How to get the most out of your LE career: Life after the badge
There are several steps you can take to ease the transition from active duty to retired cop
As I prepare to step away from my career as a law enforcement officer after 21 years, I felt an overwhelming need to share my experience with as many others as possible.
For me, there have been four steps I have taken during my police career that has allowed me to leave physically and mentally fit so that I can enjoy the next phase of my life.
Step Four: Life After the Badge
This is a hard topic to address and talk with inside an agency. If you start talking with people about your “what’s next” transition, you can easily be passed over for promotions or assignments and have your daily motivation questioned. It is almost tradition in law enforcement that you do not talk about your retirement plan and that you are expected to make a switch almost immediately. You go from being part of an agency, shift and team with all the associated structure, comradery and purpose to walking away over a set of normal days off. I recently had to deal with this after retiring in December 2018 and I can tell you my adjustment it is still a work in progress.
Here are several steps I used to prepare myself to make the transition from being active duty to retired:
1. Know what you want to do
Have a plan for how you will spend the new time available to you. There are only so many home improvement projects and chores to complete before you get bored.
Transitioning from a structured, systematic way of life to a completely unscheduled way of living is not for everyone. Many people end up missing the structure and purpose so much they retire for only a short period before returning to the same agency they left.
I have several small businesses I had invested in and had been running for the last few years of my career that now fill my time. Take steps to plan what you will be doing during your retirement prior to leaving your police career so that you can ease the transition from one life to the other.
2. Know what you are good at
This may seem obvious, but I am surprised by the number of people who have never given a thought to how their skills and interests they developed over their career translate to the civilian marketplace.
Not only are there many different fields that need workers with our skills, there is a lot of money to be made outside the government pay scale. The hard part is that we need to know where and how to look for the jobs and have a solid understanding of what we bring to the table!
I found this out first hand sitting at a negotiating table working on a business deal for my gym. On one of the breaks I was told, “You are strictly business when you negotiate, no emotion.” I thought about it for a moment to gather my response and realized that contract and business negotiations are much like handling a routine call for cops. You show up, listen to both sides of the disagreement, stay emotionally unattached to either story and listen for commonality. We know on any disturbance or dispute call, the truth of the matter is usually a combination of both people’s stories, not exclusively one or the other. Negotiating a contract is the same, stay emotionally unattached when you listen to their proposal, then offer yours, and realize the best deal for both parties is a combination of the two in the middle!
Whether you love reconstructing automobile crashes, dealing with credit card fraud or have an affinity for working with kids, there are insurance companies, banks and school districts that would love to have you and your skills on their team.
3. Know who you will spend time with
For the entirety of your police career you work with the same group of people day in and day out. You learn about their families, their interests and their annoying habits. You do this every day without conscious thought. Once you step out of the department doors for the last time, you now must schedule such meetings. Suddenly, people are too busy, do not have time and are constantly having conflicts arise so they must cancel on you.
This has been the hardest part of the journey so far for me. All the people you would run into as part of your daily walk to the break room, gym or restroom are no longer around. You must be intentional in developing your social network and make sure you spend time with people, avoiding falling into the habit of isolation. Sometimes as much as we dislike talking to some of the people on the job, it is these very interactions we find ourselves missing the most when our careers are over.
I hope this series helped provide you with some thought and options as you look to get the most out of your police career and all that it has to offer. Day to day and year to year, we receive fantastic training on the newest gadgets, tactics and procedures. However, far too often we neglect addressing our long-term emotional and mental survival that will set us up to be successful after our police careers are over.