The Key to Unlocking the Golden Handcuffs

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I first heard the term ‘Golden Handcuffs’ from a friend while she was describing the organization where she used to work. On the outside, this organization seemed to be the golden ticket. You know, the “it” job where people had security, status, a high salary and excellent perks. It also appeared that people held onto their positions for 10, 20 or even 30 years. That’s a good sign, right?

Not quite…

Once my friend was on the inside, she found out that things were quite different. Even though people stayed for many years, they weren’t exactly happy. In fact, she realized that most of her colleagues were pretty frustrated with the organization’s bureaucratic system.

“Why do they stay?” I asked her.

“They call it the Golden Handcuffs,” she explained. “They lock you in for life with the salary, benefits, and prestige. Other organizations just can’t compete.”

From a young age, it was drilled into me to go to school, get a good job, and have financial security. But what happens when you achieve all of that, only to find that it doesn’t truly make you happy?

That’s exactly how it felt for Jennifer*, a friend of mine who works in the medical field. From the outside, it appeared that Jennifer had it all: a loving marriage, two beautiful children, and a rock star career.

When I met Jennifer, she had recently been promoted to a Director position at the hospital where she worked. After years of struggling through college and grad school, and working her way up the professional ladder, it appeared that she had finally “made it.”

There was only one problem…

That great promotion, with a nice office and generous salary, also came at a high price to Jennifer and her family. It meant working insane hours (including nights and weekends), high stress, fast food lunches and dinners, no time for exercise, and the inability to be present with her children. Her Golden Handcuffs were holding her back from feeling joyfully fulfilled with her life.

“Even when I was with my husband and kids, I was never really there,” she explained. “I always had my phone and laptop nearby, a mountain of paperwork to catch up on, and was often putting out fires at the office instead of spending quality time with the people I loved.”

After doing some major soul searching, Jennifer decided to leave her director position and go into home health care instead. Despite that it wasn’t a “glamorous” director role, this position allows Jennifer to make her own schedule, work drastically less hours, and be completely autonomous, which she loves. It means having more time to cook healthy meals, take yoga classes, volunteer in her daughter’s classroom, and spend quality time with her family. In one phrase, she describes it as being “free as a bird.”

If you’re wondering how you can achieve this type of freedom, it all begins with having a deep, burning desire and commitment to put your joy and well-being first.

It means believing that YOU deserve the best. It also requires having faith; faith that when you take steps toward creating your optimal lifestyle, that you’ll be supported every step of the way.

The first step of unlocking yourself from the Golden Handcuffs is to get clear on your purpose. Ask yourself, “how do you want to feel at the end of your life?” This may sound morose, but when you look at the top regrets people have at the end of life, many of them are centered around work.

People regretted not pursuing their dreams because of others’ expectations. Or focusing too much on work and not spending enough time with their loved ones. Whatever the case may be, it’s important to contemplate this question and create a plan that will allow for a life that will make you proud today, tomorrow, and on your last day.

If like Jennifer, you feel bound by the constraints of the Golden Handcuffs, just know this: you’re not meant to burden yourself through your life because of money. Putting material success ahead of your health, well-being, and loved ones is a guaranteed way to live with regret.

Free yourself from that burden by exploring how things COULD work out for you if you pursued an alternate path–one that would bring you true happiness. Use your energy to create a transition plan that still supports your financial needs while allowing you to nurture your truest desires.

In the end, remember this:

“Balance comes in the moments when you STAND UP for the life you TRULY WANT for yourself, by MAKING CHOICES THAT ALIGN with that.”   -Unknown

*Names have been changed to protect confidentiality

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