How to get the most out of your LE career: Remember your purpose
Remembering why you got into this profession and reminding yourself of it every day is crucial to having both a healthy career and retirement
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.
As I walked around my department after announcing my intention, I was shocked and somewhat saddened by the many friends who said they too would like to retire, but they had no idea what else they would do in life. It made me realize no one teaches us how to live life after law enforcement, it is certainly not covered in any academy class or in-service training.
For many officers this topic is not something that’s mentored or handed down, it’s truly left up to the individuals to figure out. For me it had always been something I was keenly aware of as I knew I wanted to do 20 years and move onto something else. I had seen far too many friends and co-workers give all their adult life to the profession and leave with healthy retirement or pension accounts but little love for life.
For me, there have been four steps I have taken during my police career that is allowing me to leave physically and mentally fit so that I can enjoy the next phase of my life. Following this path has allowed me to walk away from a career I have loved on my terms and will hopefully help others plan for their lives after the badge as well.
Step one: Remembering your purpose
For me being mindful of three things has always kept my purpose at the forefront of my mind and determined my decisions throughout my career.
1. Know the reason why you come to work every day
First, I have always known why I was doing what I was doing. At no point in my adult life if you asked me, would I have to hesitate to think of it. My mother was 16 years old when she got pregnant with me. She received lots of advice on what to do with an unplanned pregnancy and the potential life she was giving up on by keeping me. The magnitude of her decision and our relationship has always pushed me to live my life to its fullest and to remember that because of her choice I have these opportunities. So, every day I wake up with the intention of making a difference. It may be a big thing or a small thing but somehow, someway, that day and every day I will do something that makes her proud.
2. Bank memories, not vacation time
Second, my family helps keep me grounded. I know my children are watching everything I do far more than what they hear me say. So, I’m able to share with them the noble values of law enforcement, while also showing them how to enjoy the fruits of your labor, such as the ability to earn a good living and take your vacation days.
A friend once told me no one’s child says, “I wished my dad worked more” once they grow older. I’ve always valued being able to decompress and refresh with loved ones and know it is a benefit to your family, your agency and your community. My goal has never been to retire with months and months of vacation time saved, but instead with lots of memories of the experiences and opportunities this career provided me.
3. Engage in community service outside of policing
My last tip to help you remember your purpose is to serve your community outside of the job.
Being a police officer places you on a pedestal in your community and provides you with a platform to influence so many lives outside of your official duties. Use this for good and to help shape the narrative and beliefs our communities have about those who serve them.
Volunteer your time to coach your favorite sport in a youth league or donate time to share your talents in whatever manner is appropriate but find a way to give back to the community. This has been extremely beneficial as it consistently reminds me that we are typically dealing with 10% of our communities’ population 100% of the time. If we do not have outlets that allow us to be involved with the other 90% of our community it is easy to forget they exist. We can become consumed by the behaviors and actions of the 10% and over time begin to view the entire community by them. Having this healthy interaction allows others to know you beyond your uniform, helps to humanize you and is a great reminder for you of the good in humanity.
Remembering why you got into this profession and reminding yourself of it every day is crucial. You are in control of your own happiness, how you choose to see the world and ultimately what attitude you carry to work with yourself each day. The reality is that when you announce your retirement some people will remember specific cases or calls you handled with them, but far more are going to remember you for the attitude you brought to work each day!
In my next article, I discuss step two: stress management.