Take Off the Cuffs

| | Personal Leadership

Take Off the Cuffs“Golden handcuffs” is a phrase used to describe a system of financial incentives designed to keep key employees from leaving a company. If you are wearing them, however, they likely feel a lot more like a safety and security net, than like restraints.

Of course, if you love what you do and where you work it could be a very good thing to be “handcuffed” to your job for both you and your employer.

Yet there is always a cost, perceived or not, to getting too comfortable in any restraints that are controlled by others.

While the idea of the golden handcuffs may be a corporate one, the concept plays out in other forms as well.

Take the college student whose parents’ pay for their education. Is it a gift or an investment? Either way it is a level of commitment not to be taken lightly by the parents or the student.

There are likely divergent points of view out there about whether there should be no strings attached (i.e., it’s a gift and it should be up to the student to decide) or whether, in paying for their child’s education, parents should be anointed as the “Chairman of the Board” of their child’s career choices. Of course, it should be noted that the student has a choice whether to accept the contribution to their college education and the expectations that might go along with it.

In a recent conversation with a college student who wants to follow a path other than her very generous parents want for her, I was reminded of my own battle with my parents over what I should study. They wanted to save me from the financial struggles they faced. They were truly trying to guide me and had a hard time understanding my resistance to what was so clearly the right path for me.

In hindsight, I can see that what was missing for me was to be empowered in my choice.

Yet the truth is it doesn’t matter whether your handcuffs are a financial reward system that makes it hard to leave, or a college fund that is hard to turn down.  You really don’t need anyone else to empower your choices about your future.

Another form handcuffs can take, although they do not seem so “golden”, are our obligations. I often hear people say some version of “I can’t ____ because____.”

Whether the cuffs are golden or not, however, you really do have a choice not to be a victim of them – to allow someone or something outside of you determine the course of your career or any domain of your life for that matter.

You hold the keys to your future no matter how much it may seem like someone else does. {tweet this}

So if you are feeling handcuffed by anything, golden or not, it’s time to take off the cuffs. After all…

“The universe is holding its breath waiting for you to take your place.”
David Whyte

Are you ready to take your place?


photo credit: Connor Tarter


Enter A Comment

skipprichard1   |   07 December 2013   |   Reply

Susan, I just love this. You are absolutely right and so many people are limited because of this. I have seen kids stymied in their growth because they are waiting for an inheritance and therefore not following what they should do because a parent is holding them back with a threat. Success only comes when you allow yourself to maximize your gifts to the world. Create your own opportunity.

Susan Mazza   |   16 December 2013   |   Reply

Thank you Skip! “create your own opportunity” – exactly. I’ just finished a book about called the Americanization of Ben Franklin. He is perhaps one of the best examples of someone who lived the American Dream – success based on his own ingenuity and industry regardless of the circumstances into which he was born. Yet even he wore “golden handcuffs” at some point when his aspirations became dependent on the whims of British royalty instead of his own ingenuity and industry. Fortunately for us the British did not deliver as promised! When we start off with the handcuffs on as you describe in your example of how an inheritance can stymie growth, it can be exceedingly difficult to see them, let alone have the courage and fortitude to take them off!

Sharon Reed   |   11 December 2013   |   Reply

Great post, Susan! When our senesce of identity and security, in whatever form, is tied too tightly to other people’s expectations and dreams for us (or themselves), it often becomes difficult to hear our own voice. I’m a strong believer in the necessity of cutting purse and apron strings, as well as golden handcuffs, as key to empowering ourselves and living an intentional life.

Susan Mazza   |   16 December 2013   |   Reply

Well said Sharon! Learning to hear our own voice is indeed a key to empowering ourselves.

Berenice   |   10 November 2015   |   Reply

Well, this is a timely arcltie. I’ve been working in a job for several years that I loved. I was great at it, made lots of money, and had good job security (or so I thought). I felt like I was on top of the world. I enjoy the lifestyle the job has afforded me, but I still live within my means and save about 50% of my post-tax income. Everything changed a few months ago, though. Now my job is no longer secure, and I am afraid of the direction my company is going. I feel stuck there because taking any other job will have a huge financial cost (from a pay cut, from selling my house and moving to a higher cost of living area, or both). I do have savings and I could maintain my lifestyle with a lower salary, but I have been doing so well that it kills me to think of dipping into my savings or not being able to max out my 401(k) and Roth IRA every year.

Stephen   |   10 November 2015   |   Reply

It doesn’t just drive the stock but fear and greed also seems to run our lives. I fear I won’t have enough money to live on so I’ll work more hours and terehby guarantee a secure life. Oh, wait, I see somebody near who is seemingly doing better off than me so I better borrow some money to get to where he is and I can always pay it back by working an extra job. I want more more and more but am starting to wonder if I’m being greedy. No. I’m just industrious. that’s what They tell me I shouild be. Is this what they call the rat race. How do I break this circle? Set the goals of my life by my standards and not those of popular opinion. Learn to diversify with a bit of many slices of life’s pie not just the money slice. Freedom, time with family and friends, hobby pursuits, time to think of what makes me and the rest of this world tick ..all so much more satisfying than the golden handcuffs. Good job on showing what’s really important!

Susan Mazza   |   30 November 2015   |   Reply

Thanks for your comment Stephen. How do you break out of the rat race? To this I say exactly…”Set the goals of my life by my standards and not those of popular opinion. Learn to diversify with a bit of many slices of life’s pie not just the money slice.”