After working through the challenging transition from a law enforcement career into retirement, life after being a cop affords us many joys and opportunities. After the typical service retirement, the officer is still in his or her 50s, allowing for a second career if that’s what’s desired.
Work and Play
For some, one of the joys of retirement is finally being able to express their entrepreneurial spirit, long pent up within the confines of civil service. Owning a business allows for creativity, having complete control of one’s work environment and schedule, and answering to no one. These stand in stark contrast to law enforcement. Some retired LEOs start businesses related to law enforcement (i.e., consulting or training), while for others it’s something more physical (i.e., personal training or gym ownership). Some go back to school before starting a totally new profession.
Another pathway leading away from the department is that of retiring outright — that is, without a second career. The transition into complete retirement usually takes longer and can be more challenging. But it, too, offers many joys and opportunities. Because LEOs are hardwired to be worker bees, even those who don’t have jobs usually keep quite busy building things, developing and indulging hobbies, or doing meaningful volunteer work.
Regardless of the details of one’s life, retired LEOs are beginning a journey into the next phase of life. Like an artist with an empty canvas, they have the chance to paint whatever kind of picture they want.
The first few years usually involve healing. The cortisol dumps are gone, along with the hypervigilance, both of which produce wear and tear on our bodies and minds. Many will need to heal emotionally from the cumulative traumatic stress of the job. And many will work to repair physical diseases, like high blood pressure and gastrointestinal problems. When the retired officer comes back to the department for a visit, former co-workers are pleasantly surprised to see the retiree looking 20 years younger and 20 pounds lighter.
For those who have been in long-term relationships and have raised children, retirement affords us an opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with our husbands, wives, partners, children and friends. Like retirement itself, this can be difficult at first. The relationships can suffer growing pains as both partners adjust to seeing each other more. As children get older and move away from home, it forces parents to talk about something else besides who’s going to pick Johnny up from his friend’s house. It forces the parents to talk about each other and their relationship — another adjustment. The retiree and spouse can build a new relationship, stronger than ever. They can decide to pick up a hobby together, travel or take on an ambitious household project.
Research suggests that people are happier (and happier longer) when they have experiences together, rather than buying things. Traveling together, hiking, joining a club or group, driving across the country in an RV — all these produce novel experiences that can bring couples closer together.
Finding Your Flow
Perhaps the most challenging part of retirement, and the most important, is finding a sense of meaning and purpose in P# 9416 retired life. These existential matters don’t press into our consciousness as often while working in law enforcement because the profession is inherently meaningful and full of purpose. Whatever path you choose to take as a retiree, you must first ask yourself, “What can I do that will give my life meaning and purpose?” Failure to do so leads inevitably to dead ends.
For some, becoming more involved in their religious life is the answer. Others may dedicate themselves to becoming more patient with or more open-minded toward the decisions their children make. Others may decide to get in the best physical condition of their life so they can be strong and vibrant for the grandchildren they hope to see.
You know you’ve hit the sweet spot with finding meaning and purpose when you find yourself in what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of “flow.” Flow activities are those that are challenging in some way and that you can lose yourself in. Time vanishes when we engage in flow activities: There’s no stress, only focus on the task at hand, whether that is woodworking, exercising, knitting, painting or riding your motorcycle across the state.
You may ask, “What if I don’t yet know what will add meaning and purpose to my life?” A great place to start is by making a list of your highest values. There are any number of endeavors that naturally extend from each of your core values. This is not a process to rush. After writing down the things you value most, let it sit. The direction to go in will more likely come to you in the shower than while looking at a Word document.
The greatest joy of retirement may be finding, maybe for the first time, that side of yourself you never knew you had, the side that could never find expression in the narrow confines of law enforcement. Here’s to your journey!
Jeff Shannon is a police officer, law enforcement instructor, and licensed marriage and family therapist. He teaches wellness and crisis de-escalation as part of the Alameda County, California, Crisis Intervention Training program. Jeff is recognized by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) as a subject-matter expert in the area of stress management for law enforcement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of the author.