Not long ago, while attending a wake for an acquaintance, I met some old friends and peers. All of us, through different routes, had managed to find our ways to supervisory or management positions in law enforcement. Whether it is just lucky to be good or good to be lucky, that was the general way it happened. While standing around with our hands in our pockets, silently thanking God or whoever that it was not our wake, we were carrying on the same old conversations of who was where, what were they doing, and how was the job going etc., etc. There was a general thread to the conversation that we were all doing more with less, that Gen X has no work ethic, and that we were all working way too much. In essence, it was the same circus, different clowns.
One of the things that really stood out to me as we all talked was just how much time we spend at our jobs. No one talked about vacations or time away, unless it was to a conference or something of that sort. It was always business-related. For many people there were several days a week where working 12 to 16 hours was commonplace. Now while I enjoy my job, I have started to realize as retirement gets closer (which, incidentally, is 1372 days--but who is counting), of how many times I missed an opportunity to get away from it all for a while.
Many of us feel that if we leave the daily operations or specialized functions that we manage for any period of time, the operations will crumble. I doubt it; even God took a rest after six days because even he or she realized that a little time away is good for rest and recharging. On this mortal coil management experts emphasis that it is reasonable and necessary to take time to regenerate from the stresses of work and home. At a local cardiac center in Boston, part of the mantra they use in counseling both healthy patients and recovering patients states that if you do not take time off to disengage from the stresses of today's life, then your lifestyle will ultimately wear you down. Another concept they espouse is that all work and no play will make Jack a dull boy--and it lowers Jack's productivity.
Therefore, if this sounds familiar, here is the litmus test for you: Do you feel like a phone is surgically implanted in your ear? Are the letters on your keyboard computer wearing off? Do your kids call you "Mister" or "Ma'am" when you come home? Does the dog go defensive when you are in the house? Are you still talking in 10-codes or signals when you get home? If any or all of these are true, it's time to take some time to rest and rejuvenate
How does one accomplish this, you ask? It is not easy and like everything else in life, it does require some planning. It is not rocket science, though. When we take vacations we have a tendency to do things like visit favorite places or go to new ones, visit family or friends, or just catch up on all the stuff around the house that we could not do before because we were at work. While these are for the most part good things--how many times have you come back from these feeling like you need a vacation to get over the vacation?
Mental Health Tips
Some mental health tips we can use during time away are simple but effective.
- Plan your time off so you are away from phones, e-mail, and those insufferable "crack berries". If (with apologies to Otis Redding) you are "sitting on the dock by the bay, watching the tide roll away," and answering e-mails or phone messages, then you have just taken the office with you and not accomplishing your goal to relax. Let someone have a way to contact you in case of a dire emergency or such but clearly outline what you think that is to the person.
- Leave your watch, cell phone, and laptop on the bedroom dresser.
- Leave the work reading at the office, because if you are doing office work on vacation, you are defeating the purpose of the time away.
- Do not make time commitments to do anything on a set schedule.
- Build some exercise into this time away. You do not have to run a marathon, but get some exercise even if it is just for a walk to smell the roses. Get some sleep too, make sure it is enough to decompress and recharge your energy levels.
- The hard one for me is the commit to healthy eating and to keep my consumption of Coors' all-purpose truth serum in check. You are there to stoke the engine of relaxation, not bury it or drown it.
- Remember your object is to get away from all that work stuff. You want to de-stress yourself, not distress yourself.
- Focus on anything but work, such as your family, nature, the mountains or the lake or ocean.
As obvious as this may sound, your life is made up of much more than your work. Your family and friends will be there hopefully forever--work, however will eventually end. Work and careers will bring you a lot of satisfaction; it may even pay almost all the bills. But at your funeral, you would like to think that people would be talking about what kind of person you were and how you treated the important people in your life. Very few if any will be talking about much time you spent at the job unless they think it is what killed you.
Law enforcement at any level is one of the most rewarding careers that a person can embark upon during their life. The highs are the best and the lows are the worst but through it all, it is only a job. Many other things than your career measure a successful life, so that is why I say, "Screw it, I'm going to the Florida Mouse House and get away from it all."