There’s a common phrase in big tech called “golden handcuffs”. It refers to the perks and incentives that come with cushy jobs that can prevent people from leaving, despite how unsatisfied they are. A fat paycheck and free peloton bike can change a lot of people’s priorities. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it depends at what cost. Money provides stability, which can then provide socioeconomic success. Money, power, and status are privileges. They are very powerful incentives and highly desirable for good reason. Having privileges can change the quality of your life and all those that depend on you, too. It can provide access to resources and networks that stabilize your inner peace and security. Maintaining privileges take sacrifices. Because of how great the benefits of privileges are, it is easy to become blind to what we’re trading to maintain them. Trading happiness for privilege, for example, is the same as trading away much of your freedom. It’s not always obvious that you’re a slave when your handcuffs are made of gold.
Golden handcuffs exist outside of cushy jobs too. Every time we achieve any form of privilege, we are handcuffed to the responsibilities associated with maintaining that privilege. An example of privilege could be having clean white shoes. Imagine if you were focused on maintaining that privilege. Would that mean you don’t leave the house on rainy days for fear that the shoes might get muddy? Would that mean you have to wash your shoes every time you get dirt on them? How would maintaining that privilege impact the risks you’re willing to take, and the experiences you’re willing to embrace? How much of your life and existing relationships are you willing to change to accommodate for this new privilege? Imagine if you were now maintaining multiple privileges on top of clean white shoes, like having clean clothes, a healthy diet, and a routined sleep schedule. If these are things you’re focused on maintaining, how does that impact your life and relationships in their current state? How does it impact the risks and experiences you partake in?
The more privileges you have, the harder it is to maintain them without sacrificing freedom. It might be easy to imagine the freedom you sacrifice if you try to actively maintain clean white shoes, but that’s probably because clean white shoes aren’t a symbol of money or status or power.
If clean white shoes were only available to people that take out a $100k student loan and spent 3 months on LeetCode, they would have significantly more associative status. If clean white shoes were symbolic of your family expectations or reputation or wealth or any other major privilege, you might place greater importance on those shoes to protect them. You may choose to pursue different experiences. You may form different relationships as a result. And this social context is what makes people increasingly blind to the freedom they sacrifice.
Less is More
The nature of maintaining any privilege comes with sacrifices, but the most important thing is to be aware of is what those sacrifices are. You may go on a trip and decide to bring a backpack instead of a big suitcase. A suitcase brings the privilege of having more options of clothing but bringing a backpack instead brings the freedom of changing plans spontaneously without having to think about where this suitcase will be stored. The same argument can be made for apartment furnishings. The more furnishings you have, the harder it is to decide to move anywhere else. It’s not a bad thing to choose convenience. Just be aware of what you sacrifice for it. Sometimes having less privileges means more freedom.
Take a moment today to think about the handcuffs you protect.