The Code Is NOT Greener On The Other Side Of The Cubicle

One of the worst traps we can fall into as software developers is discontentment.

It’s really easy to become discontented with our current situation and to want to seek greener pastures elsewhere. I’m not saying that there aren’t necessarily better situations you could seek out, but finding a better job may not be your problem.

Field of grass and perfect sky

Learn to be content with what you have first…

It may seem strange, coming from me, especially when I actually sell a product to help programmers find better jobs, that I am telling you to be content with your current job. But, I’ve found, in life, that it is impossible to be happy with something new or better until you have learned to be happy with what you already have.

It almost seems paradoxical. If you can be happy with your current job or situation, why would you seek out a new one? You are obviously discontent with your current situation, because a new situation would be better, right?

In order to answer this question, we have to go back a bit into the past and look at where we are now from the perspective of where we were.

Chances are the job you have now was a job that you were excited and enthusiastic about when you first got it. Chances are you left some other situation that was worse than the situation you are in now, searching for greener pastures.

I made many transitions in my early career, from company to company, from job to job, always trying to find a better opportunity. But, each time I drove my little dune buggy over the next sand dune, I found the oasis I had seen from afar was a mirage.

I spent a good deal of my career never really being happy with my current situation and always looking for a better opportunity that would finally give me the rewarding, fulling, job that I desired.

I always had some reason why my current job was not good enough.

Perhaps it was the technology I was working with–I want to use that latest and greatest framework, not this crufty crap.

Sometimes it was the code base itself–if only I could work on a greenfield project, then I wouldn’t have to maintain this stupid legacy code.

Once or twice it was the coworkers–these idiots are doing things all wrong. I need to work on a team that appreciates writing good code.

The list goes on and on and on…

If only I could work from home…

If only I could use ASP.NET MVC instead of Web Forms…

If only I could follow a Kanban process…

Even when I started working for myself, I started coming up with my own “if onlys.” No matter how good our present situation is, we can easily become accustomed to it and take it for granted.

If you can’t ever be content with your present situation or job, you’ll just find that when you find something “better”, you are eventually discontent with that as well. It is really easy to trick yourself into thinking that a parallel or downward movement is an upward one, because you’ve grown so discontent with your current situation.

I’m not saying don’t find a better job or don’t improve your situation, but I am saying that before you do, find a way to be content with what you already have so that you don’t ruin the next endeavor you set out on.

How to be content

The first step towards contentment is realizing that being content is a choice–just like happiness is. Your present situation doesn’t determine your contentment–you do.

Contentment comes from a positive mind that is thankful for what it has. If you want to start being more content with what you have, start “counting your blessings.”

Eyeglasses man

I know this sounds a bit silly and trite, but truly recognizing what you have that is already good and being sincerely thankful for it, goes a long way towards cranking that internal happiness gear a few rotations.

Happiness and contentment are very relative things. You are happy with your car until you see your neighbor buy a new one. You are happy with your current salary, until your brother tells you about the new job he got where he is making twice what you make.

If you are constantly looking at outward comparisons to define the worth of what you have, the value of what you have will decrease in your mind. Instead, focus on what is good about your present situation.

Chances are, if you are reading this blog post, you are already in a better situation than more than 90% of the world. If you have access to a computer and an internet connection, you are “blessed” compared to the millions of people who are living well below what we would consider poverty and working much harder for a living than you are.

There are hundreds of things to be thankful for. You just have to be willing to start recognizing them and truly appreciate them. If you want to be a happier, more content person, make it a daily habit to go over everything in your life that you are thankful for each and every day. Not only will you be happier, but so will the people around you how have to deal with you each day.

(If you are looking for a good book to help you come up with things to be thankful for, check out 14,000 things to be happy about.)

Another way to be content is to work hard

One of the most rewarding things in life is a job well done.

Your present job might not be the one you want. You may be working on a completely crappy code-base. You may not be using the technologies or frameworks that you are excited about. But, if you put your head down and start working hard at your current job, you’ll find it to be much more rewarding.

I’ve found in life that the biggest satisfaction is not what you do, but how you do it. Painting a fence can be just as rewarding as building a skyscraper, if you work hard at it and put your full energies into the task.

If you aren’t happy with your present job, try shutting down Facebook, closing down Twitter and focus on doing the best possible job you can do, each and every day.

Sure, you can still look for a better job. Sure, you can still dream of starting your own consulting business or getting out there on your own. But, in the meantime, you might as well be content with the situation you are in now. Then, when you are ready, and the next opportunity presents itself, you’ll have the ability to truly appreciate it.

The grass may look greener on the other side of the cubical wall, but that doesn’t mean it is. Be content with what you have, but always strive for more and you’ll live a much happier life and make fewer stupid mistakes.

If you liked this post and want to hear more about topics like this one, sign up here to join the Simple Programmer community, and I’ll send you a weekly email and some exclusive content that I only share with the Simple Programmer community.

About the author

John Sonmez

John Sonmez is the founder of Simple Programmer and a life coach for software developers. He is the best selling author of the book "Soft Skills: The Software Developer's Life Manual."

  • beanwl

    Geez, John you did it again….this article hits home. Thanks for your wonderful insight. PS. Love the “How To Market Yourself As a Software Developer.” package.

    • jsonmez

      Thanks! Glad I hit a nerve with this one and also that you found my package helpful. :)

  • Max McCarty

    I think this can, in some ways, boil down to having a positive outlook on life. I also believe that we humans more often than not, are negative by nature which works against us and into that “other side is greener” mentality.

    • jsonmez

      Yes. and having a positive outlook on life is something we have to practice each day.

  • Kelson Martins

    Excellent post.
    Sometimes I feel bad about working with the Clipper language in an ERP company. Reading this post makes me realize the good things about it.
    (small group of people who know how to program in the language and do a good job in it for example.).

    • jsonmez

      Yes. I used to feel the same way about some of the strange technologies I worked with, but everything is relative and it depends on how you perceive your situation.

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  • Brian Burress

    Very good advice!

    • jsonmez


  • RichardW1001

    Great post as always John! Another thing to add is that it’s possible for anyone to make anything as interesting or boring as they choose, based on how much they are willing to put in. On the superficial surface, anything can look boring, because you’re only seeing the very tip of the ice-berg, but there is always more to something if you choose to show interest and look for it. In the case of a development job, sure, you might be working with a less shiny set of tools and languages now, but there’s a world of difference between the people who take that as boring and switch off, and those who see an opportunity to be the one who finds something better and finds a way to make it happen. Equally, if you’re surrounded by people who are disinterested, it’s easy to get dragged down to the same level, but also possible to pull them up by being enthusiastic and sharing the cool stuff you find.

    • jsonmez

      Yes. I agre 100%. Boring or not is a matter of choice. Thanks for the comment.

  • Daniel Roth

    Simple and true, John. It may not help others but sometimes when I feel discontentment creeping in I think about the vast majority of the world’s population for whom living in my circumstances would be beyond their wildest dreams.

    • jsonmez

      Yes. That is the perspective I try to have as well. It is so easy to take things for granted and to not realize how good of a situation most of us actually have.

  • fluidsunshine

    Feeling discontent is OK! Indeed it’s a signal that our mind sends via emotion bus. You may choose to act on it, ignore it, or suppress it. One thing you can’t do is to unsubscribe from it. If you’re discontent then most likely there’re objective reasons for this. Sedating yourself by “counting blessings” will perhaps give you a temporary boost, but unless the objective reasons are changed, the discontent will be back!
    Instead, I would see motivation stemming from such discontent rather *precious*, it lets you actively change your state.
    How not to waste it? Assess where are you now, what does not work. Do your best to improve it. If still not satisfied, set the goals and move on!
    This way you learn to stay honest and trust yourself and people around you at whichever new “greener” place you choose.
    Discontent signals a chance to make life better, don’t blow it. Embrace the change!

    • Gernot Klingler

      Sometimes we just see the bad things between lots of good things and this
      can really drag us down even if the situation is not that bad at all – I
      understand this is as the main message of John’s post. But I think what
      you wrote fluidsunshine is very important. If
      we are discontent we should step back, reflect on our feelings and try
      to see the situation objectively. And then we should not ignore the
      things that discontent us but try to change/improve them – by “change
      them” i do not mean “run away and search a new job”.

      • jsonmez

        Yes, that is the key. To be able to see our situation objectively. This is often hard to do though.

    • André Maurice Lashley

      I second this. I’m starting a new job in a few weeks after about a year of trying to make the best of my current job. I’m working for a very early stage startup, and I just began to feel like it wasn’t a good fit for either party. For instance, they wanted unpaid overtime work, and that was something I eventually refused to do.

      I think that you have to decide what the source of discontent is and how best to deal with it. Being taken advantage of? Does your employer have unreasonable expectations? Then you may be just spinning your wheels in the mud until you take some sort of action. On the other hand, if things are good, but could be only slightly better elsewhere, then you’re chasing an ideal which may or may not be what you expect. And if the new thing doesn’t meet your expectations, then you’re back at square one again.

      Perfect is the enemy of good, but any discontent is worth assessing objectively (and subjectively to some degree). And lastly, I think its always best to weigh up the best and worst possible outcomes of making any life-altering decision.

      • jsonmez

        Good perspective. Enjoy your new position. :)

        • André Maurice Lashley

          Thanks John!

    • jsonmez

      I agree, but also disagree. Let me explain. You are right that sometimes the feeling of discontentment is a signal to change your situation–and we should listen to it–but, that doesn’t mean we can’t make the best of a present situation while we strive for a better one. (That is really the point of my post.)
      There is however a general discontentment that comes from taking things for granted and not appreciating our current situation. It can be hard to distinguish one from the other.
      Some people choose to be discontent in whatever circumstance they are in, because they have not learned to be thankful for what they have. For those people, no amount of running away and chasing a new thing will ever bring happiness.

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  • XiaoChen Guo

    John, I totally agree with you that the biggest satisfaction is how you do it. By doing in a good way really helps to increase your ability even if it’s not the most exciting project. We should never stop us from learning and getting better even when we are discontent. In contrary we should always make the best of the current situation. Thanks for giving us so many good advices!!!

    • jsonmez

      You are quite welcome.

  • jsonmez

    Yes. Exactly. Nice post.

  • David Rael

    Thanks for pointing this out John. There is great value in a daily gratitude practice. 5 minute journal is a pretty good resource.

  • David Rael

    I love the XP background image here. It’s clever and funny and timely.

  • Mikhail Golubtsov

    It seems you gave some spiritual advice, John!

    I myself stick to a concept of internal integrity. If you’re discontent you shouldn’t lie to yourself that you aren’t. You shouldn’t persuade yourself to be content too. You should face your discontentment, accept it existence and watch it. And while being aware of discontentment you start understanding real roots of your feelings. All your past experience and believes will pop up. And that’s fine. It somehow changes your perception.

    I admit that positive thinking is great, but it’s hard to practise. I see for myself that inner integrity really changes things permanently.