Leaders Develop their People

Should you free yourself of your golden handcuffs? Photo of golden handcuffs

If you want to free yourself from your golden handcuffs—how do you do it? (If you are uncertain whether to free yourself or not, see this post).

 In my experience, one of four obstacles block people who are ready to lose their cuffs but who are stuck and can’t seem to make it happen:

 1. They aren’t happy where they are, but don’t know where they want to be; they lack a personal vision; 

2. Fear; 

3. They are uncertain of the logistics of how to make it happen—what I call the nuts and bolts of making a life change, and; 

4. They need to develop new skills and behaviors. If, for example, you’ve spent your life as an IT engineer and want to become a motivational speaker, you’ll need to learn how to speak in public (skill) and how to be enthusiastic and inspiring (behavior).

What are you going to do if you lose the cuffs?

Finding out what we want to do with the brief span of time we’ve been given is perhaps our greatest challenge. There are truckloads of books and philosophies designed to unveil your life’s path and purpose in life. There is nothing I can add to this cacophony—but I can say a few things to cut through it.

Most people who come to me for help finding their path through life think that if they look behind enough trees or under enough rocks, they will find the perfect career. It is true that some are lucky enough to stumble upon—or know from birth—their calling. For the bulk of us, however, it’s not a matter of finding our calling; it’s a matter of creating it.

If you don’t know what it is you want to do by now—stop looking and start creating.

Creating your calling starts at the intersection of five different dimensions of our lives, two external (money and status) and three internal (interests, talents, and making a difference). Plot these out—how much money or status do you need, what your interests are, your talents, and the importance to you of service. This last one is the sleeper, because often, particularly when you’re mired in your muck, you can’t appreciate (or even comprehend) how joyful and meaningful it can be to make a difference for someone else.

When you’ve done your plot, start experimenting. What you are looking for is an activity that fits your plot and provides autonomy, meaning, and flow. Flow is the state of being so immersed in your task that you lose track of time, external distractions, and even your sense of self.

 Then take the leap and commit to it. That is, choose it without knowing whether this is your true path. Understand that it is now your job to make it your path; it is your job to create fulfillment and joy.

Fear and risk

It is fear that stops us: fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of making the wrong decision, fear of rejection, failure, or being wrong (See previous posts here and here). As long as you are growing, you will feel fear because to grow you need to step beyond what is comfortable for you.

Each time you take a step into your fear, hang out there for a while, and your fear will diminish. Then take another step and, when you are ready, take another and another until you’ve reached your goal.

Fear is inevitable; accept that it will always be a part of your life.  

Your purpose is not to eliminate your fear before you start (which is not possible absent drugs, alcohol, or self-delusion), but to build your courage so that your fear no longer stops you.

To be clear—you are taking a risk when you free yourself from your cuffs. It is possible that you may fail; that you don’t achieve your goal or create a more fulfilling life for yourself.

Understand this about risks: You can’t control the outcome of anything that you do in life. Give up thinking that life turns out the “way it should” or the “way it shouldn’t” be. Life just turns out. Understanding this frees you from the illusion that you can control life’s outcomes. It also frees you from focusing on the goal. In life, aim for the goal but revel in the chase.

It is much more fun to be on the field playing the game than standing on the sidelines watching, even for the losing team. When you are playing, you are more creative, more charged with joy and excitement, and you are master of yourself. When you are on the sidelines, you tend to be resigned and cynical and making yourself a victim of some damn thing. 

From the sidelines, you have the honor of watching other people—not you—live their lives.

Yes, there is a risk. But make your life about the game and not the goal. At the end of your life, would you rather have played and failed or not have played at all?

The nuts and bolts of losing the cuffs

So, you’ve made your decision to cut loose, you know where you are going, you’re willing to accept the risks—but the path forward is complex and overwhelming. Frankly, it looks impossible.

How do you convince your kids to share a room and shop at Target when your income shrinks? How do you hold a fulltime job and return to school? How do you compete with twenty-year-olds half your age in a (to you) brand new industry?

No matter how daunting your path, consider this:

Declare what it is you want to do or who you want to be. That is, make it clear to yourself and the people in your life where you intend to go and what you intend to do. Making a declaration will keep you focused when the work of making it happen overwhelms you.

Ask yourself who you need to be so that your path is doable. Organized? Assertive? Inspirational? Patient? Decisive? Becoming this person is your most important task.

Be unstoppable. Don’t let logistics crush your dream. There is always a way through.

Shedding those cuffs will require a new you

There’s no way around it—if your goal is ambitious, if it is worth getting out of bed for every morning it may well look unachievable from where you are now.

That’s the point. If you knew how to get to where you are going from where you are, you probably didn’t set the bar high enough. You will not have achieved much if you are the same person where you end up as you were when you began.

Don’t let the apparent impossibility of your goal defeat you; let it excite and challenge you. Let it roil your juices and challenge you to grow and develop as you reach toward it. 

Cut the cuffs

Freeing yourself from your golden handcuffs can be difficult. It will require substantial inner work to clarify your goals and outer work to educate yourself, to adjust to new circumstances, and to engage the people in your life in your new direction. 

It’s a lot of work—but it’s your life and it’s your only one.

Contact me now, and let’s start making things happen.