December 28, 2022

Lessons from 2022

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I spent the year 2022 reflecting on my 30-year career in policing. At first, I felt lost — I suddenly wasn’t a member of a team that I’d been on my entire adult life. I questioned my identity. I didn’t know how to be anything other than a cop. As if that weren’t enough, I left my hometown two days after retiring. I’ve never lived anywhere but in Aurora, Illinois, so moving to an unfamiliar place added to the confusion about where I belong.

Looking back on this year, I now understand that my existential crisis benefited me. Disconnecting from my career allowed me to see it more clearly. And that gave me the clarity I needed to finish “Reimagining Blue” — the book I’m so proud to have completed.

It also turned out that leaving my beloved city was the best thing I could do for my mental health. Had I stayed, it would have been more challenging to put distance between my police life and the one I have now. I would have remained immersed in city and police business out of sheer habit, and I would never fully disconnect.

The physical distance forced me to close that chapter and open a new one. Little did I know that the new chapter would result in my book selling well. Nor did I predict that a new speaking and consulting career would emerge. The more invitations to speak that flowed in, the more I realized how much it fed my soul. Speaking on mass shooting preparation, leadership, and empowerment at conferences worldwide has allowed me to share my many failures and successes so audiences can apply the wisdom to their own lives.

Speaking came so frequently that I turned down opportunities for which I am grateful (and a little shocked) to receive. I grappled because it’s enticing to have the security of a steady position (and paycheck), but in my quiet moments, I realized that I’m making a more significant impact in this world through speaking. The uncertainty is always there, and I’m cognizant that the invitations might disappear. It doesn’t appear that I need to worry about that yet. It’s not lost on me how lucky I am; I feel so much gratitude for those who have trusted me to deliver presentations to their organizations. I’ll keep doing it until people stop asking!

I also learned a lesson about relationships this past year by leaving the proximity of the people I genuinely thought were authentic friends. Moving away has meant that I must be more deliberate in connecting with my tribe. Sadly, I have learned that some relationships I believed were real wholly dissipated. I reached out repeatedly until I stopped due to the lack of reciprocity. I’ve always heard people say that if you have five good friends in your life, you are succeeding. Now I know that this is a truism. Geography makes staying connected more challenging, but the concerted effort from those who genuinely love you is enlightening.

Take these lessons for yourself.

1) It is hard to leave what is familiar — be it a place, a profession, or a person. But change is necessary for growth. Remaining stagnant is comfortable, and sometimes leaving what no longer serves you feels impossible. You’ll have to trust me when I tell you that adventures await you in this life if you can muster the courage to feel uncomfortable for a time.

2) Sometimes, you must embrace uncertainty. The niche I thought I had carved for myself and my future turned out to be very different. The lesson is to lean into the unknown and have faith that the universe will unfold as it is meant for you. If that’s too whimsical, let me put it another way: be open to new and different — even if it doesn’t quite fit your template. So many great things in life happen by accident.

3) Take risks. Take relationship risks knowing your heart might get broken. Take professional risks with the understanding that failing is a real possibility. Get comfortable with the fear you feel when you are about to do something you’ve never done. That fear is communicating to you that you are embarking on something monumental. When you feel scared, change the word to “excited”. One word changes everything.

4) Relationships require effort. This applies to the person with whom you share a bed as well as your friends (the ones right down the street or states away). Nurturing relationships of any kind require focused and deliberate effort for connection. Simply put, you might have to go out of your way for one another. Distance can be geographical, but it can also be a result of busy lives, or an emotional disconnect. Losing touch happens, but it doesn’t have to be permanent if you genuinely commit to making it a priority.

As you embark on the new year, don’t put too much stock in resolutions. Yes, the new year is a blank slate and we are conditioned to commit to big changes. But we all know how that story ends. We find ourselves falling short. Instead, simply try and become a better version of you than you were last year. That’s it. Monumental achievements are great, but it is the incremental improvements we make in our lives that are long-lasting.

Happy New Year, friends.

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