A Chaplains Message

The following is the “Chaplains Message” I wrote for the most recent issue of Minnesota Police Chief, the official publication of The Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association.

A Retirement Tale: Climbing Down the Mountain

Well, the day has finally arrived. I am no longer a Police Chief. I am now a retired Police Chief. No one knows that better than my wife of 24 years. She has been my confidant and sounding board throughout my 25-year career with the Eden Prairie Police Department. I often wondered if she actually listened to me when I went on and on about whatever was consuming my thoughts on any particular day. The other day I discovered she had been listening as I shared my plans and apprehensions about leaving the career and the department that has, in many ways, defined me throughout my entire adult life.

She called me at my new office to share a passage from a book she was reading, “for one more day” by Mitch Albom. The main character in the book, who was facing an impending career change, tells the following story:

I met a man once who did a lot of mountain climbing. I asked him which was harder, ascending or descending? He said without a doubt descending, because ascending you were so focused on reaching the top, you avoided mistakes.
“The backside of a mountain is a fight against human nature,” he said. “You have to care about yourself on the way down as you did on the way up.”

I think this is a great analogy for retirement, particularly from a law enforcement career. My public transition from chief to civilian was almost nine months long. I was fortunate to have a supportive boss and department that allowed a fairly deliberate climb down. But when you compare the nine-month descent to the 25-year ascent, it was a rather fast pace.

The way I see it there are four ways people can come down from the mountain of a law enforcement career: you can walk, you can run, you can jump or you can be pushed. You don’t always have a lot of control over how your career ends, but you can prepare yourself and make plans for dealing with the situation you are facing. I believe walking or running are the best options. But the faster you come down, the more likely you are to stumble and possibly get hurt.

If you are going to jump, you better plan ahead and look for a safe place to land and have some help at the bottom to fix whatever broke in the fall. And if you end up getting pushed, well, that’s the one to try and avoid. Not having control over how and when you come down is difficult. That’s why it’s important to be self-aware and know your situation and the circumstances that impact your employment.

There is one guarantee that comes with a law enforcement career: it will eventually end. No exceptions. So here is my advice. Regardless of how you have personally climbed the mountain of your law enforcement career, you need to have a plan for getting down. And that plan needs to include contingencies because you don’t always have control of the descent. However, the more planning you do, the better you will be prepared to handle what is a very complicated journey.