Advice I would give my younger police self
As we navigate our early careers, we should learn to listen to the wisdom of others whose knowledge comes from experience and reflection
When I think about my younger self and what would I say about preparing for a career in law enforcement, I think of my daughter Emily. She is 24 years old, and we get on the phone frequently as she tells me about challenges she has in her career as a software marketing strategist. Often, the advice I give her is what I would have told my younger self.
Having a bad attitude only gets in the way
As a young officer, all of 21 years old, I had no idea what to expect. Basically, I didn't know what I didn't know but thought I knew it all. I was self-centered, hard-headed and very mouthy. Yes, mouthy.
As I gained seniority with only a few years on, I had my own assigned car; I was a field training officer; I could work whatever shift I wanted to work and had my pick of vacation time and days off. I thought I owned the offices I worked in unless, of course, there were more senior officers. Working in a statewide agency, I could transfer across the state into any number of offices, which I did.
In the first several years, I got lost in behaviors I felt made me appear more formidable so that I would fit in. I was brash, sarcastic, condescending, salty and dismissive of people. That was me, for no reason. I literally only had a few years on. This persona meant I wasn't coachable. The barriers I had created limited access to professional development opportunities and my vision for my career. When I realized that I wanted to promote, it was an "aha" moment for me on maybe, just maybe, there were things I needed to do to get out of my way to get where I wanted to go.
Trust the process of YOUR journey
This is one my daughter and I really bump heads on. In our conversations, she will share things she's thinking of doing, and my role most of the time is to be a good listener. However, sometimes, I jump in with what I think she should do, which is what I should have done when I was in a similar situation. She politely corrects me, "Mom, this is my life, and I know you had some tough times, but these are my ideas and choices."
She's right. All I can offer is some wisdom and discernment from my life's experience to our conversation. Not to control hers, but to help shape it, which is helping her see herself as enough, reassuring her that she's doing a great job in her life and career, and having patience with her cadence for her life.
I know she struggles with comparing what, where and how others are doing in her circle of friends. It creates urgency or disappointment in our journeys. It can make us feel like we are failing in some way when we are right where we need to be and what matters most is what we are doing productively while we are in those moments. Trusting our journeys requires believing in ourselves and an awareness that there is a process, it's working, and it takes time.
Every day is a chance to show up
Recently, I was on a virtual call with my daughter, she caught me off guard because she appeared like she wasn't ready for work, and it was midmorning. Although she's working remotely, she had on an athletic pullover, and her hair was in a messy bun. When I asked her if she was feeling OK, she said she was fine and didn't skip a beat in our conversation. Apparently, there were no work meetings where the camera needed to be on for the day.
After giving her some careful parenting suggestions on the importance of always being ready and how you show up matters, I shared a short story with her. When I was a newer officer working graveyards, I would come into the office in my sweatpants and athletic flips and not think twice about it. Then one day, a senior female officer I highly respected sat me down and said, "As women in the department, we don't have the luxury of showing up any way we want. Everything we do is already scrutinized. You don't have to be 'dolled up,' but I don't want to see you wearing sweats into work anymore like you don't care."
Her words stuck because they gave me a perspective on what "showing up" meant. It has evolved over the years and means so much more than just physically making it into work. It was about how I carried myself and how I did my job. It was how I interacted with other people inside the department and outside of it. It meant to show up fully. And eventually, how I showed up when I was leading others.
Listen to the wisdom of others
When we have more time and experience, we have the luxury of reflection and lessons learned through our leadership maturation process. As we navigate through our early careers, we should learn to surrender to any resistance that we may have toward not listening to the wisdom of others. Why? There might be something they say that gives you your "aha" moment, and somewhere in your leadership timeline, you'll share it forward with a version of your younger self.