SAME SONG, MANY SINGERS
Largely due to my experience training street cops, I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with hundreds of cops across the nation. They have been with agencies ranging in size from tiny (four-man) to an enormous cop-shop of 35,000+. We worked entire counties, cities, districts and in one case, four square city blocks.
Too often, when paired with a seasoned cop, I hear a familiar drone, “I will be able to retire in ___ years / months /days. I can’t wait.”
FASTER THAN A SPEEDING BULLET …
I suppose that when you are flying 550 Mph at 35,000 feet, one can’t truly comprehend speed.
Leaving a cop-job can be very difficult. It might be a bigger challenge than it was to get hired many years ago.
Cops live in a world that has some similarities to a television newsroom operating 24×7. Stories are constantly spinning. New ones pop up while others die away.
I suppose it might be like working in the trauma center of a large-city hospital. Take a day off and the entire world changes.
In all likelihood, the only way to fully appreciate the pace of life for a street cop is to step away from it for a while. Doesn’t matter why, just get away for a few days.
After a short absence, you begin to feel the pace of lives that most folks lead. Think of the moment when your plane touches the ground. Only then can you begin to have any sense of how fast you had been moving.
For most, their cop-life is spinning 24 x 7, too. Whether at work or not, they remain connected to the pulse of the job.
LADIES & GENTLEMEN: THE BEAT GOES ON
As you arrive home at the end of your shift in time for dinner, your wife looks at you inquisitively and says, “So, what happened at work today?”
Your mind races frantically. Today started with the usual locker-room banter. There was roll call/briefing. Get the car ready and hit the calls left hanging by the previous shift. And then …
You realize that your wife is being sincere and curious about your day. In your mind, answering her would be like arriving home after a long flight and your wife asking, “So, what did you see on the ground when you looked out the plane window on the flight home?”
Inside, you want to pretend you don’t hear her or you go into another room and hide. You realize that just answering her question will force you to relive all the bullshit you endured throughout the shift. You didn’t like it the FIRST time and you sure don’t want to endure it a second. <sigh>
LIFE LESSON #1 – Each day of a cop’s life is an unending stretch of hundreds –maybe thousands – of individual elements. The only way a person can fully keep up with what’s going on is to live through the experiences first-hand.
CHECK YOUR HEART
If you are a person who became a cop because that’s all you’ve ever wanted, if it’s all you know how to be, you are called a ‘cop’ not because it is what you DO; being a cop is who you ARE. And, you will be a cop until your last breath.
It’s like being a parent. Once you become a parent, you remain a parent forever.
There are many similarities between retiring from a cop job and the day when your youngest child moves out of the house, leaving just you and your wife alone.
I remember that day. I looked around the house and thought to myself, “What do I do now?” The house was strangely quiet. Too quiet. I could actually put the remote down, return an hour later and it would still be where I left it. The phone stopped ringing incessantly. There was really food in the refrigerator.
Now, if you’re in the heat of the battle, with a brood of kids, an empty house may sound like heaven. Trust me. There will be times after the kids are gone, that you wished for a brief return to the old days.
It is the same when you retire from cop work. You step off the roller coaster. However, the coaster continues to roar around the track – but, without you.
LIFE LESSON #2 – There will be times when you look back with fond memories and become tempted to return. Occasionally, that can work. I encourage you to remember the phrase, “There’s a time for every season.” Going back can be a mistake, as well. Think it through. Pray about it. Seek the advice of someone you trust before jumping at the first thing that comes along.
I’M GOING TO PULL THE PIN
So, I ask, “What are you going to do then?”
If the answer comes back with something non-committal, something non-specific or “I’m just going to take it easy,” it is obvious that we ought to begin writing this guy’s eulogy right now.
Blunt? Yup. True? You betcha. History bears it out. I’ll be that you know someone who retired with nothing on the agenda and didn’t get to collect one full year of pension checks.
The human organism is constantly adapting. It is either growing in strength or it is weakening. If it weakens long enough, it dies. Standing still is not an option.
Think of other turning points in life and what followed each of them:
- You graduated from school – high school and/or college
- You were discharged from military service
- You graduated from the police academy
- You got married (or divorced)
- You endured a major career change (new agency, etc.)
In every one of those examples, you were looking forward and planning your future. If you’ve retired (or soon will), the current question is: What are you going to do, NOW?
Don’t underestimate the emotional and practical attachment you have to the routine events currently in your life:
- Daily roll call
- The adrenaline rush of responding to calls
- The camaraderie of the Brotherhood
- Always being up-to-date on current events.
How will you replace these activities? Here are some ideas. (Use what you can, ignore the rest.)
These are exercises of self-examination. It is important that you find some ‘alone-time’ for them. I suggest that you put your answers on paper (or in a computer, if you prefer) so that you can see them and refer back to them going forward.
The answers are yours alone. No one else’s opinion matters. Just yours.
- Answer this question: WHAT’S FUN?
If you’re like me (and most people) you may think you know the answer instinctively. When the rubber meets the road, I bet you don’t.
Under four separate headings (or pieces of paper), write down the goals you want to achieve in the next year in these areas of your life:
Take a sheet of paper, word processor, whatever and make two columns (the old “T” form). Head one side: “WHAT I LIKE” and the other “WHAT I DON’T”.
Write down everything that pops into your mind. Don’t brood over the items listed. There are no boundaries or barriers. You can write anything. Examples of things I like: working with others, learning, driving fast, time with the family. Items I don’t like: going to the doctor, doing our taxes, etc.
At one time or another, I have done each of these items suggested above. If you make an honest effort, the answers won’t come quickly and maybe not easily.
The result of these tasks is to provide a renewed look into yourself and what makes you tick. Use the evidence on the paper when considering what you are going to do, going forward. Example: someone who doesn’t like being around unruly children should probably avoid becoming a school bus driver.
THE DAWNING OF A NEW DAY
Retirement is NOT the end. It is another beginning.
After you’ve thought about it, if coppery is in your blood, remember that for every cop on the front lines it takes others behind them in support roles to keep them functioning and alive.
You could do some ad-hoc training in the local academy. You could become an L.E. fleet manager, if you’re into wrenching cars. There’s always computers, weaponry and multiple other areas where experienced workers with a law enforcement background are invaluable.
In any of those roles, you can stay connected. I realize that I’m no longer on the playing field. Rather, I now have the role of a sideline coach.
Looking over your thoughts about what you like/don’t like along with areas for your personal goals, you may find a field totally unrelated to law enforcement. No problem there.
The critical elements are that you remain active, vital and growing in whatever role you choose.
Over time, we all get older. What a surprise, huh? As we take on new roles consider this: In our younger days we didn’t like some old fart telling us how to do our jobs. It is sort of like parenting adult children. If you push your opinions on them too hard, you will push them away.
Consider this approach when sharing your opinion with someone of the younger set: “I believe that you are smarter than me. You had to learn a lot more history that I did. You are facing some tough challenges on the street these days. HOWEVER, I’ve had some experiences you haven’t had YET. I’d like to help you avoid some of the pitfalls that jammed me up.” You can then gently share whatever it is that you’ve learned.
That approach compliments the younger person and recognizes their accomplishments. Your ideas are given only to help them be a greater success. Done correctly, you won’t leave anyone pissed-off.
The young ones out there today are facing some very tough challenges. Even after we’ve retired, we can still contribute and be part of the Brotherhood. It will now simply be in a new way.
FINALLY: Whether you choose a path that continues in law enforcement or you move into another field that is totally new: it is vital that you set personal goals which will cause you to grow. Otherwise, you will shrink – and we all know where that leads.
It all comes down to saving just ONE life.
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Thank you for taking the time to read this message and allowing me to share my story with you. I can be contacted with questions or input: jim@CopBlueblog.com