• Mae K

Feeling trapped? How to break free from the Golden Handcuffs

Updated: Sep 23, 2019

For many of us working at a “good” job that we're miserable at, it’s the Golden Handcuffs that keep us trapped.

The security and predictability of a permanent position with cushy benefits and a good salary are hard to walk away from. Even more so if we are putting our education to use and enjoy other workplace comforts (like frequent breaks and benefits).

And yet, if we are unfulfilled, not living to our full potential, not using our strengths or living in alignment with our top values, we can feel miserable (despite the permanent job, long lunch breaks, and comfortable paycheques).

The stronghold of the Golden Handcuffs is so powerful that we stay even when our mental health starts to suffer.

Jen Munoz knows this all too well. She recently started a new business offering prenatal and postpartum support services to expectant and new parents. It had been her vision for years but the feeling of being trapped in her day job had kept her from making it a reality.

For Jen, feeling trapped led to increasing anxiety and panic attacks.

“I thought I was going to drown because I couldn’t breathe, yet air was all around me. I found myself crying my whole commute to work and couldn’t figure out why. That anxiety seeped into all aspects of my life, and I just felt like I had burned myself to the ground,” she says.

When I myself started to experience worsening anxiety related to my frustration with work, I got therapy. After two sessions I realized a few things:

  1. The therapist wasn’t going to help me fix my work situation

  2. Anxiety is a normal reaction to the amount of stress I was experiencing.

  3. I needed someone to validate the changes I wanted to make … i.e. I needed someone to validate my desire to walk away from the Golden Handcuffs if it meant feeling more fulfilled.

Therapy is a valuable service to help with mental health problems and can offer lots of things that coaching can’t. But what coaching CAN do is:

Help you fix your work situation. You will be the one making the decisions and taking action (therefore ultimately the outcome is on your shoulders) but my coaching will help you address the cause of your symptoms - the misfit of who you really are and what you want for your life with the job you’re in.

I will also 100% encourage you to go for what you really want and help you question the notions you hold that are keeping you from making changes.

As well as coaching, here are my suggestions to help you feel less trapped (and hopefully break free of the Golden Handcuffs if that's what you really want!)

1. Take small steps towards your bigger picture goal. Your big picture dream life doesn’t have to be a fully flushed out plan. Know what you’re curious to further explore and just take small steps in that direction.

Jen says that it was by taking small steps that she was able to give life to the vision she had been dreaming of for years. The belief that your dream career has to immediately replace what your current day job offers can keep you stuck. Jen hasn't fully stepped away from her day job but is a great example of how that's not always necessary right away.

“I was so END RESULT focused that I completely neglected all the smaller goals and directional activities that I could do to create momentum to get me to that end result,” Jen says.

2. Recognize your options. Right now it feels like you are totally stuck. But realize that ultimately you are in control. You CAN live off of less money if you want to. You CAN make space in your schedule to explore something new. You CAN decide to quit and do something else. You CAN take a leave from work.

3. Consider your bottom line. At what point will you decide to finally make a change? How bad will you let things get or how much time will you allow to pass before you do what you really want?

“I was done what if-ing and wishing my life could be different. I came to the realization that striving for mediocrity was no longer serving me or my family,” says Jen.

4. Take care of your mental health. Our bodies tell us when we’re physically unwell. When we’re spiritually, mentally or emotionally unwell, it’s less obvious. That’s no reason to take things like anxiety, sadness, headaches and/or anger less seriously.

5. Call yourself out. Are you “settling” to avoid the discomfort of pursuing something different? I believe there is a difference between recognizing that what you have is better than most and using this as an excuse to not explore other options and being grateful for what you have while striving for fulfillment and further personal growth.

6. Examine your values. Understanding that your lack of fulfillment is due to a misalignment of your life with your top values is empowering and will help you prioritize your dream alongside stability and security. (Try the Values realignment worksheet here.)

This might mean creating a financial plan before you take that leap into your side hustle. It might mean adjusting your money mindset and priorities around money.

Ask yourself: What kind of stability do you need to feel comfortable? Can you get by on less?

What comforts are you willing to sacrifice to do what you want or feel better mentally and emotionally?

If you're feeling trapped and want a helping hand, consider booking a free Coaching Session to find out how it can help.

Jen says: “Take a leap, even if it’s small. A small leap is still a leap and has opened my eyes and heart to so many possibilities.”

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