Photo: Marcus Obal

Looking around?

Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side, but sometimes, you may just need to water yours a little bit more.

Recently, due to certain circumstances, I have spent a significant amount of time thinking about moving abroad, for work. The last year, I was mostly living between Boston, Ljubljana and Ptuj. And I can tell you it’s incredibly hard. It forces you to re-evaluate your priorities in life, your relationships, family and your goals. In my recent post, about The Art of Leaving, I talk about the pillars of satisfaction, and expanding on that, it is safe to say that living away from your family and friends forces you to reconsider all three of them. They still have to be there, but suddenly, different values spring into action.

Not too long ago, Boštjan, from Zemanta, published a post titled “Slovenian talent: look around before you look around”.

He touches on a couple of interesting points. But one in particular, that is relevant to my mindset at the moment is:

But moving or working abroad shouldn’t be your default answer. It doesn’t have to be. I humbly call on you to try hard to find options to work for globally focused companies in Slovenia. By relocating yourself and your family you are risking as much as you are hoping to gain, but only the ‘gain’ is visible in the offer you have on your desk.

This is incredibly true. Barring some exceptions, in most cases the major gain is monetary — followed by the team/challenge. However, the monetary gain often pales in comparison to the sacrifices one has to make when considering the move abroad. Something unexpected can happen, that forces you to consider the aspect of being close to your family & friends more important.

Possible Drivers

What Boštjan postulates in his post, is that the primary driver for looking around for positions abroad, has more to do with the reach of your actions. And while I agree — to some extent, I think it’s not necessarily true. When I was young, I always wanted to work at Microsoft. Specifically, on MSN (now Skype), or Office. Because I felt I can make an impact on the everyday life of millions of people. That was and still is exactly what drives me. That is why I took on programming. I always felt that working for a Slovenian company will mean I can never change anyone’s life. Wrong.

Change has to start small —with yourself.

About a year ago, I got a chance to work on something that is a game-changer. I believed it then, and I still believe it now. And it’s a Slovenian company in its essence, even though it’s aimed globally.

So, what’s the catch?

Sometimes, these companies/opportunities require you to make sacrifices. Zeppelin’s co-founder, for example, has a son. It amazes me how he managed to be away from him for the periods of time we were in Boston. I missed my nieces to death, and I can only imagine what he had to have felt.

Again, based on your value system and priorities, this is where the catch is. As I’ve said before, something can happen where you want to be close to your loved ones. Keep that in mind when evaluating an offer.

So yes, sometimes the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But more often than not, yours may just need a little watering.

But, what about the experience…

Most people, when explained that you have a high-paying offer, in a foreign country, say that they would jump at it. But would they really? Most of my friends have said it. Few have done it. And I am willing to bet, very publicly, that the majority of those that have said it, would not do it, had they been given a shot. Granted, the experience is amazing. I would not trade my time in Germany or the USA for anything. Except maybe for my own family. I will argue that at a certain point in life, we reach a point where we want to grow roots somewhere, start a family, build something — and cultivate the relationships that we established (friendships). It’s incredibly difficult to restart this process in a foreign country.

Even when your significant other tells you that he/she is willing to move with you, think about what that means for your family. For the goals of both of you. For that picket fence around a gorgeous house… I think it often means putting it on hold for a little while.

There was a time in my life when I could easily (or so I thought) afford building a house, and starting a family. The problem was, that by the time I got out of work, there was no-one to start that family with. Whoops?

You can always come back in two years!

This is the most often heard response when you express your concerns. Guess what, yes, you can. But it sucks. It means leaving something you just built behind again! Unless you know full well, that you are not going to stay somewhere for a while — but that means all you do is half-assed. You never make that house a home.

Ask yourself if it is really worth your time, if you will be abandoning it in a year or two.

Different Cultures = Different Values

Living in different countries means dealing with different cultures. Slovenia is one of the rare European countries that still enforces 8 hour working days with a 30 minute (paid) lunch break. Here, it is possible to go to work early (e.g. 7am) and come home at 3pm. Basically, that means it is possible to have a life outside of work. For example, in the States, it is mostly expected that you work from 9am to 7pm. It is normal (we are talking high value-added positions, of course). I cannot imagine how parents get to spend any time at all with their children under this regime.

Having said that, it does not imply that having a similar job in Slovenia is easy. Or that you will never stay in the office late. Or work at home. But our mindset is more relaxed, more family oriented. As I matured, I believe my focus (in searching) shifted to companies that respect this and support employees starting families (a little counter-intuitive) and understand that (constantly working) 9-10 hours a day does not mean you are more productive.

Putting my money where my mouth is

I had an offer, with an amazing pay-check associated with it. It would require me to move to a different country, and my girlfriend said she would be willing to move with me. I was [ ] close to signing the contract and then something happened that made me re-evaluate the decision. I decided that, for me, being close to my family and friends is more important than the inherent monetary gain.

In the end, it was not a decision based on, as Boštjan postulates, the global orientation of a company versus a local impact, or the economic situation of Slovenia, but a decision of whether I am comfortable in leaving those I care about the most, behind to make some more money.

I decided it wasn’t. For me at least. That’s not to say that for someone else, it might be.