Have you ever heard of the phrase, “golden handcuffs?” It refers to a company’s use of financial benefits to entice employees to remain loyal to said company. These benefits are often disbursed after having worked for a predetermined number of years, and are typically increased the longer the employee stays. In some cases, employees are penalized financially if they leave prematurely. In other words, the longer you work for a company, the better things should get for you as an employee.
Since making the decision to leave medicine to stay-at-home with my family (Read about it here), the phrase “golden handcuffs” has taken on a new meaning for me, and I’ve come to define it more broadly. For me, golden handcuffs have come to represent a way of life. Let me explain.
Before I had children, before I got married, I knew that someday, faraway in the future, I wanted to be a wife and a mother who was truly present to spend not just quality time, but also “quantity time” with my children and husband. I wanted to be the one to read bedtime stories, debrief about each and every day, and steal all the hugs, kisses, and snuggles I could handle (from both the kids and my hubby).
Of course, as a doctor, especially as a resident, I knew this would be next to impossible. So, I simply resolved to achieve this goal in the distant future, once I was finished with training and had established myself enough to be able to afford greater flexibility in my schedule. Since the realization of that dream was nowhere close to being seen, I threw myself into my work and truly focused on becoming the best physician I could be, not just for my patients, but also for my colleagues and superiors. As a result, I soon fell into a cycle of accomplishment and achievement seeking. This continued even after getting married, thus resulting in my husband being put on the back burner.
I knew this wasn’t the life I wanted, but I told myself, it’s just for now; later we’ll get things together. Later never came, because not long after, Micah showed up. I was forced to figure things out now. “Was this the cycle I wanted to throw my son into as well?” The answer was no.
So I quit. (Read about my regrets here).
It wasn’t until recently, during an at-home date night conversation with my husband, that I realized during that phase of life, I was wearing golden handcuffs. I had fallen victim to the belief that all the suffering I was putting my family through by my constant absence would eventually pay off in the end (I use the word constant because even when I was present physically, I was too tired or stressed to be present mentally). I kept working and waiting for the big “pay day”.
Interestingly enough, during the course of our conversation, he brought something else to my attention that I had never thought about. He told me,
Everything you had been working to one day achieve, you have now.
My jaw dropped. He was right. Since resigning, I now have the privilege of time. I get to truly cherish each and every moment with my men (the big one and the little one), and most importantly, I’m able to enjoy the satisfaction of knowing that I’m exactly where I need to be. Freedom feels good.
As for the handcuffs, I’ve set them aside, and whether or not I decide to return to medicine in the future, I’ll make sure they’re replaced with intentional decisions about the life I’m living daily and presently.
Whether they represent accomplishments, money, or whatever your definition of success is, I’d say don’t be afraid to loosen those handcuffs up a bit. Freedom may be closer than you think.
Are there any handcuffs you’ve found yourself wearing that may be stopping you from living your best life today?