My first job out of residency was in the ER. I worked full time, but interestingly, I was told all the doctors were hired as independent contractors. I guess it was expected we could handle our own health and afford to buy our own policy. Now, we all know that the plans you buy for an individual are never that great. I had a pretty decently sized deductible, had to pay for every specialist I saw, and had no dental, vision, or 401k options. A lot of my friends saw the irony of a health care provider not having healthcare. At the time, as a young doc just out of training, I was just happy to be earning a paycheck. I didn’t much care.

By the time I hit my mid 30s, though, I started thinking about things like retirement, freezing my eggs, and fertility treatments. And I realized that staying as an independent contractor would make all of those things more difficult. At around the same time, I moved back to NY. And got my first job with full benefits. It was AMAZING. I had 5 weeks of guaranteed PAID vacations! I got to go to a dentist and got glasses. I didn’t have to pay for every prescription or specialist. I literally thought I had hit the jackpot. Mind you, because I was working at a FQHC, I was barely being paid enough to cover my Manhattan rent, but I felt rich for the first time.

And this how I willingly submitted to my golden handcuffs. Since then, I have resolutely demanded benefits from every employer I have ever worked for, even if I was only going to be working part-time. And depending on the job, and I’ve had many since moving back to NY, I either got new glasses every year or every other year. I remember thinking I had hit the mother load when I was told one year I could get prescription sunglasses covered! I got a really nice pair of Ray-Bans. And I thought I was the shit.

Now I mentioned that I have had many jobs since moving back to NY. I’ve been back in NY for 10 years, and I’ve had 4 jobs in that time. Roughly every 18-24 months, I get dissatisfied. I start to notice all the bad things happening around me and feel like it’s time for a change. It took me the third job switch to realize what an ex had told me once long ago (the only wise thing he ever said). ‘If you see the same pattern happening over and over in your life with different characters/scenarios, you better look at the common denominator in all those scenarios-YOU.’ It took me doing a LOT of soul searching, and going through a really rigorous life coaching certification program to realize what I had done.

The golden handcuffs of health benefits had become my golden idol. In making my vision coverage paramount to my own happiness, I took jobs for the benefits, not for the satisfaction I ever felt doing the job. And apparently I could only make that sacrifice for about 18-24 months before my soul started to cry out for something better. My mind and soul and bank accounts were clearly not on the same page and it made for a really interesting time in my head.

During my coaching program, I started having flashbacks to so many memories that I had just lost to the years of working for those damned sunglasses. I remembered reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull my junior year in high school, presumably a children’s book, that inspired me to search for more and yearn for higher, even if the road got lonely. (PS. huge shout out to Mrs Greenbaum, a meditation loving English teacher in a sea of math and science nerds who endeavored to teach us about our souls, not just our sines and cosines. She made us read that book, despite all our mockery, and I am forever grateful.) Dead Poet’s Society came out that same year and I remember buying a book of Whitman and swearing to stand on a desk and become an actor myself. I remembered my yearbook quote literally was Talk Hard, Stand tall, and always seize the day. What had happened to all that??

The only thing I had been seizing was the latest pair of Ray-Bans every other year.

It occurred to me, as I approached 40, that I couldn’t do it anymore. I guess I had become ‘woke’. Or maybe, I just re-found who I always was. While doing the Artist’s Way last year (yep, I’m THAT girl now), I reached out to someone who had always supported my creativity, my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. M. We chatted on the phone (cuz yeah we’ve been facebook friends for years) and she told me she remembered me always doing so many different things. That I was never satisfied just being good at math, I wanted to be good in art and music and that I always enjoyed both the arts and the sciences. This hit me like a lightning bolt. This woman who I knew literally 30 years ago said very plainly to me, ‘You have always been this way. This is who you are. This is why I cheer for everything you do that lights you up.’ I haven’t been in Mrs M’s classroom since 1985, but I still bawled like a child after that call.

Health insurance didn’t light me up. Even the prescription sunglasses didn’t light me up. What lit me up was performing, being creative, and being able to express myself . What lit me up was the freedom to explore the world around me, learn new ways of helping and healing people, experiencing life, and sucking out it’s marrow so that at the end, I would not say I had not lived. It was time. It was time to choose happiness over health benefits.

Now I wish I could tell you I quit my job after that catharsis, and opened up my own life coaching business, and now meditate for 4 hours a day on the beach. But I ain’t that woke. Interestingly, as I was preparing and considering such a move, my body literally broke. I wound up needing ankle surgery last year, which didn’t actually work, so I needed a 2nd surgery 9 months later. And let me tell you, I’m damned relieved and eternally grateful for the amazing health insurance my current job has. Those handcuffs came in really handy and didn’t seem so heavy when I was facing thousands of dollars of surgeries and physical therapy treatments.

So I am still wearing those golden handcuffs, but I see them differently now. Instead of seeing them as shackles that I can not ever unbind myself from, I see them now as a necessary maneuver for my life, for now. A dear coach and friend reminded me recently that change doesn’t have to be One Great Leap Forward. in fact, we advise our clients against such drastic moves. They’re risky, wrought with fear, and not always practical. Rather, we suggest doing 1 thing, just 1 thing, that brings you 1 step closer to your goal. And when you achieve that, do 1 more thing. Like Jonathan Seagull, just go a little bit higher every day.

My 1 thing this past year has been to see these golden handcuffs as a gift. And while I’m still wearing them (cuz I still need months of rehab for my ankle), I can also acknowledge my soul’s yearning and honor it in some way every day. I am building this coaching business of mine, one day at a time. Every new client is one step closer. Every training I deliver is 1 step closer. And I now know I can take off the handcuffs whenever I am ready to. I trust my body will let me know when that is. Until then, I guess I’ll go pick out some new glasses for this year.