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Golden handcuffs - when you are sticking it out, just because it pays so damn well

If your job or career pays so well that everything else pales by comparison it pretty much locks you down in golden handcuffs. Yes, this is an extremely privileged position, yes, an unsatisfying high paying job is objectively much better than unsatisfying low paying job. It is a first world problem for sure, but it’s still a problem.

If your job is not great, but they are similarly or better paying ones out there, then you don’t feel like you need to stay in it. If on the other hand your job pays you twice as much as many other jobs you could have and if you value money, then you might get stuck.

For people interested in financial independence the money matters a lot as it’s their ticket to freedom. It makes a lot of sense to increase your income and increase your savings rate, cutting your ‘working years’.

If you look a the famous blog post of simple math behind early retirement, the difference in years to early retirement between saving 80% of your income vs 50% is pretty significant. 

With 80% you can retire within 5.5 years and with 50% within 17 years! That’s a big difference.

However I don’t think most people would look at hard numbers here, but would instead be affected by emotional factors.

Why is it so painful?

I can't speak for everyone's experience, but here are some of my theories.

Upward trajectory expectation

I haven’t worked for that long, but I have always been on a pretty good upwards trajectory. My next job would always pay significantly more than a previous one.

In my last job, I have been promoted 3 time over last six years. I have a sense of sense of entitlement to career and compensation growth. 

It’s not very rational, as no one owns me anything here. There is no law in my country that I need to get a raise every year and that it has to be higher than inflation. It doesn’t matter that maybe I am already relatively overpaid? But I know that if I didn't get a decent raise, I would be disappointed.

If I continue on my path I might hit a plateau with compensation. But I might as well continue getting raises and continue my high level of compensation.

If I changed careers, my precious years of experience would become mostly irrelevant and my salary would plummet and my trajectory would reset.

Uncertainty factor

It’s hard to estimate the risk or cost of the current career being a dead. Your current shiny career could be a bad option long term, because of personal burn out or because of changes in the industry.

It’s also hard to estimate the upside of the change if the upside isn't clearly financial.

If you have a comfortable job that pays you very well, with folks that you decently like, it’s difficult to let it go and follow your dream. Your dream will be plagued with uncertainty. There will be new things to learn, new people to make relationships with.

You might not like it, you might regret it and also you know it will be paid less. Uncertainty can be paralyzing and the default safe behavior is to not change anything.

Are you just waiting it out?


There are a lot of things I like about my job, but there are also things I don’t like. I am sure that I won’t like to be in my line of work for another ten years. A big reason why I am staying is the compensation and the fact that there are no real issues.

I am very aware how much I can save by just staying and doing a decent job. I have certain financial milestones in mind that I can just patiently wait for. But, I don’t want life to just pass me by when I’m waiting. If you catch yourself thinking - “I wish it was 5 years later so … financial goal …” just stop. Would you really like to suddenly lose 5 years of your life just to fast forward? Time is a non-renewable resource!

Making most out of staying in a golden handcuffs job


I think that if you decide to continue - you should make the most out of it. I am trying to play to win, not to just continue playing.

I take a lot of satisfaction from growing and achieving things so I have to have ambitious goals, e.g. get new promotion, deliver project X, help Y to get promoted. I like to be a high performer. Someone else might be happier just taking a chill approach of relaxed learning and having a good time with coworkers.

Regardless, if you stay in the job, you should make your job as good for you as possible.

Another approach is to use all the perks available.

Some examples:

  • Paid conferences? Take as many as you can per year.
  • Learning programs and courses? Learn all the things, be it job related or not. Boat license anyone?
  • Free mentoring by very experienced people? This can be real gold as many skills are transferable.
  • Business travel? Combine it with vacations in or starting from the business destination. E.g. if work makes you travel to the US, why not explore South America from there?
  • Great dental insurance? Get those treatments you were putting off.

How to get unshackled?

What if you decide that you actually don’t want to be in that job?

Financial defense

If you earn a lot, but spend a lot it might be hard to sacrifice your inflated lifestyle. But there are always ways to cut back. Financial buffer will give you freedom to take a lower paying job even if it hurts emotionally.

If you are really frugal already and save a huge part of your income the good news is that the more you have accumulated the lower impact X number has on your long term trajectory.

If you think that you will enjoy something else more, do it, don’t keep your golden handcuffs job until a FIRE date just because of financial reasons. Coast fire or barista fire are good alternatives. If you earn much more than you spend, it’s ok to take a lower paid job or to go part time.

Branching out

If your main concern about your current job is that it’s not what you want to do. Use your job as a way to safely branch out. If you fiercely defend work-life boundaries, you can provide yourself more future options by learning skills, trying things out and building side hustles. Many people will respect you having good boundaries and it might make your job more sustainable.

Conclusion

I’ve been very lucky to have a problem of golden handcuffs. I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’m actively trying to make the most out of it. I don’t plan to stay in my job for more than 2 years (on top of six years I have already spent in the company), but I plan to have fun during that time, use the perks, set ambitious goals and build things on the side.

How about you, have you had similar experiences?

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