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Your life IS your legacy

When I started my law enforcement career in 1979, the last thing on my mind was the question, “What legacy am I creating through the way I live my life?” For the first six months I was just focused on working hard and doing the best job I could in basic training. Once that task was accomplished my next point of focus was working hard in the field to be accepted by ‘the real cops out on the street.’ I knew that police work was a brotherhood and that it was important to be accepted and trusted by my fellow officers.

This second part got off to a rocky start. It was made abundantly clear to me that my first field training officer, the first partner I was ever assigned to work with, hated rookies. His distain for rookies was compounded by the fact that he had to give up a partner he really liked working with when we was ordered to work with me. For my first week we were assigned to late care night shift in our patrol district. As the ‘late car’ you started thirty minutes after all the rest of the night shift cars and ended the shift thirty minutes after they went home.

Working the late car sucked.

The ‘suck’ of working the late car was compounded when my FTO refused to talk to me for the entire first week. We spent every night that week driving around in absolute silence unless there was a reason he had to talk to me. I was determined to stay focused, work hard, and slowly I began to develop a reputation as a good young cop (still with a lot to learn) and I developed a bond with my partner. By the end of our six weeks together we got along great and continued to be friends.

The next 25 years seemed to fly by with a series of new challenges: getting through my field training phase, getting off probation, getting married, becoming a father, getting transferred to a new district, becoming a father again, finally getting into the tactical team after four attempts, getting promoted and transferred to a new district, learning to be a supervisor, blowing out my right knee, being assigned from an operational position as a supervisor to an administrative position while recovering from reconstructive knee surgery, becoming the NCO in charge of training and development for our Crowd Control Section, learning to be a soccer coach, and learning to be a cub leader, obtaining a sergeant position in the Training Section, learning to be a basketball and football coach, taking over as the supervisor in charge of the officer safety, use of force, EVOC and incident command programs, serving as Deputy Commander of the Crowd Control Section during the World Petroleum Congress and the G8 Summit... and finally... preparing for and accepting retirement.

Each of those challenges was a tremendous opportunity for me to learn, to mature and to grow. If you were to ask me however, during most of my 25 years as a police officer about the meaning of a legacy, I likely would have thought about things we leave behind when we die, or structures like the speed skating oval and bobsleigh track in Calgary that are often referred to as legacies of the 1988 Winter Olympics.

It was not until late in my career when I was asked to put together a presentation for a police officer retreat on the concept of ‘your legacy’ that I began to reflect on this topic. As I explored this topic I began to understand that a legacy is not something we leave behind when we die, rather it is something we create every day that we live. I have since spoken about and written about the concept that your life IS your legacy to officers around North America.

Each of us has many roles in our lives. Those roles include:

• Mother/father
• Son/daughter
• Sister/brother
• Husband/wife
• Warrior
• Professional
• Partner
• Leader
• Coach
• Mentor
• Learner
• Teacher
• Friend

In each of those roles we interact with a variety of people, creating powerful and lasting legacies every day. Those legacies are a result of our day-to-day interactions, our daily actions or inaction, and how we respond to difficulty and tragedy. Not all of those legacies however will be positive.

What will help us to ensure that we are creating the most desirable legacies throughout our lives is life’s most powerful question: What’s Important Now? If we can accept that our life is our legacy and embrace this question early in our lives it will have a profound impact on our words, our actions, our relationships and our accomplishments.

In retrospect, I think I did OK in most of those roles over the past 30 years. However, if I knew then what I know now and had embraced the concept that your life IS your legacy earlier in my life, I could have done better than OK. I could have done a better job as a father, husband, law enforcement professional, supervisor, warrior, and leader.

I would encourage you to take the time to reflect on your life and the legacies that you create in each of the roles you live every day.

About the author: Brian Willis is an internationally recognized thought leader, speaker and trainer drawing on his 25 years of law enforcement experience as a member of the Calgary Police Service and 20 years of training experience to provide cutting edge training to law enforcement officers and trainers throughout North America. Brian operates the innovative training company Winning Mind Training and editor of the highly acclaimed books W.I.N.: Critical Issues in Training and Leading Warriors and W.I.N. 2 Insights Into Training and Leading Warriors and If I Knew Then: Life Lessons From Cops on the Street (www.warriorspiritbooks.com). Brian serves as the Deputy Executive Director for ILEETA and is a member of NTOA, ITOA, IALEFI, and the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers. Brian can be reached through his website at www.winningmindtraining.com.

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