We often hear the phrase, “Find your Why.” It comes from Simon Sinek’s book, “Start with Why” and means aligning to purpose.
When we engage in work that aligns us to something bigger than us, our purpose is in action. Our daily grind can be mundane, and we tend to go through the motions as if we are on auto-pilot. When that happens, it starts to feel as though we are the main character in our own “groundhog day” motion picture. This feeling can lead to apathy and an overall feeling that our work is meaningless.
It takes a deliberate and conscious choice to reset our thought process and contemplate the “why” behind what we do. As Sinek says, anyone can tell you what they do. A cop might say they write tickets, make arrests, and engage in proactive enforcement to reduce crime. While that is true, it’s not very inspiring. But when the paradigm aligns with why officers do those things, a transcendence occurs. When I was on patrol, I wrote tickets to those who disobeyed red lights. The vehicle code succinctly outlines that a driver must halt at a red light, and it’s a misdemeanor should a person violate that law.
That rule is in place for a reason. I have been on the scene of tragic and avoidable crashes where I’ve had to deliver news that their loved one is never coming home again because of a fatal car accident. When I write a ticket to someone who has disobeyed a red light, I tell them that I want the citation I issue to change their behavior so they never put themselves at risk of killing themselves or someone else. I write tickets to save lives. That’s a stark difference between writing a ticket because my sergeant said to do it. It’s easy to realign to purpose in policing by shifting the mindset to the crime victims. There is no greater feeling than bringing justice to a victim as a result of a thorough investigation and tenacious follow-up. A police officer’s calling is to keep a community safe.
I was invited to tour Axon headquarters in Arizona last month. During our tour, I watched as the Axon employees worked in an assembly line to build TASER’s that officers carry with them in the field. One of my colleagues, Chief John Letteney, asked our tour guide, “Do your Axon employees understand what they are making?” I knew exactly what he meant.
The tour guide answered that each Axon employee is provided the education to understand the gravity of their work. The TASER’s that officers carry in the field are a less-lethal option. They fill a crucial role in the force continuum by allowing officers an alternative to using their firearms. A TASER has the power to save a life. Our tour guide shared that their employees watch videos of the use of their product in the field. They show them footage of a TASER deployed flawlessly. More importantly, they watch the footage of a TASER not performing correctly. The latter is a rarity, but observing bodycam footage of something going wrong is a stark reminder that there is no room for error in assembling and testing the device. The TASER performing as intended is a matter of life or death.
The Axon employees could easily view their job as putting widgets together for the entirety of their shift, and they’d get paid just the same. But the employee who views their hands as tools to build a product that saves lives is the epitome of alignment to a greater purpose.
When was the last time you reminded your people of their noble calling? It doesn’t have to be in policing or a matter of life or death. No matter what you build, create, or what service you offer, chances are it makes someone’s life easier or better in some way.
If you’ve forgotten your “why,” perhaps it’s time to get reacquainted with it. The ability to see your life’s work as a higher calling changes your entire outlook.