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Saturday, March 8, 2014

Are You Wearing Golden Handcuffs?


They say every person has their price. I guess that must be true, because countless people stay in a job they hate for only one reason—the money. Is that the case for you?

A woman came to see me once who worked in media sales. Her position sounded like a really nice job with high pay and a lot of perks. But as soon as she sat down in my office she blurted out, “I’ve got to find a new job, because the one I’m in is killing me!”

I felt sad for her. So I asked, “Why don’t you quit?”

“Oh, I have quit,” she replied. “I’ve quit three times.”

That definitely raised my eyebrows. “Three times? Why do you keep going back?”

“Because every time I quit, they beg me to stay and offer me more money.”

I thought to myself, “What a perverse form of slavery!” That lady was wearing extremely nice clothes and a lot of expensive jewelry—including a set of golden handcuffs.

But she is far from alone. Countless people keep working at a job they can’t stand only—and I mean only—because they get paid a lot of money. 

For instance, I think of all the executives and professionals I’ve worked with who are miserable because they’re in a bad job-fit. They desperately want to move in directions that really fit them, based on their giftedness. But they feel they can’t because they’ve taken on a lifestyle that involves a huge mortgage, private schools for the kids, and toys for the spouse and family. To suddenly take a pay cut would be unthinkable, if not suicidal. 

Or rather homicidal: I’ve had men say, “Bill, my wife would kill me if she thought I was even thinking about getting into another line of work.”

You see how they are effectively imprisoning their giftedness by choosing to stay in the circumstances they're in.


Golden Handcuffs Come In Many Forms
A more benign version of golden handcuffs are benefits that can’t be compromised. I’ve heard scores—maybe hundreds—of people say, “I can’t stand my job, but I stay there for the health insurance.” In fact, I once saw a cartoon of two employees on a coffee break at the office vending machine. One of them is saying to the other, “My career doesn’t reflect what my passions are as much as where my insurance is.”

Obviously health insurance in the United States is in complete and utter flux right now, to say the least. So who knows what it will look like in the future? But quite apart from the effects of the Affordable Care Act, working for someone only to collect health insurance seems like a trap to me.

And an ironic trap, at that. Stress is a key factor that can contribute to poor health. It can even kill! Yet poor job-fit is one of the key sources of stress. So it’s crazy: a person hates their job so much that they’re getting sick from it, yet they stay at the job to benefit from the health insurance that helps pay for the cost of treating their sickness. Wouldn’t it make more sense to just go find a better-fitting job?

For many young adults right now, a pernicious set of golden handcuffs can be living at home—especially if your parents have made it comfortable to live at home. 

I totally appreciate why that phenomenon is taking place. The job market is terrible for young adults right now. Some 44 percent of recent college graduates in the United States are “underemployed,” meaning they have a job, but not one they can live on. So if parents can afford to help their young adult tread water for a while until a decent job comes along, that’s great.

But accepting generosity always brings a potential snare. In this case, taking the heat off of where you’re going to live can lower your incentive to find a real job. In other words, Mom and Dad can make it too easy. 

At The Giftedness Center, we've spoken with no end of parents who are totally distressed that their Millennial son or daughter can't figure out their path and get started on it. But the son or daughter feels no such angst because they’ve got a sweet deal living at their parent’s home rent-free. In a peculiar way they, too, are wearing a set of golden handcuffs.


Is There Any Answer?
I don’t have any genius solutions to the problem of golden handcuffs, and I’m not sure there is one. If I’m describing your situation, you’ll have to be the judge of how to slice the tradeoff between your job satisfaction and your compensation.

I can, however, offer one ray of hope. Your life has seasons to it, and those seasons change. There may be perfectly good reasons right now why you just have to hang in there and do the best you can to contend with a bad job situation. But odds are those reasons won’t be in play forever. 

The day will inevitably come when you have options. You can begin now to consider what option you’d like to pursue when that day comes. So start now to create a vision for your life—based on your giftedness—and begin planning and working toward that vision. That way, when you’re finally “paroled” from the prison of a job you can’t stand, you’ll already have some momentum underway toward a life that truly taps the best of who you are.

Life is short. Don’t wait to start finding and following your purpose!


Question: What are some other kinds of golden handcuffs that you can think of?

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