Why failing can be a good thing in your police career

Self-development is a continuous process and you have to be on the edge or outside of your comfort zone in order to grow


Failure is a concept you must work diligently to accept. Do not misunderstand — failure is not something easily accepted. However, failures teach you that if you are not failing, you are not growing. Self-development is a continuous process and you have to be on the edge or outside of your comfort zone in order to grow.

At some point, success will give way and you will start to encounter obstacles. At first you may not know how to deal with this reality. You’ll wonder what happened. You had been trying so hard to do everything right — where did you go wrong?

Sometimes making progress requires that we take a step back before we can continue to move forward. Nothing went wrong — you were just pushed out of your comfort zone. When you reach the edge of your personal comfort zone, instead of stopping, keep moving. This is the secret to real growth. 

You Decide Your Response to Failure
If you are going to dream big, expect to fail big. In order to accomplish those dreams, you are going to encounter failure. As humans, we’re fortunate in that we can choose how we process failure. Do we let it keep us down and allow it to become an excuse for us to not try again, or do we find a way to learn from it and become better for the next time? If you are reading this, you are willing to push. You must learn to make failure your friend.

Psychology tells us that we choose how we process the situations we encounter each day. Neuroscience backs this up with the ability to understand how the brain works in positive and negative environments. All the scientific facts in the world do not help much unless we understand how to put them to work in our own world. Police already know how to do this in practice. We do it every day in subtle ways. By introducing this theory, we can extend this practice into other areas in our lives and build a relationship with failure.

For example, when we arrest a subject for DUI, we are just happy the roadways are safer. Even on the most solid arrest, we all know it is part of our reality that during the court process the person might not get convicted of the crime. At the onset of our career, this is frustrating. 

We quickly learn we cannot process the outcome of court proceedings as a measure of success or failure at our job. That night, we arrested an offender. By taking him off the road, we preserved the safety of that person and other motorists. No matter what happens in court, this was not a failure. We did our job, we were safe, we helped keep other people safe, we went home at the end of the shift; success all the way around.

Now, let’s take this practice and apply it in a broader scope. For instance, if we apply for a promotion and do not make the top of the list, was it a failure or a learning experience? If we put in for a specialty assignment and are not selected, did we ‘lose’ or did we learn? 

I have witnessed some very good people throw very promising careers away because of momentary setbacks. Instead of learning from that setback and moving forward, they internalized the situation as a failure and gave up. 

One colleague — after being transferred out of the investigations division — spent the rest of his career in an angry rage. This man was one of the most intelligent police professionals I have ever worked with, but he allowed this temporary setback to change the trajectory of his career and ultimately, the course of his life. He was never the same. 

If you think back, you have likely experienced a similar situation. Even if you do not know that individual personally, you know their legend — an officer who allowed a momentary failure to affect them so substantially that it forever changed the course of their career. We simply cannot allow this to continue to happen to ourselves nor to our brother and sister officers. 

Seizing Upon the Power of Failure
If we are going to be courageous enough to push ourselves toward betterment, we are almost certain to meet failure along the way. When failure comes upon you, remember it only happened because you were willing to take a risk. You had the drive to try for something that was not going to come easy. If you are walking this path, you are moving toward personal development; a mandatory companion on the road to success. Only when we accept failure for what it is and stop trying to deny it to protect our ego can we see the meaningful lessons it holds for us. 

The next time you fail at something — in life, at work, or otherwise — resist the urge to deny accountability or assign blame. Instead, take a step back and examine your effort through an objective view. And if you are feeling particularly courageous, go one step further and ask for feedback from someone you trust. By learning from the past and focusing on future potential, you drastically increase the chances of achieving your goals. Once you stop fearing failure, you take away its power. It is then that the possibilities become endless. 

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