Is the Grass Greener?
I started my first job at Paramount Pictures exactly 30 years ago TODAY.
When I walked onto the Melrose studio lot, I felt movie magic. Everything was perfect: perfectly manicured flower beds, clean buildings, picture-perfect backlot, and sets. And the greenest grass you have ever seen. Every day was exciting to go to work.
About three months in, I was walking to the commissary when in the distance I saw a maintenance worker watering the grass. As I got closer, I realized he was not actually watering, but rather painting the grass. Literally, the grass was only greener because it was painted so.
It is a great metaphor for change and transformation. When you say ‘the grass is greener’ it reminds me of that day. But is it really greener? Is a new opportunity actually better, more fulfilling, more lucrative, or might you be lulled into running toward something new only to come upon it and realize it is an illusion and really you were running away instead?
This often comes up when a new position presents itself within or outside of your company. The shiny new role ‘looks’ great: exciting, new, not the same old monotony. Our inclination is to jump maybe at the newness, or the excitement of title, compensation, or perceived growth. In the adrenaline rush of something looking ‘greener’ we sometimes forget to ask the right questions, weigh what we know with the unknown of the new opportunity.
One exercise to determine if the grass is actually greener is a scorecard. If, in an objective state of mind, you can outline all of the elements you value when it comes to personal or professional growth, you can return to that scorecard each time an opportunity presents itself. In my experience, the scorecard doesn’t change over time, only your prioritization of the elements on the list and what matters to you. For instance, work-life integration mattered less before I had children than after, while the manager I worked for has always been a high priority. The list remained the same, just the value assigned to each element would shift with where I was in my life, what job I was considering leaving, and what was drawing me to the next.
It is akin to those home improvement shows (which I confess I am a sucker for). The home buyers lay out 5 elements on their dream list. Ultimately, each home presented misses one or a few items from the wish list and it is left to the buyers to weigh not having that 4th bedroom against being in the right school district. The values can only be determined by the buyers and what matters to them … for now. Ask them 10 years ago or 15 years from now and their choice might change.
So, before jumping away from the job in front of you, I suggest the following:
Create an exhaustive list of considerations. Be thorough (even if an element doesn’t matter to you right now, include it in the list and you can assign a low value). Over time, elements that may not have carried weight might. You also may find that an offer puts a lot of emphasis on an element of your scorecard that you don’t value and you don’t want to be swayed by something that sounds exciting but ultimately doesn’t matter to you.
Assign a value or weight to each element: number value (1-10) or weight (non-negotiable, important, nice to have, no impact).
Score each opportunity against your value system for comparison.
Don’t forget elements such as intuition or gut feeling. Sometimes, it is worth the leap of faith; other times, you want to be more cautious.
Your scorecard can also lay the foundation for a conversation with a manager to make your current or future role more fulfilling. “I really value building and creating, so I would like to see if there is an opportunity to innovate this quarter.” When you are clear on what you value, you can identify the best path to get or stay there, prompting the right conversations on meaningful topics.
While not always perfect, the system does allow you to take a step back and assure that you maintain some objectivity when the grass looks greener, but may just be painted green with promises, superlatives, and platitudes.
And I would just like to say, thank you Eric Greenwald for believing the grass was greener when you hired me for my first job.