Law enforcement is a family. No doubt about it, once you are initiated into the fraternity of warrior men and women you feel the sense of it, the pull of it everywhere you go. If you are “on the job” you instantly have rapport with hundreds of thousands of folks anywhere you go, from San Diego to Halifax, from Hamburg to Orlando. From your hometown to mine, the sense of belonging is a comforting certainty you will enjoy the rest of your life... or will you?
I was talking with my friend Jim Gerien — NYPD retired — about this very issue at a recent Street Survival Seminar. “Once a cop, always a cop, except once you’re retired you are expected to move on. ‘On the job, you’re the best, off the job, you’re a pest!’ is an NYPD homily meant to remind everyone of that very fact,” Jim explained of his beloved NYPD. Jim and the folks at NYPD have a very solid support structure for retirees to feel connected and not suffer the brutal sense of separation so many report upon “leaving the family” upon retirement.
Yet even with those support services, some have a hard time letting go of that sense of belonging, and the vast majority of you will not have anything like the NYPD has to ease you into retirement. It’s going to be up to you. Also, it doesn’t matter if you have a “countdown to retirement clock” on your computer screen or just don’t want to think about it because you are enjoying the job too much to consider the idea of leaving, the day will come when you leave this profession as an active participant.
Believe me, it will be stressful, so start planning today.
Think of the outside activities you enjoy and keep building on them. Think about the next job you might like to have when you “grow up.”
Many of you will go into other law enforcement endeavors, some will go into other professions, and some of you will just kick back and start the tough mission of being the adventurous retired. Know that this changes things. It changes your relationships, your routines, and your life in many ways you cannot imagine today, and that is where the need to develop a plan that makes it as pain free as possible.
The healthy way to transition is to make your retirement just that — a transition. Make it a path to a new adventure in your life and not an ending. Your friends will still be your friends but understand the nature of the change in your relationship. Showing unexpectedly up at briefing with donuts can become a little creepy if you overdo it, so don’t. Make your friends still on the job at your old agency envy your life — don’t sit around and envy them.
Get ready for your next adventure — your next path in life and please by happy. For those of you with friends retired or retiring, stay supportive and never fail to heed a call for help from a former colleague. We are still family.