“Wild fowl get a peck once in ten steps, a drink once in a hundred. Yet, they do not want to be fed in a cage. For although they would thus be able to command food, they would not be free.” This caution, attributed to the Chinese Philosopher, Chuang Tzu (4th century BC), speaks of an official who traps himself in a golden cage.

The trap

The official in the tale takes office for the sake of self-glorification, but gets himself into trouble. He suffers the (apparently) then common punishment of losing a foot! He enters the golden cage of an official’s life, only to lose much more.

Many centuries later, Chuang Tzu’s wild fowl is perhaps more apt a description of modern corporate employment. Employment that offers the apparent stability of a monthly wage, and perhaps some degree of status — depending on the social circles one mixes in — but that takes away your freedom at a fundamental level.

Cost of a golden cage

The modern corporate employee may receive his daily pecks and drinks, but at a great cost. That of having no real control over his life. Beholden to other peoples’ rules, he organises his time around someone else’s agenda. And the greater the financial benefits, often the greater the loss of freedom. This is the cost of a golden cage.

The greater the financial rewards and touted status, the harder it seems to break away. Not least because of the problems of lifestyle accretion, where you become locked into an expensive lifestyle that you must now pay for!

Breaking free

Breaking free starts with really noticing your situation. What constraints are imposed on you? How do they really make you feel?

There is no free lunch in all this and I have written about the benefits of sinecures elsewhere. Whatever path you choose in the end, the primary step is noticing with great clarity where you stand. Noticing the impact such a position has on your mental and bodily health. From such a place of clarity you can then ask:

Do I really want to be fed in a cage, even if it is a golden cage?

Remember that freedom is never free.


life coaching londonHarsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.

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