Most people think that transitioning from active duty law enforcement to retirement should be stress free. While it is a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, it should be approached pragmatically in order to avoid pitfalls.
As such, the following seven tips should help cops transition to life when the gun-belt is hung up.
1. Prepare in advance. This sounds like a no brainer, but that is exactly why it is No. 1 on the list. Very few people prepare for retirement like they did their career. As a result, many are left unprepared. Plan how you will spend your time. You’ve heard the adage, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” The retiree that falls into that trap soon finds boredom is not a great replacement for constant activity.
2. Figure out how you will incorporate your circle of friends into your new schedule. The workplace is a natural setting for social interaction. Once it is gone, stimulating conversations can dry up. You will need to be intentional connecting with friends that refresh your spirit.
3. Participate in something fulfilling. Even if you’re tired and worn out, the reality is that you’ve spent a career as an “adrenaline junkie.” Police activity needs to be replaced by something that will stimulate your mind and fulfill your sense of worth.
4. Delay major life change in the first year. This may seem ridiculous, especially if you’ve meticulously planned for this moment for the past decade. Regardless, retirement alone is a major alteration in life. As such, there will be unexpected stressors that appear. It is wise to limit unnecessary strain as you transition to a new way of life. Avoid major financial change. Your income is likely going to decrease. Wait until retirement income actually arrives before committing to new spending ventures. Oftentimes, sources of income can be delayed or recalculated to figures that differ from your expectations.
5. Take a year to evaluate your options. Circumstances may require a change in plans, or you may quickly discover that your preparation requires alteration. Use caution when making new commitments. The person that had nothing to do suddenly has way too much on the plate.
6. Understand the emotional toll of replacing your identity as a cop. See No. 4. No matter how much you anticipate retirement, there will be an emotional let down. Even though “once a cop, always a cop” prevails with most of us. The reality is that you are now in the “has been” category of police officers. And the further into retirement you venture, the more you’re aware of this fact.
7. Reinvest in the future. The quickest way to wither and die on the vine is to retreat from life. You possess a wealth of knowledge to be shared. As you sharpen the sword to remain relevant, express experiences with others in humility so they can reap the benefit of knowing you. Most of all, give God the glory!
– Jim McNeff
Jim worked in military and civilian law enforcement for thirty-one years. While in the USAF he flew as a crewmember aboard the National Emergency Airborne Command Post—a presidential support detail. Following his military service, he served for twenty-eight years with the Fountain Valley Police Department in Orange County, California where he retired as a lieutenant. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice from Southwest University and graduated from the prestigious Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute as well as the IACP course, Leadership in Police Organizations.