Are greener pastures worth chasing or just an optical illusion?
A 2009 article in the NY Times described how Mr. Laermer, a quintessential New Yorker, fell in love with La Quinta, a California desert town, during his work trips. So much so that he bought a vacation home there, and over time, made it his primary residence. But once the switch happened and California became home, it didn’t take long for Mr. Laermer to feel unsettled again.
Apparently, Mr. Laermer’s restlessness isn’t unique. As the author of the NY Times article astutely observed about people who trade in their primary homes and instead choose to live in their vacation homes:
They start to feel rather like the man who marries his mistress only to realize he’s created a vacancy in the position.
Chasing greener pastures
The temptation to give up what we have for greener pastures isn’t restricted to people with multiple homes, or those who can afford to chase esoteric dreams.
According to a survey, 28 percent of households in the lowest-income bracket play the lottery at least once a week, forgoing emergency savings and even falling behind on current bills. We are all moved to some extent by the siren song of the greener pastures.
We hope that our ticket to go from obscurity to fame, fortune and happiness is by taking up a new job, or getting into a new relationship, or investing in the hottest crypto craze. But it’s worth asking the big question:
Is the grass really greener on the other side?
The phrase “the grass is green on the other side” is a metaphorical expression for the human tendency to desire and idealize other people’s life and circumstances. A severe case of Fomo co-mingled with Shiny objects syndrome, if you will. But this perception is often inaccurate because we forget to consider two key factors:
- What we perceive from afar may not reflect reality and, more often than not, we overestimate how green the grass in on the other side.
- We undervalue what we already have as we chase an unfamiliar future.
Let’s look at some key reasons we fall for the mirage of greener pastures.
Illusion of perfection
When we’re constantly bombarded by picture-perfect, curated images of other people’s perfect lives, it’s hard to not feel envious. But here’s what we need to know and remember.
Behind every perfectly curated Instagram post, there’s a pile of laundry waiting to be folded.
Social media is a highlight reel, and far from an accurate representation of reality.
The grunt behind the shine
What we see of other people’s life, the press coverage, if you will, focuses on the results and not necessarily the hard work and grunt that goes to producing that result. Makes sense, right? Hard work is rarely sexy. Would you rather tune in to watch an Olympic athlete blaze through the tape at the finish line or watch hours and hours of their tedious training regimen?
When we’re tempted and envious of a friend’s house, or their jet-setting lifestyle, it’s good to ask ourselves if we’re willing to put in the effort and sacrifice that lifestyle warrants. It’s easy to want a lush green lawn, but are we willing to water, mow, and maintain the lawn to preserve its lushness?
The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence. The grass is greenest where it is watered. Robert Fulghum.
The mirage of greener pastures
The mirage of greener pastures is a universal phenomenon, and holds true in many areas—material possessions, relationships, lifestyle and finances. Take, for instance, investor performance.
Author and Certified Financial Planner Carl Richards wrote an article in the NY Times about how the best investment strategy is one where we get out of our own way. Because, he says,
The hard part of investing isn’t picking the best investment. Instead, it’s sticking with the one we’ve picked.
The power of compounding does the rest.
For most average Americans, the homes they live in are probably their best investments, purely because, unlike other investments, they stay awhile in their homes without feeling the need to flip constantly. An unintended, but a good consequence of staying long in a home, is that homeowners don’t unnecessarily interrupt the growth of their home’s value.
So, how about something radical? Instead of constant change and movement, why not consider staying put, at least for a while?
Stability is underrated
The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost. JRR Tolkien.
Stability is often underrated. When we stop moving unnecessarily, we give ourselves a chance to put down roots and establish networks, at work, in relationships, and in our communities.
Humans are pack animals, after all. Very few things in life matter as much as the sense of belonging and purpose, and those can only come when we stop to tend to our own pastures instead of constantly chasing after greener ones.
A 2011 article in the NY Times described a couple who’d lived for 51 years in the same apartment overlooking the Hudson River. For most of those years, they had a good reason—they started and ran an art movie theater in the neighborhood, and its proximity to the apartment kept them there. But even after the theater was closed, they didn’t move, because, Ms. Talbot, the owner said, “I put 10 antique Persian tiles in the wall in the kitchen that will keep us here forever.”
Sometimes a few rare tiles are all it takes to stay put.
Sure, there are circumstances, such as a job loss, or family needs, or feeling stuck in life, that require us to search for and move towards greener pastures but, stability, especially in today’s culture, appears to be trivialized, or worse, seen as lazy. And that’s certainly not true. It’s worth evaluating the stay or go decision—seriously—every time.
As Nassim Taleb, author of The Black Swan, one of the most influential financial books of our lifetime, said,
If you want to panic, panic early.
And then, settle down and stay put. Compounding doesn’t just result in financial wizardry, it works equally well in all areas of life. And, as one of the greatest investors of our lifetime, Charlie Munger wisely said,
The first rule of compounding is to never interrupt it unnecessarily.