Golden Hand-Cuffs

A perfect storm of discussions and blog posts has inspired me to write this post. My husband and I have been talking about finances, career milestones, and life goals a lot recently, and over on Corporette today, there’s a guest post about someone who left their BigLaw salary and starting paying tuition at a theatre conservatory. I (along with my husband) also read several frugality/early retirement blogs, including Early Retirement Extreme, and a recent addition, Mr. Money Mustache. So, needless to say, I’ve got the Golden Hand-Cuffs on the brain this week!

What are the Golden Hand-Cuffs? Essentially, it’s the feeling that you’re dependent on your job and your salary to support your lifestyle, and you can’t leave, no matter what. You’re chained to your job, and even if the cuffs are gold-plated (ie: big salary and fancy lifestyle), you’re still not free. As an ambitious, career-oriented person, this concept is pretty hard to swallow. How could I be imprisoned by something I enjoy? I remember my first reality check during a family lunch, in which we were discussing career, money, and happiness. My uncle jokingly asked, “So, who do you think will make more money, Ashley or her brother?” Unanimously, the vote was “Ashley”… even my brother said that I would definitely make more money than him. The follow-up question was, “So, who do you think we be happier, Ashley or her brother?” Unanimously, the vote was my brother… even I said that he’d be happier than me in the course of his life. I think back on that lunch sometimes, and it makes me wonder whether the fancy titles and big salaries are really worth it. I enjoy working, and I actually love a good stressful day, where I’m hyper-productive and moving fast. But then I think about traveling and hanging out with my husband, having completely new experiences all over the world, and I start to understand why some people think careers aren’t the end-all be-all.

Then there’s the question of “enough”. What title is enough? How much money in the bank is enough? How many vacations, cars, and houses will be enough? Quite frankly, I’m not that tempted by the houses and cars, but the title and vacations are my downfall. My husband and I enjoy adventurous vacations, like scuba diving, hiking, and generally exploring our surroundings, but gear and certifications cost money. We also frequently discuss living abroad, and what it would take for us to be able to go overseas if our day jobs don’t accommodate that. Maybe we could freelance, take an unpaid leave for a few years, or just own a snow cone shop. Essentially, we feel like we’ll always be able to make money, but we won’t always be able to have strong and able bodies. It seems like most of my generation feels this way, and the tide is starting to shift away from money and titles toward time and flexibility. We’re realizing that it’s pretty backwards that we waste our health sitting in front of a computer for 30-40 years, and then try to enjoy this huge world when our bodies and minds are failing us later in life. My husband and I are starting to realize that what we don’t have “enough” of, is time.

We’re still in the “work really hard and save as much as you can” mode, so that later in life, we can have the freedom to do whatever we want. Maybe that time will come sooner, rather than later. I focus so much on building my career and education, that sometimes I forget that there’s a whole life outside of the office. As a family member told us, “Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life”. I wanted to take this post to remind myself to make a life, and I hope you’ll take a look at the links above for some different perspectives on careers, salaries, and “retirement”.


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