Oliver Page

The neverending quest for greener grass

28 February, 2021
Neverending quest for greener grass featured image

Photo by Gratisography

“The grass is greener where you water it.”

I first read this aphorism during a time of inner conflict. On one hand, I wanted to nurture the opportunities in front of me. On the other, I was eager to seek out greener pastures.

I was weighing up whether or not to leave medicine, and for several months, I agonised over the decision. My inner dialogue only served to confuse me:

“This isn’t going to work for me in the long-run… I need to make an exit plan.”

“Wait.. remember that saying? Isn’t the grass greener where I water it?”

“Yes, true… I’m determined not to be quitter. But at what cost?”

On it went.

Did the ‘medicine lawn’ need more watering, or was I supposed to leave it behind altogether? And what was making it so hard to reach an answer?

Stay connected

Sign up below for updates on new content. From time to time, I’ll also share things I’m excited about and projects I’m working on.

Commitment or tunnel vision?

Over the millennia, philosophers have had many things to say about virtue. Aristotle, for instance, proposed that virtues are found somewhere between two extremes.

Take courage as an example. Taken to one extreme, courage might become reckless overconfidence in the face of threat. At the other end of the scale, the absence of courage leads to cowardice.

Commitment is another virtue which calls for balance. Without commitment, we can become undisciplined and unfocused. For obvious reasons, this can be destructive.

But what about when we take commitment too far? What about when commitment overrides our best instincts and transforms into obsession, blind devotion or tunnel vision? This can also be a destructive force.

When the decisions we made yesterday aren’t panning out today, doubling down by investing more time and energy usually amplifies the problem. In behavioural psychology, this is called the ‘sunk cost fallacy’.

But we don’t need fancy terms – the English language is rich with pithy sayings which try to communicate this truth:

“Don’t throw good money after bad.”

“It’s never the wrong time to make the right decision.”

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

However, we also receive very contradictory messages in other sayings. Here’s a particularly damaging one:

“You’ve made your bed – now lie in it.”

Or how about this one:

“The grass is greener where you water it”

Sunk costs and careers

The sunk cost fallacy reared its ugly head when it came to weighing up my potential career change. I was a marionette being pulled this way and that by invisible strings.

With years of blood, sweat and tears behind me, it’s no wonder the prospect of making the leap felt unspeakable. I felt guilty – was it wrong to throw away all that emotional investment? I had also invested psychologically, with the identity of ‘doctor’ now feeling comfortable and validating.

Although I value the power of commitment, commitment was now keeping me caged up. I knew this to be the same dynamic which traps people in loveless marriages, toxic friendships and unfulfilling careers of their own.

It was time to step away and find new lawns to water.