The golden handcuffs: 5 signs your high-paying corporate job is actually a trap

Like many, I started off by following the yellow brick road of corporate success.

I believed the promises that corporate life offers and worked in a high-paying job as a management consultant in London.

But I soon realized that there are many things people don’t tell you about corporate life, that you don’t realize or get exposed to until you’re in the middle of it.

Things that not only stifle your creativity, but bind you to the corporate path and tie you down with golden handcuffs.

I felt pretty much like I was on a chain yoked to my manager (who had managers upon managers upon him), and I felt like a slave to a system in which I was little more than a faceless worker.

I delve more into my experience in my most recently published video below – having stumbled upon a rare clip of the great philosopher Noam Chomsky that gives you an insight into the truth of what no one tells you about having a job.

YouTube video

If you’re still stuck in the rat race and questioning your work life, here are 5 signs that your corporate job is actually a trap:

1) Your time is their time

“I’ve had to stop drinking so much water”, one of my friends who still works in a high-flying corporate tower confessed. 

Although bathroom trips aren’t formally monitored, she’d noticed colleagues glaring up at her every time she got up from her desk.

As someone who prides herself on hydration, which we can all agree on being a basic human necessity, trading up drinking adequate amounts of water so as not to get a “bad rep” is a prime example.

It’s not only your bathroom breaks. 

First in the door, last out, is a statement grilled into interns and professionals lower down the ranks.

Working overtime and unpaid is an unspoken given.

The more you sacrifice, the better.

Answering emails on weekends or during holidays is an absolute necessity, and forget about ever handing in a project late, asking for extra time, or uttering the forbidden word, ‘help’.

You’re on your own and have to learn at an immense pace on your feet.

The threat of being fired also looms over every desk like a black cloud.

This keeps the workers running faster and more frantically, especially in a world where there are thousands of other people ready to take your job if you don’t meet the cut.

2) You sacrifice your personal life for work

I joined the same friend to celebrate her 5-year anniversary with her partner.

Yes, you got that right.

The restaurant had kindly allowed the booking to be extended to accommodate a small group of people as her boyfriend had called to let her know that he would be in the office overnight.

He’d tried, very cautiously, to ask if he would be allowed to leave just on this one occasion for his anniversary. 

In response, his boss had laughed.

“I spent my honeymoon in the office. Get used to it”.

Work comes before anything; mental and physical health, relationships, family.

Being expected to prioritize your job above absolutely everything means you no doubt run into issues.

You end up having to cancel your attendance to a best friend’s wedding because you’re swamped.

Or bail an hour before meeting a date.

Or cease keeping in regular contact with your parents as you simply have no spare time to manage anything bar what your job sets in front of you. 

Success in the corporate world comes at the expense of most of your personal life.

If you feel like your job is an additional third-party in all of your relationships which ultimately calls the shots, it’s a pretty obvious sign that you’re not the one in control.

3) You sleep in the office

sleep in the office The golden handcuffs: 5 signs your high-paying corporate job is actually a trap

Or you don’t sleep at all.

In some of the more ruthless industries, there is no sense of time or work-life balance if an important project is due.

Leaving the office at 4am and only to return at 7am is common, and professionals start bragging about who gets the least sleep.

Some jobs plan for this, and have suite-like rooms ready to accommodate those they work so hard and expect to be in office until the early hours of the morning.

Signing off at 2am, you’ll be given a key card which gives you access to a small dormitory-like room where you can hopefully get a few hours of rest until having to drag yourself back to the project.

Work, sleep, repeat – but all in the same building?

If you don’t get to see daylight or step outside of your workplace, how do you get to live?

4) Out of the pot, into the frying pan

But freedom of choice – you could just quit tomorrow, right?

Chomsky actually addresses this exact question.

For many, corporate life is put on a pedestal and is planned for starting at a young age, either by ourselves or our parents.

Through spring weeks, internships, placements, we start preparing for the corporate path as teenagers, or children.

And then once actually installed in such a role, when we come to realize that it’s not all that it’s made up to be, it’s almost impossible to leave as the skills we possess are tailored for that lifestyle.

Sure, you can quit.

But quitting a job in an area you’ve spent your life preparing for means you’re left in a sticky situation.

Firstly, it’s not uncommon that you quit a role in one company and get blacklisted from the others (if you were thinking about just jumping ponds).

Secondly, where else are you going to go? 

All your life, you’ve been building the skills needed to work in this particular industry. 

Try and leave now, and you’ll find how difficult it is to 1. find a job at all, and 2. find a job that pays an equivalent salary needed to fund the lifestyle you were maintaining in a corporate-dominated city such as London.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, because I sure did it.

But I can tell you now that it’s not easy.

5) Money rich, time poor

You might be making more than your friends or family, but where do you spend it?

Not that I’m encouraging excessive spending, but when you’re earning six figures, you surely also want to enjoy this lifestyle that your endeavors fund.

But you don’t have the luxury of free time, vacations, or weekends.

So the money dribbles into your bank account (heavily taxed, of course), but you rarely have the chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

It’s true that as you rise the corporate ladder, you get to come in later and leave earlier.

This is the false promise of future autonomy that corporations bestow on the newly indicted. 

But by the time that the status of ‘associate’ or ‘director’ rolls around, you might have a family and other responsibilities, so forget enjoying all that you’ve worked for.

You’re likely exhausted and juggling a whole new set of responsibilities including a host of dependents.

Suddenly, the pressure of paying for school fees and birthday presents means you don’t even feel able to take the extra time off you’re permitted.


Like most things in life, this does not apply to everyone (apart from drinking water; hydration does apply to everyone).

Some people are seemingly built for corporate life.

They thrive under pressure, no sleep, and enjoy being married to their office.

But if you’re amongst those who fell for the false promises corporations offer and now feel stuck, it doesn’t have to mean that this is your life forever.

I got out.

In this video I share the 3 step formula to getting out of the rut you’re in so you can figure out what you’re really passionate about. This will help you to move forward in life.

YouTube video


It’s scary, especially when you’ve spent your life preparing for working in a high-rise building in the city.

Making that jump can be terrifying, but it’s worth it if it means you end your days feeling more fulfilled and on course for wherever your personal journey is headed.

A large part of jumping career paths involves figuring out your purpose and trying to find out where your calling is.

And whilst it might be daunting, it’s never too late to start something anew.

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Picture of Justin Brown

Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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