Imagine you were magically transported to a beautiful tropical beach.

Somehow, you have been handcuffed to a palm tree, but you have a key.

How would you feel?

You might feel great. It is a zero-cost tropical vacation. Use the key to unlock the handcuffs, and you are in paradise.

The key is the game changer. Lock-in is not a problem when you can get out. When we drive, we do not mind locking our car doors because we can unlock the door with a button click. Similarly, we have no problem locking ourselves in our homes at night.

People usually feel a sense of comfort when they have the freedom to walk away, even if just temporarily. That is one reason why we enjoy vacations. And it may be relevant to note that Feng Shui practitioners have noted that a room's physical seating arrangements should allow everyone to see the door.

Some choices are nice to have.

Adding complexity

Imagine that you were once again magically transported to the beautiful tropical beach. Except, this time you are sitting on a pile of keys. You are not sure if any of them will unlock the handcuffs. You might be stuck.

This adds a knowledge dimension (i.e. "Do I think I have a key?") to the reality dimension (i.e. "Do I actually have a key?"). Here is a stylized model:

Tropical Beach Scenario situational table

The table's first row represents when you have a key. The table's second row illustrates when you do not have a key.

What is your strategy?

Strategy

Clearly, it always makes sense to try to get out of the cuffs because you gain freedom of movement with zero downside.

The strategy is this: actively seek freedom. When you are not trying a key, be looking for a key. Do that, and in half of the boxes you can unlock your cuffs and do what you want.

Here is how it looks:

Tropical Beach Scenario situational table with suggested answer

In the worst case scenario, a key or series of keys fails. Even then, you gain a better understanding about whether you are really stuck or not, and you can go back to looking for a key that will work.

And hopefully each key that fails provides you with lessons learned and brings you one step closer to a key that works.

Reflections

While the tropical beach, the palm tree, and the handcuffs are a fiction, their parallels to jobs and careers are real. We might wake up one day feeling trapped in a job or career that we do not find meaningful.

The solution might be a matter of locating and trying a key. If the key works, we gain freedom with no downside. Once unlocked, we can choose the status quo - to keep working there - or we can choose to move on. We gain choices and lose nothing.

Keys to get unstuck from an unsatisfactory job or career really do exist. They may come in the form of professional education, job applications, podcasts, reading, growing your job where you are, networking, side-hustling, or volunteering.

Generally and above all, keys may come from connecting and collaborating with others, including helping others and asking for help when we need it. In the real world, we are all on the beach together.

The world is a big place, and there is meaningful work enough for everyone. While it can be hard to find meaningful work, keys do exist. We are never alone in searching.