Escaping Your Gilded Cage

Big salaries bring status, but that isn’t long-term compensation if we hate our work. How can we break out of this gilded cage?

I regularly hear professionals and management complaining that they are prisoners of a “gilded cage.” Work makes them miserable for all sorts of reasons such as boredom, no challenges, value conflicts with employers, tyrannical bosses, and so on. They want to leave, but never do because they are scared of pecuniary losses (goodbye 5-figure salary) or because of prestige (finished with the BMW). By staying in one place, people looking for a way out can become embittered, unmotivated, and unproductive. They only risk leaving their job by being fired. Is this really the best way to go? It obviously isn’t. Here is some food for thought that can help free you if you are trapped. Be warned, it isn’t that easy to take in.

You are responsible for your situation and the only one who can break free. I admit it, it isn’t easy and you will have to make some painful decisions.

Reflect on the fact that your employer cannot continually pay someone who takes no pleasure in their business. Even if you pretend to look motivated and interested in your work, your output will betray you.

Do not separate quality of life with your job quality. Of course, living five minutes away from your job, having flexible hours and a company daycare are considerable advantages that will make your friends green with envy. But regardless of the advantages, consider the obvious: you hate your job and spend countless hours working while it slowly poisons you. Since you have a great schedule, take advantage of it and go home early to reflect on next week, on potential training, or on writing up a plan to launch your own business.

You perfectly mastered your tasks and have found your comfort zone at work. But, actually, you doubt your skill and ability to meet new challenges. You would rather avoid change because you are scared of failing. Did you know once you cross that bridge your performance inexorably drops and all you can do is regress? Read my column in January 2007 “Leaving Your Comfort Zone.”

Determined to stay in the business? You earn an excellent salary, but are scared of not finding better elsewhere? However, it is possible. Otherwise, reflect on the material sacrifices that you will have to be ready to make and also talk to your family about it. You might be surprised. No doubt, your spouse and children prefer to see you happier. If only their comfort matters, make them understand that the irreversible end approaches and you need their unwavering support.

You aspire to turn your career around and a find a new profession, but the idea of returning to a school seat horrifies you as much as taking a leap into the unknown? I remember an IT consultant dying of boredom as a project manager when his real passions were computer graphics and photography. It definitely pays a lot less than being an SAP consultant. Accepting to reduce your lifestyle and restart a 40-year-old career is a very difficult and audacious choice. But now, this man breathes happy and regrets nothing from his old position.

Resigning yourself to work in a gilded cage is to refuse to listen to the little voice in your head crying out for change. Change breeds fear, and we do not always know how to cope. You have no other choice but to free yourself from the cage and take the plunge!


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