Reflecting on all the changes this job has molded into your life and character, most of you see it as a net plus. Sure, there are some minuses, but still … those changes came slowly; even imperceptibly. Now that you’ve earned your bones and are part of America’s vanguard, you take the good with the bad and you wear it all with honor.
As a culture, we cops don’t like change. Physically, mentally and emotionally — you’ve worked hard to get to where you’re at. You’re no longer that naive, optimistic, do-gooder with his gun belt riding up around his ribcage, going out to save the day. Nope. You know bullshit when you see it. And the truth is, you see it almost everywhere. But when you retire, might you slip back into that pre-LEO, open-minded, forgiving, anesthetized version of you? Heaven forbid. I’m going to show you how to avoid it.
Out on the mean streets and especially inside those (ahem) “safe” walls of our departments, there’s one predictable response to all the unjust, messed-up, real-world garbage that we experience day after day … and that’s anger. You’d think that decades of knowingly working inside the Cop Matrix would have acclimated you to the continuous disappointments in humanity and department “leadership” so that your blood pressure wouldn’t spike every time your lieutenant walks up … every time the victim can’t be talked out of a report … every time the last shift didn’t gas your car … every time a new waitress doesn’t know the discount policy. But since all of these and oh-so-much-more still reliably explode your inner voice with F-bombs, you can thank God for the resiliency of cop anger. It just doesn’t quit.
Seeing all we see and doing all we do, anger is our number one go-to emotion. For many of us, it’s even become our defining character trait. But since you don’t like change, just follow my prescriptions and you can be sure that you’ll retire angry, too.
Of course, the more that anger influences your thoughts, words and actions now, the better off you’ll be later. So I’ve devised this simple test that will help you determine, between now and retirement, just how much work is in front of you. Answer these three questions to learn where you presently are:
In response to the following sentences, choose the answer that most closely fits: A) Take it to the bank; B) A really safe bet; C) Flip a coin; or D) I’m calling B.S.
OK, here we go:
- Pretty much everyone on my beat is an asshole.
- My management is full of incompetent, leg-humping ladder-climbers.
- My patrol efforts virtually never make a difference.
Here’s how to score your responses. A=4 points; B=3 points; C=2 points; and D=1 point.
Now tally your scores:
12 points: Whether you’ve got four years on the beat or 40, you can retire now. Your stomach acid will keep you warm for decades.
8–11 points: While others might say you’re a passive-aggressive pessimist, you simply see yourself as a cold-hearted realist. You’re relatively safe, but still, you’d be wise to transfer to grave shift in the ghetto beat for your last year.
5–8 points: Hopefully you’re still fairly new? Regardless of the shifts that they’re on, start drinking after work with the cops in your department who have the most IAs, and do it now.
1–4 points: Unless you are in your rookie year, do not skip one thing I’m about to share.
The most reliable question is #1. Because it will accurately measure your current level of anger investment in your job, I call it the alpha-belief. The more you believe that everyone is an asshole now, the better your chances are of retiring angry and staying that way — forever.
Let’s talk about that word, “investment.” The type I’m talking about is of the emotional variety. Emotional investments are some of the most permanent that you can make. While many emotions flow through us any given day, the singular most life-altering emotion that cops experience is anger. It doesn’t even matter if it’s righteous or unmerited — so long as you’re feeling it, you’re busy investing and this job is changing you. Many of you vets are so reliable here. And committed. You just won’t give up! For decades now, even highly predictable disappointments in humanity (especially in those humans who run your outfit) continue to be fodder for fresh streams of anger coursing through your veins. Even if you retire and find very few people to disappoint you, you’ll be fine. Trust me, you’ll stay angry with your spouse, kids and more. They might even become assholes, too.
There is, by the way, one higher level of emotional investment that some of you disgruntled Jedis have attained, and that’s apathy. If you can feel totally indifferent to other human beings — meaning you absolutely don’t care if they get better or worse, or if they live or they die — then you’ve reached the brass ring. You can get off this ride now because the mold is set. Retirement will never change you.
You see, this is character-level stuff. It would take decades for you to be able to throttle back from those attitudes. And unlike America’s heroes (yes, firefighters), you’ve seen our pathetic after-retirement longevity stats. Your casket will be glowing with anger.
But just to be cautious, let me help you safeguard your investments with a few trusty tips.
Anger is a natural human response to disappointment. But in order for somebody to disappoint you, you must first become emotionally vulnerable to them. Take, for example, your closest loved ones. It’s odd but true, because of all the heart space that they take up, just let one of these people intentionally break a sacred trust. Since you’ve allowed your heart to be so exposed to them, emotionally, your closest loved ones can hurt you the most.
Understanding this, let’s start considering all those assholes out on your beat. In order to be angry with them, you need to be emotionally vulnerable to them, too. That’s right, you have to let them close to your heart. I know this sounds unprofessional, but still.
If you scored seven or above, you’ve definitely become vulnerable to these people. You’ve entered into a transactional relationship with them, just like you have with your employer. Your job pays you money, but by allowing yourself to be disappointed and angered by people you don’t even know or care about, you’re exchanging in a much more precious commodity — your emotions — and that’s some of the most life-changing stuff there is. By allowing yourself to be emotionally vulnerable to the crooks on your beat (or that jerk sergeant on your shift), just like your loved ones, over time, they’re changing your character, too.
Another thing you need to be cautious about is recovery time. For starters, you can go a long way in avoiding it just by working as much overtime as possible. When I say “work,” I don’t really mean work. Just show up for these shifts on as many of your days off as possible. That’s because anger is like water: you have to keep pumping that well in order to keep it flowing. At some point, you’ll have to go home. Still, as best you can, don’t. No need to go to your kid’s baseball game or go out to dinner with your spouse. Maybe end up there, but try to go to a bar or maybe even a girlfriend’s apartment first.
More about recovery: be super-cautious of off-duty creative endeavors. You remember your score above, right? If you find a hobby that takes your mind off work and brings some peace, before you know it you’ll be going from straight-As to D-flats across the board.
Finally, remember that all four parts of you — your body, mind, emotions and spirit — are all connected. You might think it’s safe to start doing things like regular workout regimens and going to church and stuff like that, but as soon as you start down that path, you’ll see your anger meter start to peter. Don’t!
By the looks of it, so many of us are doing our absolute best to retire as angry as possible, and then stay that way. I might have made it sound harder than it really is, but don’t be discouraged. Your biggest risk will come by intentionally going out of your way to prevent it. So long as you don’t think about it and just let this job happen to you, I bet you’ll be just fine. An anger-filled retirement awaits!
Dave Edmonds (retired captain, Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office, California) is a 34-year veteran. His experiences include SWAT, FTO, sex crimes, homicide, polygraph, internal affairs and more. He is the founder & director of the free LEO fitness & wellness membership nonprofit 360ARMOR (www.360armor.org), and a powerful, unique police chaplaincy model that you can have in your own community (www.lecf.org). Dave welcomes your calls at (650) 360-1514, or an email at firstname.lastname@example.org