Even if you’re not ready to ride off into the sunset of your career yet, let’s face it: the day will come when it will be time to leave. A little planning can make a huge difference whether you live happily ever after or end up like Andy Kilvinski of The New Centurions.
As a LEOSA instructor, I see lots of retired LEOs when they come shoot their annual qualification. It is interesting how differently they adapt to civilian life. Many had the fantasy of unlimited time for fishing or golf, and they do indeed live those dreams for a month or two. Then reality sets in and they must choose a more meaningful way to spend their time. For some, there are family obligations. Others have health challenges. Some have financial limitations. But for many, the stress comes from no longer feeling relevant. As police officers, we spent a career protecting and serving a too-often-ungrateful public while constantly being scrutinized by administrators, politicians and the media. It is nice to have that stress gone, but what now? Here are some tips for making a successful transition to retirement.
Plan. If you’re working off-duty jobs just to pay your bills, you’re not ready to retire. Pay off all your debts, especially those high-interest credit cards. Worrying about having to get another job just to survive will spoil the joy you have earned.
Be good to yourself by taking care of your mental and physical health. A little preparation can earn you the long, happy retirement you deserve.
Explore things you really care about. If you enjoy working, find a way to use your skills in the private sector. Find people doing what you think might be a good fit for you and talk to them. Learn to use your resources and contacts to set up opportunities. Consider sharing your knowledge through teaching. Whether it be at a police academy or a public school, you have skills that are in demand. Passing them on is a noble endeavor. Your special training may have some civilian applications you had not considered. Insurance companies need traffic accident reconstruction experts, arson investigators and fraud specialists. Management opportunities are only limited by your imagination. Leadership skills, work ethic and honesty are characteristics that we take for granted but are rare commodities in today’s employment pool.
Indulge your hobbies. Learn what makes you happy. If you don’t need to make money, then time becomes your most valuable asset. Spend it wisely. Visit family and enjoy them without it becoming a burden. Plan trips to the places you always wanted to see but never had the time. Stay a little longer if you’re having fun. National parks are always looking for responsible seasonal workers. Flexibility is key in pursuing your passion. Some of the greatest cops I know have transitioned well and busy themselves with crafts like woodworking, painting and photography. We all like driving and have clean records. Driving a delivery truck or transporting vehicles has proven to be an ideal post-retirement job for a couple veteran street cops I know. Perhaps real estate is the right part-time gig for you. You know the neighborhoods and your negotiation skills with people make you a master at sales. You’re an expert in many areas that can be creatively marketed.
Of course, we tend to cling to our former identities and hang out with other retirees. There is a great benefit to maintaining friendships with old colleagues. It is more than merely gossip and war stories. It is a way to stay connected and enjoy the camaraderie of others who understand your unique perspective of life. We tend to be cynical, sarcastic and socially inappropriate in ways only other warriors can appreciate or tolerate. Losing that connection with your own kind can be hard. Be good to yourself by taking care of your mental and physical health. A little preparation can earn you the long, happy retirement you deserve.
And if you’re still on the job, it’s never too early to start planning. Make smart choices for long-term happiness. Save money. It can’t buy happiness, but it can certainly facilitate it, and the lack of it can lead to misery. Develop skills that will give you more options in the future. And always remember to show some courtesy and respect to all the old “use-to-be’s” out there. Soon, you’ll be one too. Stay safe!