Dr. Viktor E. Frankl famously stated, “It is not a person’s occupation that creates meaning or fulfillment but how he or she does the work.”
Three brick masons walk into a bar and order drinks, and were asked by the bartender what they did for work. The first brick mason answered “I lay a lot of bricks”, the second stated, “I’m making a wall”, the third brick mason answered, “I’m building a cathedral.”
How do you define your job?
Do you find meaning in your work?
Those of us in law enforcement have the opportunity to find meaning in serving others. There is great pleasure when you are able to help another.
Years ago, I had the great pleasure of sitting in an ethics training filled with bosses from the Chicago Police Department. The instructor posed this question, “What has been your favorite day on the job?” A majority of their answers included helping another, often in what some may consider an insignificant way. Some answered caring for people with medical issues. Not one boss answered arresting someone.
This question made me think of the many happy moments I had on the job helping people. These are chances for officers to create their own favorite moments on the job.
Their answers made me think about a custodian at Trinity High School in Euless, Texas. Some may think being a custodian isn’t the most important job in America. Don’t tell that to Charles Clark. For almost twenty-five years Charles has been cleaning classrooms, bathrooms and counseling students. Most of his students “clients” are referred to him by the school counselors.
Charles Clark has helped dozens of kids turn their lives around — not because it was a part of his job duties, but because Mr. Clark found satisfaction helping those in need. There is a lesson for anyone feeling trapped by their title: you can always do more than your title. Mr. Clark used more than his broom to find meaning at his job.
Author, David Brooks tells another story of finding meaning at work with hospital custodial workers. Some of these custodial workers defined their job as, “cleaning the floor,” while others described it as creating a safe environment for patients. Brooks explains that if your attitude is about service, your job becomes more satisfying and meaningful.
Brooks compares a career to marriage: “Nobody enters marriage with a utilitarian mindset: ‘Does this pass a cost-benefit analysis test? Am I getting more out of it than I’m putting in?’ … And anyone thinking about a career in law enforcement should enter their academy with these questions, ‘Who can I serve? What am I pouring my effort into? Am I all in?’”
Brooks also warns that dwelling on serving others has its problems. He named the English author Dorothy Sayers, who argued that when you attempt to serve a community, you can become obsessed on whether the community sufficiently appreciates your work. This is what turns affable officers into cynical coppers. Sayers said the best way to truly help a community is to do your job well—to primarily serve and find meaning in the work itself.
Men and women in law enforcement know the job is more than just a badge and gun. You are counselors, legal advisers, teachers, friends, mentors, social workers, psychologists, ministers, jugglers, judges, etc.
Some find great fulfillment and joy in their jobs because they have answered the following questions:
- Have we undervalued the importance of our work?
- What is the cost of a lack of meaning in my work?
- What do these symptoms say to those entering my line of work as well as co-workers?
- How can I discover ways to engage in meaningful work?
Remind yourself that the largest piece of your daily routines are devoted to work and related activities. If we hope to experience life as meaningful we need to experience our work as meaningful.
If you find little satisfaction in your current position; work on NOT being that dark cloud at roll call. Don’t wait until the end of your career to realize the significance of your job, make an effort to find its importance today.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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Thank you for taking the time to read this message and allowing us to share this touching story with you. Our editor can be contacted via email with questions or input: Email Editor