then it's worth fighting to save it. It's worth having the hard conversations to continue to improve your working relationship with your manager. It's worth pushing through the hardships of the government that has let you down in some domains, but is gradually improving in others.

But there is a limit, and if you can't see your situation/relationship/lifestyle etc gradually improving over time, it might be time to stop trying to fix things, and rather replace them.

In my own relationship with my wife, Ash, one of the things I now realise that has stood us in very good stead during the ups and downs over the last 15 years together, is that, bit by bit, we have slowly been improving as a couple. It's not a straight line, but over time, things have continued to get better for us. We're brave and committed enough to do the work, and when I look back on the timeline of our relationship, I can see the trend line moving in the right direction.

The best part is that improvement is like interest, it compounds over time. With enough time and dedication to gradually improve, what started as slow, and hard earned wins, gradually takes on a momentum of its own, and snowballs into something truly beautiful.


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