Beware of the Golden Handcuffs

by Stephen Mills on July 26, 2009

Handcuffs

The term “golden handcuffs” typically means some lucrative financial incentive to keep an executive or manager from leaving a company.  Financial compensation is arranged in such a way to “handcuff” them to their particular job or company.  I want to expand this idea to anyone who has a traditional job.  Whether we like to admit it or not, most people in traditional jobs are also locked tight by the golden handcuffs.  We have, by our own behavior, handcuffed ourselves to our jobs.

In my experience the #1 reason why people just don’t leave the jobs they are fed up with, is due to the fact that they believe they simply cannot survive, or are not willing to pay the price, to be without their job for any length of time.  It is a frightening thing for long-time prisoner to be let loose from his cell.  The pressure of responsibility feels like it is going to crush him.

The main underlying cause for this problem is that most of us are simply living at, nearly at, or often even above our means.  I exclude those who through no fault of their own can barely feed themselves, but I suspect there are very few people in that category reading this blog.

When someone at a buffet line piles their plate with more food than they can eat, we say “their eyes were bigger than their stomach”.  We could also say that most people’s eyes are bigger than their paycheck.  We go into debt to buy homes, cars, clothes, electronics, and all sorts of other stuff that we do not need to live well or to be happy.  We get used to living at our means and buying all kinds of material things.  We do not need these large homes, expensive cars, electronic toys, closets full of clothes, or the myriad of other things we get used to living with.

What we are doing is guaranteeing that we will be locked to the rat race by the golden handcuffs for many years to come.  Traditional retirement plans, restricted stock options, vesting of savings plans, health insurance and many other benefits provided to employees by many companies lock the golden cuffs even tighter.

Locking yourself into your job is very easy to do.  Almost everyone does it.  It often occurs gradually.  You get married and buy a big house.  You have kids and the mother might choose to stay home to raise them.  You need to save for your children’s college funds, your family needs insurance, private schools, the best clothes, all the activities, etc.  Without even realizing it you have locked yourself into the rat race of your job with a massive pair of golden handcuffs.

If you want freedom from the rat race, you need to think very carefully about how you live.  The freedom you lose by snapping on the cuffs may seem insignificant and worth it when that sexy new car is calling your name, but that sexiness will wear off just as fast as the satisfaction with your job.

Beware of the golden handcuffs.  They sure look good at first, but they lock tight and are very difficult to remove.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve July 26, 2009 at 9:20 pm

You are correct in saying that people often stick with the devil they know, rather than risk the devil they don’t know. In a time of recession, it can be helpful to look at a potential job loss as a positive push toward the bigger dream of starting that new business. It takes courage to be uncomfortable, but often it takes an increasing practice of becoming uncomfortable to succeed. For it is only in risk and growth that we learn and become something bigger than we presently are.
.-= Steve´s last blog ..How to Get a Spine….TODAY! =-.

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Oscar - freestyle mind July 27, 2009 at 3:20 am

One method to escape a regular job is to start considering it a complete waste of time. If you stick with this thought, you’ll start to see opportunities and you’ll start to value more your money. Thank for sharing Stephen. Stumbled!
.-= Oscar – freestyle mind´s last blog ..Habit #3 – Collect and Process =-.

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Jay Schryer July 27, 2009 at 6:58 am

I know this feeling all too well. When I first started at my current job, I noticed a cartoon on one of the manager’s doors which was making fun of the “golden handcuff” feeling. I remember promising myself that I would never let this job suck me into that trap.

But then I did it. I got used to having the money, and the prestige that comes with my job. And I hate it now, but the fear of being jobless again keeps me going in day after day.

I am working on an escape plan, but the main thing I need is the courage to take a leap of faith. As I develop my courage more and more, I feel that freedom is coming closer and closer. I wish I could do it sooner, but courage needs to be built slowly, along with confidence. But, I’ll get there 🙂
.-= Jay Schryer´s last blog ..I Totally Screwed My Karma =-.

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Vin - NaturalBias July 27, 2009 at 8:31 am

There’s no doubt that the golden handcuffs are hard to remove, especially with a family that doesn’t share the same perspective about it. I think this is something that should be thoroughly explained to kids while they’re in a much better position to avoid it.
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..Reflections from My Vacation in the Middle of Nowhere =-.

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Positively Present July 27, 2009 at 8:47 am

I’d like some golden handcuffs right about now! 🙂 More money? Yes please! Haha. But, seriously, I completely agree with what you’ve written here. Great post!
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..growing up is optional =-.

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Lisis | Quest For Balance July 27, 2009 at 8:56 am

Hey, Stephen! Fantastic post… I just stumbled and reviewed it because I think it is SOOOOO important for people to realize that we alone create those shackles. When we decided Jeff would quit his job (our only income), we realized he would have to walk away from a substantial bonus at the end of the year. But that same bonus incentive has kept his friend trapped for 25 years! Another friend of ours won’t walk away from stock options… but it’s not the money or the company keeping them trapped, it’s their OWN perception that they NEED that money.

Vin raises an excellent point, though… the whole family has to be on board if you are going to suddenly get off the rat race treadmill because you will likely face some difficult times in the transition phase. In our case, we are OK with the idea of a possible foreclosure, or having to grow our own food, if need be. Sounds extreme, but when you consider the alternative of living miserably in a job that’s slowly killing you, it really sounds (and feels) quite liberating.

Anyway, I’ve rambled too long, but all because I thought this post was awesome!
.-= Lisis | Quest For Balance´s last blog ..Adventure: The Road To Freedom =-.

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Valerie M July 27, 2009 at 1:27 pm

When you and Vin put it that way, it seems like families themselves are also indirectly part of the problem. No wonder why this generation is finding it even harder to settle down. After all, how can you job-hop and career change as much when you have a family with ever-increasing needs? And should you divorce if you find that your family doesn’t agree with your plans to ‘remove the handcuffs’?

For the record, I have no problems with settling down. It just makes me realize how much avoiding the golden handcuffs also play a big role in the high divorce rates and the current generation’s hesitancy to get married.

I’m going off on a tangent. Great post, Stephen! I’ve also consciously handcuffed myself to jobs because of the illusion of security from the benefits. In truth, we’re being suckered because we could probably get a better deal elswhere. No matter how free they seem, you’re paying premium for those benefits.
.-= Valerie M´s last blog ..LiveSay [Haiti]: Marathon for hungry children =-.

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Vin | NaturalBias.com July 27, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Hi Valerie. My intention was certainly not to place blame on family members. Maybe that’s not what you meant, but I wanted to clear it up just in case. 🙂

Some people value freedom more than material items, and for others, it’s the other way around. If you have a spouse that values big houses, fancy cars, and other expensive things more than freedom, then regardless of any blame, it’s still a significant conflict of values that presents a major challenge to both people.
.-= Vin | NaturalBias.com´s last blog ..Reflections from My Vacation in the Middle of Nowhere =-.

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Valerie M July 27, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Vin, it’s definitely not what I meant, but I understand. 🙂 Very true about the conflict of values.

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Stephen Mills July 27, 2009 at 4:20 pm

@Steve, very well said. Thanks for commenting.

@Oscar, thanks again for your support!

@Jay, don’t rush it, but if you hate it you need to leave. Visualize the worst in your mind over and over and it will seem less and less powerful.

@Vin, you are totally right about the family thing. In the end though the family is not the one handcuffed, you are. You don’t help your family by being a prisoner to something you don’t want.

@Positively Present :-). Just keep the handcuffs after you unlock them and RUN.

@Lisis, thank you soooooo much! 🙂 I’m really proud of you and your family for setting yourselves free. It takes a lot of guts.

@Valerie, you raise some important points. We are tied down because it’s not just us that wants all that stuff, it’s our families too. So it’s the problem times four or five. Yes we have been suckered and we are the only ones that can unlock ourselves.

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Zeenat-Positive Provocations July 28, 2009 at 7:14 am

Stephen,
I do agree with you completely on the being trapped in a monotonous job part. But there are as you mentioned lots of factors involved. I think it takes a lot of courage to be able to take the first step. But once we do actually get the courage to do that, i think the rest of the path comes more naturally.
I understand the work culture of the corporate world cause my husband usually comes and shares stories of politics in the work place. Luckily i am my own boss so i usually understand his plight. But, the high he gets from the job negates the politics for now. I think the day the politics take over..he might just end up walking out too.
.-= Zeenat-Positive Provocations´s last blog ..Wants vs. Needs =-.

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TJ | Health, Unchained July 28, 2009 at 9:41 am

Man, you nailed my predicament right now. I’m even considering a job change with significantly less money just so I can work less and ease into a more unrestricted life. But I have a wife, kid, and kid on the way so I have to be careful.
.-= TJ | Health, Unchained´s last blog ..Patience Is A Virtue, Really! =-.

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Jodi at Joy Discovered July 28, 2009 at 11:27 am

I am totally with you on this one! We should always live below our means so that we always, always have the freedom to move, change or grow. Just knowing we have this kind of freedom helps us live more authentically! Thank you, great post!
.-= Jodi at Joy Discovered´s last blog ..The Truth Will Set You Free =-.

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Dave Witwicki July 29, 2009 at 10:12 am

Excellent post and many interesting comments, too! You’ve summed up nicely the predicament of feeling trapped in a job that you no longer enjoy. It can be so hard to take the cuffs off when you’re fighting social pressure, family pressure and financial uncertainty. It becomes easy to blame everything/everyone around you for your situation but, as you say, the real problem is our own beliefs. If we can change our beliefs, we can change our circumstances…
.-= Dave Witwicki´s last blog ..End Of The Day =-.

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George Serradinho July 30, 2009 at 9:48 am

I’ve been in this situation to many times now. I like my job, but I need a new challenge and job. I have looked around, but no one will come close to paying what I get now and thats the downside. When I have to renew my contract, which is every year, I just ask for more and more money and they always give in and give it to me.

I have thought that I will eventually get to the max, but that never seems to happen. I have asked for little increase and other times I have asked for outrageous increase and I get it.
.-= George Serradinho´s last blog ..Newest WordPress Plugins 30/7 =-.

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dagoelius August 9, 2009 at 10:40 am

12 months ago I put an oxy torch to my golden handcuffs.
One day i went on my lunch break as usual and decided i had enough of working my body to exhaustion for some far off financial payoff.
Bought a one way ticket and moved interstate see where fate would take me.
Turns out best thing i ever did,sure i earn less money but i only work 5 days a week, no weekends and more free time to do my passion.

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Well Wisher February 16, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Very Nice.

It might be interesting to note that the “brainwashing” of getting a job and climbing the “golden ladder”, if you will, starts right from school.

Just remember that it is NOT easy to get out of this brainwashing and planning is very much key before taking action – remember to plan to space some time to “unlearn” the things that caused you to get into these cuffs in the first place – honestly, it is one of the most trickiest thing to do….

All the best
(a former rat racer)

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nancy July 14, 2011 at 8:00 pm

So true. My job started off so well but now it’s just incredibly infuriating and I often just want to get up and leave. Just leave and never come back. I get no respect, the tasks are menial, but the pay…the pay is wild. 6 figures right after college. It would be very difficult to find another job that pays as well as this I think, so no matter how much I hate it, I feel like I have to stay, and I get scared for the future whenever thoughts of leaving enter my head.

I think I’ve finally reached the tipping point though. The date is set. I’m determined. I’m hoping I can leave at the end of this year if my own startup business is going ok!

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