Are Your Priorities Straight?
By Daniel Del Valle and George Beck
At some point, you will die.
Will death come today, tomorrow—sooner or later? Are you the lucky one who will live to over 100 years old? Or is a distracted bus driver going to cut your life short or will illness or an infection evaporate the clock? If there is one thing law enforcement has taught you about death, it’s that anyone, at any time, will die. Nobody will escape it—when your time is up, it’s too late to try and correct mistakes or make up for lost time.
Therefore, ask yourself now to define your life. Will you define it by your profession? Will you describe it by the awards that you were given for going above and beyond the call of duty? Will you identify it by the material possessions you’ve amassed or how much money you have saved in the bank?
If you define your life in response to any of the stated questions, you are not living your life to the fullness of its potential. Why? Because your profession will one day end, your awards will become experiences that hang on your wall, and material possession, well, that’s easy—they get old, newer models come out, and many of your possessions inevitably find their way to a junkyard or landfill. Many falsely believe that wealth will buy happiness through more material possessions, but in the end, they will not buy true happiness or true love. Material possessions are as fragile as life itself.
So ask yourself again, what is it that defines you?
It’s not a complicated answer. Your family is who defines you. It’s the people who love and support you and who genuinely want the very best for you. It’s these people who at the end of your life—whenever that will be—will be responsible for carrying your torch—to keep the family together—and to make sure that your memory lives on in their hearts and minds.
Many officers mistakenly believe their profession is what defines their life and that being an officer is the most important aspect. It’s true that we spend most of our lives working, so naturally, if you enjoy your job, your life will improve, but whom are you working for? It’s so your spouse and children and whoever else you care for can have a place to live, food on the table and clothes on their back. And if you are reading this and have yet to start your own family, your employment will sustain what the future holds for you. So it’s without question that we work for others—we work to build the lives of our loved ones while serving and protecting our communities—often taking significant risks to keep them safe. As a moral principle, our family comes first because family is our life and that’s the secret to a happy, healthy and productive life. Period. Don’t overthink it. Yes, marriages can end in divorce, but being a parent will remain with you until your death—so, be the best parent you can because your children are your family and there is no greater responsibility.
Need more examples? Who do you turn to when facing a difficult time at work? Your family are the trusted loved ones who are there to lift you up when you get knocked down. In situations where the family structure is weak, officers can feel alone, and this often leads to desperate situations. Moreover, we choose to decide who occupies the top priorities in our lives. Stunningly, many officers are more concerned with how their chief or sheriff thinks about them than how their spouses, parents, and children view them. Sadly, they are overly worried about the opinion of them held by supervisors and those who are popular at their agencies. This is a choice we make. We allow these people to have this kind of power over our lives, often when they don’t deserve it because typically they are the supervisors who rule through fear and intimidation and deep down have a pathetic existence. We all know them. The pseudo-tough guys or girls who believe because you are subordinate to them, they own your life. These folks will come and go, but your family will remain, so place your family’s opinion of you above all others. Of course, it is essential for supervisors to have a favorable opinion of you, but know that many of these people do not have a genuine love for you and at times seek to break you down to control you emotionally. If you are denying this reality, you are not being honest.
Another major life distraction is seen in the countdown clocks officers use to insatiably track the time until their retirement. How many times have you had a discussion with officers, and they look at the application on their cellphone and proudly proclaim, “5 years, 7 months, 23 days, 8 hours, 15 minutes, 32 seconds.” Think about that for a moment. These clocks are not counting down the days until your retirement—they are counting down the days of your life. The appropriate way to view the days until your retirement is to acknowledge that you have a certain number of years left, and then commit to living your life to the fullest of its potential while you are employed—because you are alive and the time is now! If you are wishing that your life will improve or begin once you retire, you are counting down the days of your life and wasting valuable time. Don’t spend your life waiting for retirement. Be mindful that time is our most precious commodity. Live now.
So make sure you use your time wisely by setting the appropriate priorities and avoiding as many distractions as possible. There is an old saying that we never laugh at the same joke twice, yet we seem to cry about the same problems over and over when we don’t have to. We must demand that our lives are lived to the fullest of their potential, and the only way to determine if we were successful is in the hearts and minds of those who love us—those who genuinely care that we were here. When you retire or die while on the job, your locker will one day be cleaned out, and someone else will occupy it—your desk will be cleared away, and a new officer will sit at it—there will come a day that the plaque of you on the wall (if there is one) will become unrecognizable to the people who walk past it. Your memory will fade, and the job will continue to be done by others. As difficult as it is to accept this reality, everyone is replaceable. Law enforcement agencies have survived throughout the centuries, and they will continue on long after you are gone.
In the end, your family will carry your torch. Make sure you are feeding the fire in their hearts to keep your flame burning brightly for generations ahead. When all is said and done, nothing will matter other than the lives you touched and the love you instilled in the hearts of those who love you. This 2019, make a resolution to strengthen your family—start one, or heal yours if it is broken. As long as we are alive, we can change and make this world a better place.
Death will bring life to an end. Love will carry it on. Make your family your number one priority above all else.