Should You Free Yourself From Your Golden Handcuffs?

Should you free yourself of your golden handcuffs? Photo of golden handcuffs
Golden handcuffs are the 21st-century equivalent of a pact with the devil or Faustian Bargain. Such pacts are common in Christian (and likely other) folklore: a person sells their soul to the devil and into eternal damnation in return for an extra-worldly power or benefit for use during their time in this life. The devil’s gifts include fortune, fame, power, youth, or knowledge.

The bargain people strike today is secular and, while not found in folklore, can be found walking the floors of almost any modern business. In return for generous salaries, good benefits, and status, people accept soul-crushing jobs with high stress, long hours, and unreasonable expectations.

If you are trapped by golden handcuffs—if you are making an astronomical amount of money, if your stock options after the IPO will be worth millions, or if you are basking in social or professional status but your soul is being crushed, your marriage is disintegrating, your kids are growing up without you, and heartburn is your daily companion—you might want to reconsider the pact you have made with today’s devil. It is a devil far more insidious than any from folklore. At least in folklore, you had your entire earthly life to enjoy your diabolical gift before consigning your soul to Hell. Today, you get the gift and the damnation in this lifetime.

You put the golden cuffs on

To be clear, “golden handcuffs” is a misleading metaphor since it implies that someone else put the cuffs on you. Not true. You put them on you, and the only person keeping them on you is you. And you did so because you are addicted to the goodies you are getting from them: The second house in the Hamptons, the Mercedes, the kids’ perfect orthodontia, and the philanthropic boards you chair.

Giving up these is like giving up an opioid habit but worse because, unlike an addiction to heroin, you get all kinds of social, cultural, and familial reinforcement for your wealth and status.

Five things to get clear before you unshackle your cuffs

First: Is it the job or you? Who is making your job so miserable? If you are creating the stress, the miserable relationships, the workload, the upsets then I promise you that you will (re)create them wherever you go even if you homestead in the Alaskan bush. It is true that where ever you go, there you are.

Second: What responsibilities must you honor? There is a difference between downsizing your lifestyle so you can take a more meaningful but less well-paying job—and dropping your kid off at the orphanage so you can run off and self-actualize. You have made commitments (abbreviated version) in your life that you can’t, with integrity, ignore. Factor these into your decision.

Third: Are you serious or daydreaming? Dreaming about the organic garden or a career on the stage could be the emotional escape valve that you deploy when life gets overwhelming. It’s a normal part of being human to wish for something better than your current circumstances, particularly when current circumstances are difficult. Before you free yourself from your cuffs, be certain that you are not jumping into fantasyland.

Fourth: What is your relationship to challenge and risk? Any change, particularly mid-career, is going to be difficult in ways that you can’t anticipate. Are you excited and energized by challenges—or do you cave? If complaining and victimhood are your defaults when the going gets tough, transform them before cutting the cuffs.

Fifth: Is your story about your golden handcuffs cover for something nasty? Keep reading.

Weaponizing your golden handcuffs

How can you weaponize your golden handcuffs?

Easily. If you are saying to your spouse, for example, “I’m working in this soul-crushing job so that you can have that lake house in the Catskills,” you have weaponized your handcuffs.

Seeing yourself shackled by golden handcuffs makes you a victim. Anytime you use your victimhood against another, you have weaponized it. You get several benefits by weaponizing your victimhood. In this case, it gives you permission to dominate your spouse. It also allows you to avoid taking responsibility for yourself since someone else is “causing” your victimhood (“I’m a victim of your need for the lake house”).

If you’ve weaponized them, then your handcuffs aren’t the issue. They are just the excuse you use to dominate and avoid taking responsibility. If you were to cut your cuffs free, you’d still be just as miserable as you were with the cuffs on, and you would quickly find another excuse to make yourself a victim and thus justify your domination.

Take a look—are you using your golden handcuffs to dominate? If so, you’ll need to address this before taking any action to free yourself from them.

Powerfully choose to keep your golden handcuffs

It can be a legitimate and life-affirming choice to keep your handcuffs. Every life has trade-offs. If you choose to live in NYC, then you can’t live anywhere else; if you choose to marry this person, then you can’t marry someone else, and so on. If you are comfortable with the trade-offs—keep the cuffs.

If you do choose them, however, choose them powerfully.

Manage your thinking: The quality of your life is dependent on your thinking—this is the essence of coaching. In accepting your cuffs, do not second guess yourself, do not entertain fantasies of the grass on the other side of the fence, do not compare yourself to others, do not weaponize your plight, and do not make yourself a victim of it.

Manage your stress, overwhelm, and spiritual discomfort. Create joy, meaning, and laughter in your life. Know, too, that the choice you make today doesn’t need to be a lifetime decision; revisit it when appropriate.

Never again claim that you are enslaved by “golden handcuffs.” The term implies a lack of agency—as if someone else has shackled you. It’s your choice—own it.

You’ve made your choice, now make it the right choice. Everyday.

Keep them or lose them?

If you are twisting yourself up in agonies of indecision trying to decide whether to keep or lose your golden handcuffs, let’s talk. Indecision is an exquisite form of self-abuse that doesn’t move you forward nor does it let you stay content.

Contact me now, and let’s get you off that fence.