A Cop’s New Year’s Resolution: A Balanced Life
With the business of trying to balance (hang on to this word) police work, home life and ministry, finding the time to write for Law Officer has been challenging. That said, and with the New Year upon us, now seems like a great time to talk about the concept of balance.
To be frank, serving in law enforcement and living a balanced life are two things most think can’t go together. Young officers in particular can’t get enough of “the job” – including getting in as much overtime as possible (the latter being a recipe for disaster). The result? Burn out, negative impacts on our marriages and families (we continue to have one the highest rates of divorce in the nation), self-medicating (particularly with alcohol), a veritable cornucopia health issues and more.
Having been a law officer for thirty years now (and counting), not to mention my dual role as a police chaplain and minister with a focus on our own, it is safe to say that – like the insurance commercial – I “know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two” (including a plethora of mistakes I’ve made along the way). Accordingly, I hope you’ll bear with me for a few minutes while I try to give you some meaningful direction here.
The title of this article begins with a word that is a mantra at the beginning of each new year and then fades away by February or March: “resolution.” Unfortunately, the word often goes hand-in-hand with failure, yet it is plays a big role in living a balanced life. If you want to last or otherwise be successful in this profession, you had better RESOLVE (be intentional) to live a balanced life and then stick with. So what does that look like in a practical sense? As I shared in previous article, we have three main dynamics that we should be focusing on: the mental, the physical and yes, the spiritual. Let’s break that down:
- Mental: Living a balanced life means MAKING the time to focus on your mental health. How? Most of us (hopefully) earn leave time. Use it! Get away from “the job” for a few days at a time. Go hunting or fishing (as my friend Lt. Col. Dave Grossman says, golf is not a warrior sport, but hey, if that helps with the mental, then by all means). Take the wife on a weekend getaway. Spend some time outdoors with your kids. Turn off the electronics (including social media) and spend some time doing some reading a good book (and especially the Good Book) that does not involve law enforcement.
I mentioned overtime here. Yes, I realize that poor pay is still a huge issue for many of us (especially in the south and rural agencies). But making OT part of you budget is sure recipe for disaster should you get hurt or in trouble. Again, being intentionally balanced is an essential. Yes, mandatory call out and extra shifts may be the norm, especially in these times of being chronically short-staffed. But don’t make seeking extra duty so much a part of your life that it becomes destructive.
Now is focusing on our law enforcement side (case law updates, officer safety/survival training such as “The First Three Seconds,” etc.) still important? Of course – and the fact that you’re reading Law Officer is a healthy part of that. Again, the key word is balance, and that involves being intentional.
- Physical: The word “resolution” (the failed kind) tends to show up big time every year when it comes to the physical side of a balanced life. Hordes of well-intentioned folks crowd gyms for the first month or two of each year before the mass exodus begins. Part of the reason is of course human nature, but, especially for those of us serving in law enforcement, balancing a strong physical component is not just about our health but our very survival. As I shared in a previous article, I had the advantage of already being a dedicated shooter, martial artist and drug-free strength athlete when I entered the profession in the mid-80’s. Unfortunately (especially for those of us genetically-challenged types) some of the ultra-heavy training I engaged in took a toll on my joints and ultimately my health. If I had it to do over again (and certainly in my role as a law enforcement strength coach and fitness trainer), I would have certainly interjected a whole lot more CrossFit or related disciplines into my training regimen and that is certainly something I encourage you to do as well. Bottom line here is that living a balanced life means setting aside some intentional, balanced time on the range and in the gym and/or dojo along with learning how to eat like a drug-free athlete (as cops we should see ourselves as law enforcement athletes). Excuses abound, but, even with advancing age and two hip replacement surgeries, if this old man can still get after it, so can you! And on the subject of balance – bring your spouse and — if age appropriate — your kids as well.
Need more help on this? Law Officer provides us with a plethora (there’s that word again — seek to use this word in a police report – your supervisor will “love” it) of free resources in their Fitness section (including this excellent article on supplementation – Supplements 101 for Law Enforcement). Again, balance!
- Spiritual Training: Spiritual? Of course! This is, after all, the Law Officer Chaplain’s Corner. But in all seriousness, I should not have to remind anyone about what we deal with as a profession in areas such stress (including PTSD), divorce (up to eighty percent), alcoholism and suicide. There is a cure for that! Understand that I make no apologies for being (by God’s grace) a Christian who holds to God’s truth that His way is the only way (John 14:6). As a Christian, I can’t (and won’t) advocate just any kind of “spirituality” but I can attest to the importance of being “spiritually fit” and having a strong spiritual component in your life. So what does that look like in my world in terms of balance? Being part of a solid, Bible teaching church and being active in ministry to and fellowship with other Christian officers. Yes, like you, I have worked and continue to work – this New Year’s Eve for example – many Saturdays and Sundays (traditional church or Sabbath days). But most solid churches have services on other days of the week, I write a daily devotional on my Facebook page that is strongly police-focused and a weekly newsletter that includes a host of resources for you.
Having a healthy, successful and hopefully long career in our special profession requires each of us to be intentionally balanced in every area of our lives. Accordingly, I join you in making a lasting resolution this year to do just that (like the meme, “your New Year’s resolution is my everyday”). Moreover, let’s all resolve to do whatever is necessary to get home safe after our shifts. Have a safe and balanced New Year.