Aka "You Are Not Your Job"
Back when I wrote the post on Police Morale, I contacted an editor of a mainstream police magazine. She said they had printed a bunch of articles on morale, but she was intrigued by the section, "You Are Not Your Job." She said she would be interested in this built out into a stand-alone piece. So here is that piece. Peruse and let me know what you think, as well as share your insights for the rest of Blue Grit Nation.
Successful law enforcement depends on training and planning. It depends on tireless dedication to one’s craft. It requires focus, skill, and fortitude. It also necessitates thorough development of contingencies. Every experienced officer knows the adage that things will never go to plan. What high-rish/felony stop has ever materialized in “textbook manner?”
Where cops are frequently initiating development within their careers, this often does not pan out to their personal lives. What planning and backup plans do you have for your life? What about a career outside of law enforcement? Regardless of whether we have the grit, we may not have a choice in continuing as a uniformed officer. Below, I have outlined several factors to help you develop your life outside of being a cop. In turn, they will help you become an even more diversely skilled, balanced, and effective police officer.
The Blue World
“Live outside the blue world.” A phrase I learned in Academy. You have non-police friends? Keep them. You have non-police hobbies? Keep them. A concept born to keep you accountable to the person you were before becoming a cop. Because you had a life BEFORE you became a cop. And a life that is 100% police work is not a life.
I love working in law enforcement. I love the call to action. I love the brotherhood. I love the example and legacy we build. And yes, even during these times, I love the grind against adversity.
We know why being a cop can dominate an identity. The job changes how you see people. It alters how you navigate the world. It is something you cannot easily transition out of in your time off and at home. It is easily all-consuming.
Watch Your Six
We commonly quote variations of Nietsche, “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he does not become a monster.”
Yes, “the abyss stares back.” And now in a historically unprecedented time, officers are attacked from all angles. The abyss is not just “the street” when cops leave the station. It’s the media- both traditional and social forms. It’s politicians from the national scene down to our own cities. It’s our kids’ school teachers. It’s our friends and neighbors.
Out of the Pot, into the Fire
More than ever, cops talk about leaving. While many are steadying themselves, focusing on their purpose, others are shaken… paralyzed. Some street veterans cite not having anything else they could do.
Look at your department’s most dejected, apathetic officers. Do they have anything else going on in their lives? How are their family relations? What are their hobbies? What would they do for work if they left our career? You don’t know? Neither do they.
If you ask- they’ll say they have no other skills. This is all they know. They won’t be able to make as much money doing any other job.
Even if you have no intention of leaving this job, feeling like you can’t is a trap. Having nowhere to go will deteriorate your psyche. Animals don’t like being backed into corners. It makes them panic; fight or flight ensues. So what does a cop stuck in a rut do? Complain, argue, rebel (fight) or reclude, disconnect and stop caring (flight). We can agree neither are good. Not for the community, not for the department, and certainly not for the individual.
We depend on backup officers. We carry backup guns, magazines, and flashlights. We talk about worst-case scenarios and contingencies instinctually. So why do we avoid determining a backup career?
Have a plan if you have to leave police work. We all know a catastrophic physical or mental injury could make that a reality. Recognize that you don’t need to make as much money as you do. Burnout could lead to you losing your marriage, house, family and friends. It can breed depression and foster suicide. Money is not the priority.
Your life, family, and health must come first. Even if you are a devoted cop, you cannot support and save others if you cannot support and save yourself.
Take some classes online. Read more and listen to podcasts about things that genuinely interest you. Network with your non-cop friends. Experiment with this “job” in your off time, treating it like a hobby.
Worst case, you have taken steps toward a plan you don’t need. On the street- we create plans we don’t need. We train our brains. It’s called being ready- being a professional. Odds are the exercise will help remind you of all the gratifying parts of being a cop. No doubt, the development will make you a more well-rounded, effective officer and human being.
As a cop with sound preparation, you are a tactician at Life. Be like the seasoned veteran on a critical incident. You have a plan. You have resources. And right now, before you HAVE to leave the job, you have time. And with all that- you can be assured- you will have your life.