Golden Handcuffs, Iron Wings

“For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”    Luke 9:25, ESV

If the place was so awful, why did I stay?   Well,  first, working for a tobacco company means dealing with some unique legal issues.  Intellectually, it was a great job.

Second, I did get some opportunities to expand my horizons as a lawyer.  One of the best things about being a lawyer is that you are always learning something new.  The company hired me to develop a new contracting program to streamline the process and I was excited to do it.  I also supported the leaf-buying department so I got to learn all about growing tobacco, which was fascinating.  Useless for any other job, but fascinating.
Soon after I joined the company, I took on real estate and aviation when the lawyer who supported them left the law department to go into the business.  Later they added IS and privacy to my repertoire when the lawyer who supported those areas left the company. Then I was asked to support the import/export department when the lawyer who supported them said she was overwhelmed.  On top of all of this, I took the lead in drafting the contract manufacturing contract for e-cigarettes.  I never turned down an assignment.  I was the department’s utility player.  I thought that was a good thing.

Third, I loved my clients.  The folks I supported in the business were hard working and dedicated.  They were so much fun to work with.  They provided the humor that my own department lacked.  These people became my true friends. More importantly, they appreciated the work I did for them.  They invited me to their social events, including their department Christmas party.  As far as I know, I was the only lawyer ever to receive an appreciation award from the leaf department, and I received two of them.  Their support kept me afloat for years.

Finally, it was the golden handcuffs.  Simply put, they paid me a LOT of money.  Between the base salary, the bonus, the stock and the stock dividends, I was able to give my family an enviable lifestyle.  I bought a vacation home at Smith Mountain Lake with my brother, sent my children to expensive private schools, and went on family vacations to places like Alaska and Italy.  We bought a huge brick house so my mom could move in with us.

I won’t lie; it was wonderful to have plenty of money.  My husband and I started out with nothing.  I paid my own way through law school. While I was in law school my husband and I lived in a roach-infested apartment and shared a car.  He used to ride his bike to work so I could take the car to school.  I took leftovers for lunch every day.  I should mention that my husband was a chef, so the leftovers were delicious.  I was the envy of my classmates.

It is difficult, to say the least, to walk away from that kind of money.  Most people call it “golden handcuffs,” but to me it felt more like iron wings.  I couldn’t leave because who else was going to pay me this kind of money?  My family got used to the lifestyle and they relied on me to provide it.  My husband was “Mr. Mom.”  He took care of the house and the children.  He did all the grocery shopping.  He took the kids to their doctor’s appointments and their sports practices.  I felt I owed it to my family to keep working at the company.

Unfortunately, the high I got from the bonuses and the stock lasted about a day.  The rest of the time, I relied on the interesting work and the clients to sustain me.   Eventually, however, I got worn down by the culture.  I could no longer swim in the toxic soup.


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