Trapped

There is a weird sort of flawed pattern of thought that I occasionally encounter. You might encounter it as well – or you may even find yourself engaging in it. Hopefully I’ll give you some helpful tools either way.

The flawed thought pattern revolves around the concept of being “trapped.” I’m not talking strictly literally; I don’t mean that you’re in a net hanging from a tree. I mean “trapped” in the sense that one or more important aspects of your current set of circumstances can’t be changed by you.

Being trapped sucks! You should avoid it, certainly. And there are lots of ways to end up fully or partially trapped. If you’ve committed a major crime, then you may be trapped both physically for a while, and then partially for a long while after that as the burden of your reputation follows you through society. You may be trapped because you’ve signed certain binding commitments – trapped in an underwater mortgage, trapped as a deployed soldier, and so on. Note that the concept doesn’t require you to have been trapped by someone else – in fact, most of the time that won’t be the case. But trapped is still trapped.

So far, no logical flaws. But there are some people that seem to think that the concept of “trapped” also applies to having circumstances so good that any change would be worse!

Let me give you an example: Once I was leaving a building and outside of the adjacent one there was a demonstration being held by striking workers. Ever curious, I engaged one of them in conversation to find out what the deal was. Their demands weren’t unusual – they wanted more pay. I asked them if they were bound by any sort of contract or something like that. Turns out, no – they were free to quit any time, and wouldn’t be penalized for doing so or lose anything (other than their job). So I asked: why not just quit and get a higher-paying job? The worker I was talking to answered that he couldn’t, he was trapped, because his current job already paid him more than any other job available to him.

Now, this isn’t a commentary on labor relations. And by all means, strike if you want to and if it has a good chance of getting you what you want (that’s a tactical decision in my mind, not a moral one). But this particular worker’s logic, at least on this topic, was highly flawed. He wasn’t trapped at all. Absolutely nothing prevented him from changing his circumstances. He simply didn’t want to, because the new set would be worse. But that’s not the same thing at all.

If you’re in an abusive relationship with a spouse that has tightly controlled all of your money, doesn’t allow you to have a phone, a car, or a job, etc. – that’s “trapped.” If you’re in a normal and healthy relationship and you just don’t like the fact that if you sleep with someone else your partner will leave you, that’s not “trapped.” The existence of consequences does not indicate a cage.

Be careful with your own thinking. There’s nothing wrong with ambition; even if your circumstances are the best of all currently available options, you can certainly strive for even more. But if you think that the reason “more” hasn’t simply been served to you on a silver platter is because you’re “trapped” by your current plenty, that’s a combination of greed and foolishness.

I’ve worked with plenty of clients who have what people call “golden handcuffs.” That means they have a job that they don’t want, but it pays them so much more than the next available option (usually because they’ve been doing it for so long) that they feel like they can’t leave. But of course, you can leave. You just might not like doing so for a while. But if you fool yourself into thinking that you’re actually trapped in a real sense, you’ll miss all the ways you can change your circumstances for the even better with minimal pain.

And when someone else claims to be trapped, be skeptical. Sometimes they are. Many times, you’re just talking to a greedy, lazy fool.

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