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Ask HN: Have you ever felt trapped?
74 points by jforjuancho on April 14, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments
Trapped by your current circumstances? Have you ever wondered if this is as far as you are going to get in life? Professionally?

Yes. A lot of comments here is about taking a leap to a new role/company/lifestyle. It isn't always easy to do this and often when I leaped to greener pastures, I found that the new role didn't dramatically improve my happiness.

The things that work for me are to: find ways to be independently happy and take small steps towards that goal.

Find ways to be independently happy. I know it sounds fluffy in a industry of highly motivated and technical folks but detaching your happiness from a single job/company will make you happier in the long term. Work towards improving yourself (exercise, read, meet people who you don't normally interact with - best way is to travel). Do things that humble you, that you're an absolute beginner at.

Sam Altman has "compound self" on his list of how to be successful. I think that's very true. I often overestimate what I can do in the short term and underestimate what I can do in the long term. So take small steps to get to where you want to go and keep at it. Not only will you reach your destination before you know it, you will realize that the destination is just a by product of your journey.

I don't know if this is what you were looking for in your question, but this has worked for me so I thought I'd share.

Yes, great comment.

Also, it's recommmended just about every hour on here but So Good They Can't Ignore You covers this topic quite a bit.

Here is Derek Sivers' book notes on it: https://sivers.org/book/SoGood

I used to work at a Series A funded biotech startup. I’d consulted for them for free for 2 years, then joined full time after they got the funding, then it all fell to pieces. Investor pressure led to CEO putting huge pressure on team, and (along with many others) I cracked and left.

Fallback option was to help my best friend from school to build a tech startup. We lived on opposite sides of the Atlantic but we’d talked about this during my last few months at the biotech and we figured it’d work. It was being built with Ruby on Rails which I hadn’t touched - last time I did any web development was 6 years ago with LAMP - but I was excited to get back into tech and learn.

When I started working on this new startup, it went wrong very quickly. I was working from home and quickly felt isolated and sad. I noticed that my anxiety levels were shooting through the roof. I felt I wasn’t learning RoR anywhere near quickly enough to get to grips with our core business problem (which was to build a new search engine for technical staff). And since I was working with my friend, who had literally busted his arse for a year to raise funding for us, I felt utterly trapped. My head was telling me to get the hell out and take a long long break to destress. But that would totally wreck his business opportunity - his funding was contingent on having a tech team (me) ready to go immediately.

Eventually I did quit. I found myself utterly helpless and reliant on my wife’s income for the first time. I was now relegated to stay at home dad status, which I’d done everything to avoid as my career had always been important to me. That was rock bottom. In real terms it could have been much worse, but mentally that’s about as low and trapped as I’ve ever been, and I honestly didn’t think I’d ever find a way back into any meaningful career.

Long story short - I took a year out to spend with my kid. Wife got a one year transfer to London, which was an amazing blessing in disguise because it was a tonne of fun to explore the city with my kid. Finally inched back into tech, did two boot camps, rediscovered my love of coding, got a job, and gradually got back on track. It’s taken 5 years and is in many ways an ongoing process, but I did manage to get out of that trapped situation.

Thanks for sharing that :) You harnassed the pressure and created diamonds. All the best to you and your family!

My last job - I ended up resigning after a good job interview. I didn't get the job but the experience made me realize that work life doesn't have to suck, that one's coworkers don't have to be backstabbing morons.

Edit: I still haven't found my next thing, but it's still better than that feeling of being trapped.

Yes, 3 or 4 times. Each time I escaped by making sure I had 12 months of (frugal) expenses saved up, and then taking the boldest calculated risk that presented itself. Each time, it’s catapulted my career to a level I’d previously thought unreachable, and opened up a world of new opportunities.

Absolutely agreed.

When evaluating a major lifestyle change for financial benefit with a job shift, I asked a coworker who'd been doing the job awhile. He gave me the best advice I've ever received when moving into a high-stress / high-paying job.

"It's good money. But make sure you set up your finances so that when you decide to stop, you can. Even when they say 'What if we paid you twice as much to keep doing the job?' Otherwise, you'll still be doing the job when you're 60."

The corollary is probably: don't take a job you don't want to do, unless the pay's good enough that you can reach the above point in a reasonable amount of time.

I listened, and it gave me the opportunity to quit a well paying consulting job to be with my mother while she was going through cancer surgery. (Thankfully, it and her recovery went well)

And ultimately, led me to finding a job that was a much happier fit.

Could you elaborate on this?

Not a ton without compromising anonymity. What specifically do you want to know more about?

Not the guy asking the question, but: was 12 months a good period of time? Would 6 or 9 months have been too short? 18 months too long?

Twice (starting new enterprises) if it weren’t for a couple lucky breaks I’d have needed at minimum 18 months. As it was, I burned down about 6 months worth the first time before starting to break even. The second time it both took off and crashed quickly and I didn’t burn much cash during the enterprise itself but did spend 3 months after unemployed and looking for a 9-5 job.

A third time (joining an early stage startup as a late founder) 6 months would have been a decent contingency if it went under fast, 12 if it withered away slowly. (Also caught a lucky break on that one and had a soft landing.)

Once (walking away from a bad job and looking for one that was a stretch), 6 months would have been plenty because if the gamble didn’t work out I knew I could reset my sights lower after a few months of looking and be employed somewhere within 6 weeks.

So the answer is very much “it depends on the circumstances”.

Thanks for the long answer. Much appreciated.

Usually, the entrapment isn’t purely professional as some of the replies illustrate. It’s more that the constraints of (some combination of) marriage, kids, aging parents, health issues, debt, financial pressures, moral concerns (what you are and aren’t willing to do), etc combine to create an unsolvable system.

But life is not a math problem, and the things that seem inflexible often turn out to be very much so. Good luck out there, and ignore most of this advice. :) Everyone has to find their own way.

While acknowledging the "first world problems" nature of this, post acquisition handcuffs were really difficult for me. I was bored, underleveled, and overpaid. It took me a long time to leave because I feel that taking a pay cut was doing a disservice to my children. I definitely felt trapped.

I ended up leaving a chunk of money on the table for something more fulfilling. Things worked out. I'm poorer than I would be, but not poor by any stretch of the definition (except for maybe house poor. Yay bay area real estate). But I don't feel trapped. I've got engaging work and feel I've grown a lot since I left. And I'm more fun at home with my kids.

Do you ever wonder if you should have, instead, pursued something on the side or maybe enjoy other aspects of your life, rather than make your job your primary source of fulfillment? I'm in a similar situation.

I got heavily involved in open source at the time (elixir), which was cool. I picked up a few hobbies, helped my wife start something on the side.

I wouldn't say my job is my primary source of fulfillment, but it is an important part of my personal fulfillment. And part of this was the timing. I felt I was too young in my career to settle with beomg bored. That may change the next time this happens.

Reach out to me directly (contact in profile) if you want to talk more specifics. I have great sympathy for anyone in this situation, largely because it feels so foolish to be complaining and that just compounds the issue.

Thank you for your answer! I'll get your contact right away.

I think you’re thinking of it wrong. It’s the journey not the destination. As long as you’re excited to learn things, try things, make things you’re okay.

It would be better to be a new writer excited to write a crap book than to be a Stephen King without the energy or will to write a word.

(As far as I know, King still has more energy and enthusiasm than most writers. The example was a counterfactual.)

Many years ago when I was no longer happy with my job I began to quietly search for a new one. My current job paid well but I had hit a wall and felt I was not going to make any progress on my career if I stayed there. I ended up getting an excellent offer for a job across the country that even included relocation expenses. I was thrilled and ready to put in my two weeks notice and pack it all up except when I went to tell my wife about it she made it very clear she did not want to relocate anywhere, and any scenario that involves relocation will end in divorce.

This also happened to me. My wife didn't support our moving so we didn't move. I'm now 15 years later in the same stage of my career with little possiblity of upward movement and eventually divorced anyway for other reasons. Best to move on and up.

Your wife didn’t know before you even interviewed?


Your attitude seems astonishingly selfish.

The poster should have told their spouse before doing any interviewing that they were considering positions out of town. It's absolutely reasonable to say no when someone comes out of the blue with a request to move out of town. Understand all your constraints and have an open dialog with your spouse before you go interviewing.

I've been trying to leave my company for the past year but 6 months ago I had a severe concussion at work. I was put on medical leave. It's been 6 months now though since I'm on medical leave I can't apply to anything. I also have been having trouble with my doctor. He doesn't do any test and just asks questions and doesn't even make eye contact with me. I have been trying to see a new doctor but I have to get approval from my works insurance but they keep going around it. I have been thinking about seeing a lawyer but I feel guilty about going because I have been with the company for a while and don't want to feel like a dick. But I'm sick of the pain and not being helped.

A person close to me had to deal with a concussion for years. Of course each situation is different. Also, I am not a doctor. We know this for a fact, that had he taken less drastic measures after the injury, he would have had to deal with less consequences. Moving, changing doctors, he remained unhappy for long. From what I know, he had far more trouble than you with his first doctor. I personally learnt something from his experience, that when there’s a chance that things can go very very wrong, avoiding or taking actions that would shake the status quo too much is a terrible idea.

The unfortunate fact is the possibility that some part of the cognition takes years to return. He appreciates how he has changed now. It’s been years. I think some of his changes are also due to aging and the hardship. In hindsight, alienating the company might seem like a very terrible idea for him. Fact is, if neither of you were injured, there’d be no such conversations. The core of the problem is the concussion and that is tough to deal with. His was very severe and led to a long pause in his career. As for the doctor, and reiterating that I am not a doctor, my understanding is that there’s little a new doctor can do beyond recommending practice sessions. Unless the science has changed very recently or medical practice is different where you are. Best of luck. Feel free to leave a way so I can contact in case there’s more I can share.

Yes. Right now. I helped found and run a startup for nearly five years but had to start looking for a job a few months ago because we were running out of money very quickly. I accepted a Lead Engineer position in the U.S. (Pacific Northwest) at a big company but things just haven't worked out for me. There is nothing wrong with the job or the company, per se, it's just that the job is a bit boring and I hate the bureaucracy and the dynamics of such a large company. Even worse, I received a massive signing bonus which I used to pay for my relocation and a bunch of debts from my startup years. If I leave now, I will have to repay it, but a good chunk of that money is already gone.

I'm alone, depressed and the gloomy weather isn't helping either (SAD is very real). I keep wondering if I will never be able to fit in a regular job again. Yes, I feel trapped.

Everyone is always "trapped" by their circumstances. Every day you are faced with the choice of using the time you have to invest in something new or capitalize on the investments you've already made. That's just the way it is. Opportunity costs are a bitch.

Yes, right now I'm feeling trapped by "option paralysis", and I'm actually looking for some help to untangle a very complicated situation [1]. I'm very fortunate to be a professional software developer with a growing company, and a lot of different opportunities. But I actually have too many choices, and too many different factors to consider. I'm not sure how to organize everything and make a decision.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19659912

Yes, I feel trapped right now. I work for the federal government and have for the past 13 years, for a specific reason. That reason has been fulfilled and I deeply dislike my position but momentum is a strong pull. Also the situation is complicated, I feel, by my age. I'm 62 but not ready to retire. I love software and development and feel I have more years to work.

I've been working on a blog post that is basically my answer to this question: http://blog.sagemath.com/2019/04/12/should-i-resign-from-my-...

Only a small handful of times, most times the best way was to change my lifestyle and move on rather than accept the status quo

I got a job about a year ago at a big bank writing software. The job is terrible, boring as hell, but it pays really well. I'm getting paid at least 15-20k more than I'd make anywhere else. I definitely feel trapped.

My Girlfriend is a good person and loves me. I am not attracted to here. I am not sure how to leave her.

We have a open relationship and sleep with other people and occasionally have threesomes. I don't want to be with anybody really. I optimize my life for minimal commitment. I don't want anybody depending on me in any way. I was open about this from the start.

I think that she sometimes is helpless and generally not the smartest person, and i suspect that this is the reason why there is no symmetrical attraction. I don't know what and how to tell here, how to leave and do minimal damage -- the truth, seems to be no option.

She probably already senses what you're feeling and suffers emotional damage from it. Since the current situation is hurting everyone involved I would recommend ending it. She will be totally fine. She might surprise you with what she can do when she has to.

Thanks for the encouragement to do the right thing asap.

Your reply is quite powerful and understandable. Do you practice "Non-Offensive Language"?

You mean in a Marshall Rosenberg kind of way? Not deliberately but I always try to keep judgement at bay and avoid guilt tripping people, by understanding that we are all doing the best we can with the cards we are dealt. Also I had a big break up last year.

Guess I’m just another in the mix here, I’ve been putting out job apps for some time and thought I had a promotion coming that was given to someone else for what appears to be political reasons as I’m more qualified. At least I have more motivation to move somewhere else I suppose because being passed on for someone I have helped grow daily is just the icing on the cake and shows how blind the company is to their ever growing list of internal issues.

Curious what were the political reasons.

I think I was just venting this morning more than anything, I have to assume my interview went worse than theirs or I’ll just end up incredibly bitter.

every single day

Yes, just now


Yes. Quit your job and read all the things you wanted to read. I know that this might not be possible but I've convinced three friends to do the same and they've never been happier.

I find that having a 163 IQ generally helps -- people in this bracket generally don't have such problems because they can easily reason out of their current situation. I can empathize with people who can't, though, but it's definitely a mental state.

Really? The happiest man I ever knew was a plant maintanenance guy with a GED who couldn't have been more than a 90.

The most miserable guy I ever knew had a PhD and was for sure a "genius" at 160+.

Sure it's just anecdata, but sometimes "try not to think so much" seems like good advice.

My iq has been measured at 158 and I have definitely felt trapped before. Sure I "reasoned out" of these situations eventually, but I suspect most do. Do you suppose there are people who really find themselves trapped forever?

Similar here: IQ in the same range, and there was a time early in my career when I'd started a job that turned out to be a poor fit. I had just paid off student loans in preference to having savings.

There are worse traps than not wanting a bad look on your resumé, but that feeling was definitely there.

There is a BIG difference between 158 and 163.

It is within what's quoted as the acceptable margin of error of 5 points. It's 5 points either direction, so it's possible GP's IQ exceeds yours.

"Superior IQs are associated with mental and physical disorders, research suggests"

It calls out mood and anxiety disorders, which might be a disadvantage in this situation.


Being smart often doesn't correlate with being able to relate well to other people, and in the end, other people are what give you options, not really reasoning. You need to be valuable to other people, which requires empathy and an element of salesmanship at the very least.

This is a surprising perspective to hear. All the really smart people I know happen to struggle with a variety of difficulties in this area, and I think it’s related to a paralysis of choice, not just in terms of choosing between outcomes available to them personally, but also in choosing between different outcomes for their friends and the world, none of which is utopia.

On the other hand, the few sub-100 IQ people that I know well enough to have a sense of seem to be more content with their lot in life, having long ago learned that they do not have much agency to change it, and thus are more accepting of whatever situation they find themselves in.

Clearly, because every human problem is a problem of reasoning.

People with high IQ's are often better at fooling themselves.

Trump has an IQ of 156 apparently!

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