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The Golden Handcuffs Dilemma: Being Stuck In A Job You Don't Love


LAST UPDATED: 09 May, 2022

How many times have you wanted to quit your job? And how many times have you talked yourself out of it by listening to the voice in your head that says, ‘It would be stupid to leave before I get my bonus/raise/ promotion/long-service leave — not to mention all the perks I’d be giving up.

Welcome to the Golden Handcuffs Dilemma—Stuck in a job you don’t love, but the pay and/or conditions are just too good for you to quit. The risk of walking away from good pay and conditions into the unknown of a new role, going freelance, or starting your own business just feels too great — and so you stay. And if perchance you do get a bonus, you will likely ‘treat yourself’ by spending it on material comforts to dull the existential pain of working a job you hate.

Working a job you hate is like driving a car with the handbrake on. It moves, but it’s exhausting. It depletes you of energy and drains your enthusiasm. 

In my last corporate job, I felt like my burning light was getting dimmer and darker every day until I was forced to leave out of sheer desperation. I felt like I never had a choice, even though it afforded me and my family a great lifestyle, and I had no money saved up in the bank. 

Golden handcuffs are a wonderful thing when you truly love your job, or if you have saved up a pile of cash that you can live off until you find your feet again. But if you hate your job and haven’t got any savings to speak of, golden handcuffs are a terrible thing: you’re trapped.

So let me ask you this one question:

What’s the number in your head that allows you to leave the job you hate? What is enough money for you to feel safe?

I’ve worked with salaried employees who want $20K in the bank before they feel safe, and I know bankers whose number is $20M. Many people have a number in their head and will tell the story about the day (not so far away) when they are going to quit their job because they finally have enough money to do what they want.

To be clear, I’m not talking ‘I never have to work again’ freedom. I’m talking ‘I can leave this job and finally spend my time doing something I love, freedom’. And I think it has little to do with money. Money is an excuse for people who want to reduce the risk of being alive. So what is it about then?

Let’s take a leaf out of Elon Musk’s book. Before he became the richest man in the world, he had a brief stint where he only spent a dollar a day on food. He chose freedom as his baseline, and he learned that his threshold for existing was very low. He knew that if he failed, he could still live in a dingy apartment with a computer and be okay and not starve. The knowledge that he didn’t need very much to survive freed him up to take risks.

Elon Musk’s success rests firmly on his confidence in his ability to lose nearly everything and be fine. And he nearly has lost everything more than a few times. And every time his businesses are in trouble, he doubles down.

Quitting a job you hate comes down to trusting yourself, having a vision, and believing in that inspired, enthusiastic part of yourself that ruled when you were younger and idealistic.

You get to choose if you want to keep wearing the golden handcuffs, or if you’re going to listen to the voice in your head that’s saying, ‘walk away’. It’s in your hands.