In this week’s #MindsetMonday we’re talking about preparing for a life after law enforcement.  Whether the transition comes after a few years or a few decades, transitioning from a career in law enforcement has unique challenges.  

Tips for preparing for life after law enforcement 

As a retired US Army as a Military Policeman with a little more than 2 decades of service I have few suggestions that may help with the transition.  But I also reached out to Rod Rifredi, a retired Sergeant from California, now working as a Supervisor Consultant and Dennis Valone, a retired Captain from Georgia, the co-owner of Command Presence, a highly respected law enforcement training company.  Between the three of us we could probably write a book on the lessons we learned so we wanted to share a few tips that may help you.

Replace the rush

A life of service in the law enforcement profession is one that very few people will ever have the pleasure of experiencing.  But comes at with a cost. The emotional toll of being a police officer is immense – the highs are high but the lows are just as low.  As you plan for transition one of the first realities you’ll deal with is that nothing will fit in your life exactly where policing used to.  But something will need to.  

  • Stay active!  Continue to do PT, run, cycle, practice martial arts, run drills at the range, etc.  
  • Stay connected.  Continue to check in with friends from your days on the job

Start planning now

It’s never too early to prepare for the day you take off the uniform for the last time.  Develop an exit strategy that includes a clear understanding of next career aspirations, skills, gaps, potential employers, your support network, a budget, etc. 

Embrace the saying, “I am more than this job.”

One challenge many transitioning officers experience is keeping their identity intact as they move on to the next chapter.   A career as a police officer shapes the way we see ourselves and the world around us. For many, law enforcement is part of their identity – it is their identity.  Here’s a couple of challenges to get you started… 

  • Describe yourself without using any reference to law enforcement or policing.  
  • Refrain from using police jargon or acronyms unless absolutely necessary 

Build your external network

Networking is one of the most important transition skills to develop.  For a number of reasons, having a solid network of people OUTSIDE the profession will be an enormous benefit.  Dennis pointed out that it was good to have people to talk with who don’t share the law enforcement perspective sometimes.  They can help you understand the environment you’re transitioning into and can connect you with potential job opportunities.  A networking challenge for you… As police officers your interaction with the public is a tremendous networking opportunity – but do they see you as more than a police officer?  Take a look at your external network – those outside the profession – and ask yourself do they know the real you that is “more than this job?” Also consider that your external network may include officers who left the job before you.  Network with them and learn from their experiences.  

Realize you won’t have a key to the station anymore

Rod reminded us of the experience of the first day after the keys had been turned in and the locker was cleaned out.  Even though we may leave on the best of terms with one hell of a bash we have to remember that the department marches on and we’re not marching with them any more.  All three of us recalled very specific experiences in the days immediately following our last official day. Here is a challenge that may help you prepare for this…Make a plan to connect with friends who are still serving.  You probably won’t have the ability to pop into the station to catch up with buddies but you can meet up for lunch still. Be intentional about preparing for this. 

Pass the torch

Consider the legacy you’ll leave behind. Regardless of how long you’ve served you have a few things that are uniquely yours.  For the most senior members of the department these may be more obvious long term big projects. But even the most junior patrol officer has unique relationships with members of the community and special projects they’ve been working on.  Challenges…

  • If you had to leave tomorrow who would pick up on the things you care most about?

Find your new normal

In your first few months after you leave active service, take the time to get to know yourself a little better.  You’ve spent most moments up to this point committed to the service of others and you finally have a moment to breath and focus on serving you. Realize it’s ok to not be ok but it’s not ok to stay that way. Use this time to Increase mental health checks and get counseling if you’ve been putting off.  Chances are you had a pretty set schedule while you were on the job. If your new chapter does not provide the same predictability you might need to build your own routine for the first few months.  

About #MindsetMonday

These posts are published each Monday morning and are intended to inspire a growth mindset.  Members of the profession and their family members can benefit from reading these posts and integrating the recommendations into their daily routines throughout the week. 

Perhaps the most well known researcher and writer on the topic of Mindset is Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck.  Dweck suggests that there are two types of mindsets; fixed and growth. A “fixed mindset” assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static and unchangeable.  A “growth mindset,” on the other hand, thrives on challenge and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.