Once I discovered that “grass-is-greener” syndrome is a thing, I felt a thousand times happier about my restlessness

Grass-is-greener syndrome is a thing

It’s the time of year when professional dissatisfaction can take hold. But Chloe Brown says it’s important to count your blessings

By Chloe Brown

When I was a teenager, my Mum bought me a fridge magnet. On it was written a simple slogan: “The road to success is always under construction.”

That phrase pretty much summed up my life. I was always on the lookout for the next opportunity.

    The road to success has to be built, or the project abandoned. Because ongoing construction is exhausting.  

Even as a young woman, I spent the vast majority of my time eyeing the future. If I could just get through GCSEs I’d be able to get stuck into A levels and study subjects I really cared about. When I finished A levels I could head to university and specialise in my chosen discipline. Then if I did okay in my degree, maybe I’d get funding for a postgrad position. And so on and so on.

The above paragraph speaks of one of the causes of my restlessness. The education system is like a giant conveyor belt. If you do well at one level, it’s natural that you progress to the next, and then the next. And then the next.

But, sooner or later, you have to settle on something. Find your level. You can’t just bounce from one thing to another. The road to success has to be built, or the project abandoned. Because ongoing construction is exhausting.

So it was that by the time I was in my early thirties, I felt utterly worn out by the constant searching for the next professional challenge. I’d completed my Master's degree, secured a PhD, done some teaching qualifications and pursued a parallel career as a journalist. I was working for a national daily newspaper and sat on the board of a few charities, advising them on communications, media relations and fundraising.

But still I wasn’t satisfied. I always felt there was something more for me. A job that I would find uniquely fulfilling.

So I wasted hours every day searching for my dream job. I couldn’t start work in the morning without trawling jobs boards and newspaper websites for vacancies. I downloaded scores of job descriptions every week, trying to work out if one of them was the opportunity for which I’d been waiting.

And yet, when push came to shove, I never got around to applying for anything. I did take on a few additional roles, but never as a result of applying for them. And it never occurred to me that they were anything other than stopgaps until my real career got underway.

Then one day I had lunch with a colleague who’d always been something of a mentor to me. I asked her what she thought I should be doing with my life, what job she thought I’d excel at.

    ...I’d always felt restless, as if my professional identity hadn’t quite been realised.  

She looked confused for a few moments, then told me that she thought I was great at the things I was doing and had a nice life with a decent income and plenty of flexibility.

Why, she wondered, would I want to change a thing?

I told her that I’d always felt restless, as if my professional identity hadn’t quite been realised. As if the best was yet to come.

This was the moment that changed my whole attitude. She told me I was suffering from “grass-is-greener” syndrome. It’s a mindset that always believes things could be better than they are. She knew about it because her therapist had diagnosed her with it, especially when it came to her relationships. She was never happy with what she had. Always wanted something more.

Immediately I heard the symptoms, I knew it was my problem. I spent my life looking over the horizon, rather than enjoying all the great things about where I currently stood.

As I drove home from that lunch, I felt as if a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I started to appreciate all the great features of my career to date. I got home and made a list of everything I loved about my life, including jobs, relationships, where I lived, my family. I even noted how much I liked my coffee machine and my favourite tea towel.

Now, when I feel a case of the glums coming on, I take out my list and remind myself of how lucky I am. It hasn’t quite quelled my desire to go on achieving new things. I still keep half an eye out for the next stimulating opportunity. But it’s no longer an obsession. I’m happy as I am.

And that road I was busy constructing? Turns out it was nearer to completion than I realised.

*Elements of this story have been changed to protect the author’s identity

© 2020 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

Published: 14 January 2020

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