I knew I was considering a career change, but I didn’t realize Escape Artist would need to be at the top of my list.
“How can you have never heard of the golden handcuffs?”, Eliza asked incredulously as we sipped rose beside the rooftop bar on a beautiful Chicago afternoon.
It had been a full eight years since we’d worked together or even seen each other, but we were gossiping freely, and spilling our guts like school girls. She had always been my sounding board, my older, wiser undeclared mentor, and I was sure she’d show me the way once again. Five minutes into the chat, I told her I was thinking about a way to shift into a different role. That is when she opened my eyes to how hard it truly is for successful women in finance to break free from our job function, and our industry, and our responsibility as a provider for our families.
Skeptical geek that I am, I looked it up. Golden handcuffs is in fact a “thing”. And little did I know that I’ve been sporting them locked at their tightest setting for years, and had long since lost the key. It’s the term given to people who want to transition their career, but simply earn too much money to be able to slide comfortably into an entirely new seat, at a much lower level. Both mentally, and financially, it would simply not be possible to quit and run one day, and to pick up anywhere near where I left off.
I am a victim of my own success.
I am in a prison built with walls made out of my own ambition.
I may not want to stay, but I’ve created a certain lifestyle for myself and my family, and I can’t (nor do I really want to) give it up.
I’ve never been one for S&M, but it seems I’ve apprehended myself in this particular situation. The person trapped in Golden Handcuffs, you see, gets caught in a vicious cycle. She works so hard, that she rewards herself with treats every now and then. A new purse on a European business trip. A cute pair of pumps at the Manolo sample sale near the office. A new outfit for the barbecue, the date night, the lunch meeting, because she’s been so stressed out she actually lost two pounds. Guilty, guilty, and guilty. I’ve made all these purchases, but they always seemed justified as the perks to being a hard working woman who has to spend time away from her family to support them.
We bought our dream house- complete with a rocking chair porch, on a cul de sac, with a big backyard (read: property taxes) and a bedroom for each kid. We furnished said house so it would look like grown ups actually lived there, and we kindly asked the youngsters to not touch ANYTHING with their grubby fingers. We use all our vacation days for actual vacations. We leave home, get on a plane, stay in a hotel, go out to eat, buy souvenirs.
It’s not a shoestring budget kind of life.
It’s not sustainable if I don’t have a job.
I’m stuck. Tied to the proverbial head post by these golden cuffs.
I constantly threaten to give it all up. To sell the house, opt for staycations, live simpler. Move to a farm far away. Raise the kids amongst regular people rather than the entitled creatures being farmed here in the Tri-State area. I know Gull doesn’t take me seriously, but I really mean it. Don’t I? Could I?
I really don’t know, nor am I sure what the catalyst is that will ultimately force me to decide. I know time is running out. I’m not getting younger, and the day when I become past my prime in my professional world is drawing near. I used to be “so young”, but now I’m neither here nor there. Which means “old” is right around the corner. I need to decide what I want to be when I grow up. I’m so lucky that I even get to choose how I want to live, but sometimes I take it for granted and like a stubborn Veruca Salt I want more. Now.
I am shackled to this job. It is a large part of who and what I have become. It’s paying our bills, feeding my family, dressing me (when I manage to put a good outfit together). Some days I really love it, and I know I’m actually good at it. There could certainly be more balance. There could definitely be a whole lot more recognition. Heck, there could even be more money out there as opposed to less, but that is where luck plays a bigger hand than skill. Until then, I’ll just be locked up here in my tower, in my sparkly golden handcuffs. My unappointed mentor Eliza (who’s decidedly old now) is still figuring out her exit plan. She says we’re both screwed.
Guess I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.