by CareerActually contributor, Kyanne Smith


As with my other posts, I like to write about Career Change. This time it’s a five-part story called the Golden Handcuffs.  

The first part of this story will be familiar to many of you. Let me introduce the main character Meg  – a creative, ambitious woman, well-regarded by her peers.  If we visit Meg’s workplace, we’ll find her at her desk, in the organisation she’s spent the last 12 years. Having worked her way through a range of roles she now earns a good salary, with a range of other benefits. She’s managing a small friendly team. All seems well.  However, if you observe Meg for a moment, you’ll notice she wears the expression of someone who’s going through the motions….and she is.

Meg is unhappy and increasingly disengaged.  Work gives her no joy, and she’s had quite enough of office politics. When she thinks about another 20 years of this, she’s filled with dread.  Career aspirations constrained, she keenly feels the pinch of the golden handcuffs.

She wonders how she can make the best of her situation – but she’s run out of career opportunities in her organisation. All that’s left is to ‘climb the ladder’ to a more senior job (which means a lot more hours, and it’s more of the same work she doesn’t enjoy).   Her well-meaning friends give her pep talks about staying – she’d be crazy to give all that up. Others give her pep talks about leaving – she’s wasting her talents and her life! If she could only break free, but those golden handcuffs keep her there.

(By the way, If you’ve not heard about the ‘golden handcuffs’ , it refers to feeling stuck in a job you don’t like because the benefits are too good to give up. It’s a tricky situation and causes many people a lot of angst.)

golden handcuffs

Source: ciaran on Flickr

Meg would love to make a career change. She reads story after story about other people who make career changes and love their new roles.  Despite all those inspiring stories, she just can’t work out how to change. Can she give up the benefits of her current job?  If she went back to do some study she’d be taking time out of the workforce and a large pay cut. She worries about making a mistake and being worse off than she is now. What if her family were disadvantaged because of her?  What about her financial security?

She has begun to notice an emerging pattern in her own behaviour. It starts with rising frustration about her career situation. Then she spends time looking for inspiration, she finds lots of it, but she can’t figure out what to do and then feels hopeless. Meg tells herself she should be grateful for what she has, put up with her job and make the best of her circumstances until she retires.  But Monday comes around, and she’s back at work and thinking again ‘what am I doing here’.  Those golden handcuffs feel tighter than ever. Something has got to change.

Does any of this sound familiar to you? Have you experienced this? What advice would you give to Meg?