If I Knew Then: Finding Balance
Brian Willis, editor and author of If I Knew Then: Lessons from Cops on the Street, has commited to donating $10,000 to the ILEETA scholarship fund. Help support his efforts! If you enjoy this chapter, please consider purchasing the book–for yourself or a friend–at www.warriorspiritbooks.com. Enjoy and be safe. –The Editor
All work and no play makes Jack a dull policeman, and possibly a lonely man who has isolated himself from friends and family and who only lives at night behind the wheel of his patrol car answering calls and responding to crimes in progress. Yeah, all work and no play–or no life-balance–soon leads to a life out of whack and all the negative things that can come with it.
I once lived such a life. So intent on doing the kind of police work that I once read about, I was an adrenaline junkie that lived in social isolation or what sociologists call a “social ghetto.” Working the busiest shift (7:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m.) in the busiest car in the city, I lived my job.
Of course, getting in foot and car chases and making felony arrests night after night doesn’t lead to the ability to easily fall asleep once the shift ends. There, I would sit in my easy chair at 0400 hours with a beer in one hand and the channel clicker in the other, watching action movies (or worse yet the TV show “Cops” on video).
Working a busy car leads to arrests, which then lead to court appearances. Finally falling asleep at around 6 a.m., I’d oftentimes be required to get up in mid-morning (or sometimes early morning) and go to court. Single, at that time, I’d work out in the afternoon and then it was time to get ready once again.
Holidays—yeah they were special. Shift work has an interesting impact on those who work it. Who wants to eat a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving at 2 p.m. when you just got up? When I’d rather be eating my Wheaties, I’d scarf down the turkey day dinner like everyone else and then really crash. While everyone else had a few hours after waking before the holiday doings, there I was, a walking Zombie, not quite filled with holiday cheer. Heck, I remember many a holiday falling asleep on the floor of my parents’ home after a big meal.
“Where did Kevin go?” they’d ask and then find me crashed out on the floor.
Successful—yeah I was a successful cop. But the rest of my life was virtually non-existent. I ate, slept, and lived a cop’s life but the rest of my life was not, well, let’s just say it was not a shining example of quality existence.
It took the wisest person I’ve ever met (my mom) to grab me by the stack-and-swivel and set me straight. At a summer picnic my brother and dad asked, “What happened last night?”
I, in my pumped-up cop attitude, said, “Listen, I got to do that stuff all night long. I don’t want to talk about it when I’m off.” Mom caught me in the kitchen later on and set me straight.
She said, “Listen, your father and your brother love you, support you, and are very proud of you. They are interested in what you do. Don’t you ever do that again!”
Wow! What a statement and so true.
There’s More Out There & In There
As a young LEO, I worked my regular shift and then would fill my spare time with off-duty police jobs. Working off-duty at an outdoor concert facility, I was upset if I didn’t work an extra detail almost every day. During this time I made a lot of money (Uncle Sam took a lot), bought a lot of toys (all of which broke or I’ve long since lost), and didn’t see or spend time with friends for several years.
I remember one time when I did meet friends, one of them said, “Man, I haven’t seen you for at least six months!” It was true. I had been working but not living or enjoying the fruits of my labor for months! Wake-up call time: I was single with no meaningful relationship at the time, none on the horizon, and no—repeat, no—social life.
Jack, I mean, Kevin was indeed a dull policeman. And that time when I could have been living and enjoying my life was gone, never to be replaced. It was a wake-up call and I had to remedy it or more years of my life would be gone, like so many whispers of smoke that just fade away.
I’m not talking about trying to live your life in your days off or during your vacation, but rather each and every day striving for and attempting to wring-out the most from each and every minute. Life coach and motivational author Zig Ziglar has commented about how much we can accomplish the day before a vacation because we make lists and apply ourselves to the tasks at hand.
Now, this is not to say that you must attack each day and fill each moment because this can lead to burn-out—another police vocational negative. It’s simply to comment that life should be lived 24 hours a day and not crammed into one or two days off or attempted only while on vacation.
You see, there is more out there in the world and more in there (in your own home life) that is fulfilling, meaningful, and will enrich your life, than anything on the street.
Finding balance in your life requires that you be present in the moment. With your significant other, be present—be there–not somewhere else. This vicious cycle of wishing you were off while at work and wishing you were at work while you’re at home means you’re never “there,” never in the moment. You’re never truly living.
Finding balance means that you must focus on your family time, social time, and recreational time as you do your time at work. You must develop these off-shift times and activities. Spend time with and “be present” with your family. Show interest and communicate with those you love. Develop and maintain friendships with people that are not police officers. Have hobbies and activities that are not law enforcement related that give your cop-mind a break. Be John Doe, husband, father, neighbor, or friend, and not just Officer Doe.
You must learn and understand that the police department is not a furry dog that will meet you at the door when you get home. It is not a living entity and not capable of love. You can love fellow officers but the agency is a machine. It will not sustain or fulfill you. It is a cold and sometimes callous machine that will roll on long after you’ve retired.
For in your darkest days (and there will indeed be some in law enforcement), it is indeed those relationships that you’ve forged and will lift and support you. It is those you’ve loved and love you that will strengthen, sustain, and see you through life’s “bumps in the road.”
Further, at the end of your life in the twilight hours, you will not look back and think, “I should have worked more or spent more time away from my family.” Don’t let your thoughts be of regret: “I wish I had lived more, loved more” and in essence had more balance. Rather may your gaze rest upon your family and loved ones with positive energy abounding and no regrets.
Law enforcement is a consuming profession. One of those jobs that can turn you into a one-trick-pony, that is, all you do is work and think about work. Learn and practice balance early in your career. Weigh the amount of time you spend working or thinking about work with the other aspects of your life and balance the scales so you lead a life that’s filled to the brim with all the good stuff. The result of leading a balanced life is that all aspects will be strengthened and improved and you will, as Rudyard Kipling wrote:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!
(Kipling, “If,” stanza 4)