Can You Unlock Your Golden Handcuffs?

  • Increase your financial savvy to get a handle on how much flexibility you have
  • Recognize when you’re adding cost into your life, especially recurring expenses that add up quickly
  • Plan your financial future so you’re ready to evaluate professional opportunities, and take advantage of the right ones

gold·en hand·cuffs



  • Benefits, typically deferred payments, provided by an employer to discourage an employee from taking employment elsewhere.

You probably already know all about the term “golden handcuffs” (and if you didn’t, our definition cleared it up for you), and you may even have experienced those shiny shackles before. The job that demands too much but pays too well, the one-too-many clients we take on with our next vacation in mind, the wincingly high cost of living well in popular areas, those parts of our lifestyle that demand a lot of work to pay for yet we just can’t seem to give up.

Although pervasive in higher-paying industries, unlockable golden handcuffs are particularly rampant among lawyers. The high-stress demands of the legal profession, with high salaries to match, send many successful lawyers into a cycle of work and reward. As we climb up the professional ladder (and work much, much longer hours), we tend to look for ways to enjoy that newfound financial status outside of the office by choosing cars, homes, and habits to suit our higher tax bracket.

Status and luxury sounding pretty great? It can be. Unless you wake up one day and realize you’re ready to leave this job or this paycheck and find that your new lifestyle can’t be funded by anything less. That’s when you realize you’re cuffed, having committed yourself (happily or not) to the hours, stress, or disenchantment that your current job demands. Too often, our golden handcuffs keep us stuck in the jobs we would otherwise leave–undermining our long-term goals and draining our job satisfaction. When we feel tied to our financial status, the respect of a certain position, or the comfort of a familiar job, we can feel unable to leave even when the door might be wide open.

So, what’s the real problem with golden handcuffs?

It Keeps You Stuck

A bad job, a bad environment, even a bad location. When you think you can’t walk away, you’ll force yourself to waste years in a job or at a place that makes you unhappy.

It Limits Your Vision

Famously, Elon Musk challenged himself to live on a few dollars a day when he first started out. By knowing how little he needed to live, he could take the risks he needed to take to become the successful, Twitter-happy entrepreneur he is today.

When you’re too scared to leave because of your relative job security, you miss out on the opportunities to pursue greater horizons that exist right outside your office doors.

But don’t despair, plenty of lawyers have been successful in unlocking their golden handcuffs.

Does that mean they left their jobs? Sometimes.

Does that mean they quit law and became organic beekeepers? Rarely.

Does that mean they re-prioritized their work-life balance to make sure that their financial obligations don’t keep them stuck where they don’t want to be? Absolutely.

Three Simple (But Not Quick) Steps Toward Unlocked Handcuffs

Sharpen your money smarts

The best way to free your financials is to get a handle on them. If you don’t have a working budget or you’ve always been a bit of an impulse shopper, now’s the time to sit down and figure out a spending and saving plan. Not only will that help you understand your financial status better, but it will enable you to see where your money is going—allowing you to see first-hand how much money you really need to live and how much is spent on the extras.

And in case you do want to swap in for a lower paycheck, having more savings in the bank will make the transition far easier.

What kinds of financial changes, if any, would you need to make to get on the path to unlocking your golden handcuffs?

Plan, plan, and plan again

Now that you know the financial ins and outs of your current lifestyle, you can start planning ahead for whatever new step you’d like to take in the future—from cutting back work hours to changing jobs entirely. The better prepared you are, financially and otherwise, the more you’ll be able to figure out a professional choice that works for you.

By focusing on the long-term plan rather than making impulsive decisions focused on the short-term, you allow yourself the time to research your options thoroughly and responsibly. That may mean time to poke around in other professions, get a sense of the local job market, or even just padding your savings account for the possibility of an upcoming change down the road.

Keep your bridges strong

You may have walked away from the job or changed the way you work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still benefit from your network. Maybe you’ll want to find a new job in a related industry, or find contacts on the other side of the globe. Whatever it will be, maintaining positive relationships with the people and places you’ve worked with increases the chances that they will agree to help you out—helping you succeed in your new professional path.

How to keep that network flourishing? Whether you leave your firm or leave law altogether, always choose the courteous route. Give in your notice in a timely fashion, offer your own professional help when you can, and don’t trash your industry or coworkers … even on your way out.

Unlocking your golden handcuffs can be the first step to happiness, job satisfaction, and greater fulfillment. But unlocking doesn’t have to mean leaving your job. By increasing your financial know-how you can move yourself toward greater financial freedom, and in the end you’ll end up with a job, income, and lifestyle, that you chose and that work for you.