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Monday, December 30, 2013

What makes you come alive?

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News on 12-30-13

In positive psychology, there is a phrase called being “in flow”.  This means that you are engaged in an activity that you enjoy that is neither too challenging nor too easy. 

It requires the perfect amount of concentration and you know you are “in flow” when the world around you seems to fade away.  You lose all sense of time because you are fully immersed in what you are doing.  It is the thing that makes you come alive – your passion.

Many of us may find ourselves “in flow” when we are participating in a hobby. 

When I write, I lose myself.  In fact, I don’t normally know exactly how I think or feel about something until I sit at the computer and watch the words pour out.  It is my sub-conscious thoughts that come from deep within my mind and I struggle to type fast enough to keep up.  I often begin with one topic and am amazed when the words I’ve strung together to create sentences never follow the same path on which I began.

Being a patrol officer put me in the same state of flow.

I loved that job.  I liked being tied to the radio and answering calls because I never knew where the next one would take me.  I loved the challenge of conflict and the psychology of human nature that I encountered each time someone called 9-1-1.  I liked the feeling of fear and learning to push through it.  I loved the satisfaction of being on the right side of justice.

In Aurora’s not so distant past, we went from call to call and I can often remember looking at my watch wondering where the 8 hours went.  I was “in flow”.  

Many people aren’t “in flow” in their life’s work.  For many, their occupation or job is something they have to do to make ends meet – not something they want to do. 

The luckiest people in the world are those who have found a way to incorporate their passion (flow) with sustainable income.  Imagine the thing that moves you every day and imagine waking up every morning and being able to spend your day doing that very thing.  Now imagine getting a paycheck for it.  That’s why it makes sense to figure out what you love to do first and then pursue that as an occupation.

Unfortunately, that isn’t typical of how life works.  I love to write but that certainly doesn’t mean that I would be able to generate income from it.  If it were that easy, there would be no starving artists.

Fortunately, I love policing and even though I’m not in the squad car anymore, I get immense satisfaction from watching the men and women who are out there doing the work.  When I see the results of their accomplishments and how that translates into a peaceful city for our citizens, it gives me purpose. 

Even though many of us aren’t spending our days “in flow”, finding purpose in our life’s work is the next best thing.  If you stop for a moment and think about how your job contributes to the world, it reframes your existence.

A mail-carrier might think their job mundane as putting mail into mailboxes day in and day out may seem that way.  But what they are actually doing is connecting people from around the world. See the difference?  When you change the way you think, you can find meaning in almost anything.

As you traverse into 2014, find ways to bring new meaning to your current existence.  Determine what you are doing when you are “in flow”.  Figure out the thing that makes you come alive.

Now go do more of that.



Friday, December 6, 2013

Where You Lay Your Head

When my kids were in elementary school, I used to volunteer in their classrooms for holiday parties.

During one Christmas party in my daughter’s first grade class, I was assigned to run a craft table with another parent.  She seemed relatively pleasant and we were making small talk helping the children glue little reindeer noses on their cut-outs.  She said I looked familiar (and I was thinking the same) but we couldn’t pinpoint exactly where we had met.

And then her face changed making it clear to me that “the light bulb” went off in her head.  “You arrested my husband”, she exclaimed loud enough for everyone in the classroom to hear.  I
then instantly recalled the exact incident involving her husband at their home.

My 7 year old daughter looked at me with eyes as big as saucers so I responded as any nice person would by saying, “Ohhh, nice to see you again”, followed by nervous laughter.

I bring this up because it’s one of the many times I’ve run into someone with whom I’ve had an interaction as a police officer while off duty.  Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me because I’ve never felt threatened or been in a position where I was genuinely concerned. 

Other officers have not been so fortunate.  One of our tactical officers once lived down the street from a gang house. When the occupants learned where he lived, a homemade bomb was thrown at his home.  He and his wife became genuinely concerned for the welfare of their family and made the personal decision to leave the city.


It is extremely stressful to be in a constant state of heightened alert.  During the course of our work day, we expect to operate in combat mode.  Given the history of ambushes on police officers, there is never a time to be complacent of our surroundings while on duty.

However, our homes should be a peaceful retreat to let our guard down – not somewhere to look over our shoulders or worry about our children being harmed in retaliation for doing our jobs.  For this reason, many officers opt to move outside of the city limits to minimize the probability of running into any “clientele”. 

There is great debate about residency requirements. Many people believe that a police officer who lives in the city in which they serve will take more of an interest in policing the city.  Being vested in the city all of the time – not just during an 8 hour work day, some argue, makes the police officer woven into the tapestry of the community.

Officers feel very strongly about the safety issues that come with living within proximity to the streets they patrol and the criminals they arrest.  Furthermore, most families are dual-income and have a need for flexibility to accommodate officers' spouses who work in other cities.

I used to be very much in favor of residency requirements but I’ve since waivered on my position.

I choose to live in Aurora.  I was born and raised here, my career is here and we decided to raise our children here.  I have always felt a strong connection to this city and I simply wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. 

But I completely understand the need to live with a little anonymity and detachment.  I’m not convinced that commitment plays a part in residency. I know many police officers who do not live in Aurora but are committed to the community and are intensely dedicated to its citizens and their wellbeing.  I also know officers who live in the city that might not share those same ideals.

People become police officers because they genuinely care about people--- all people--- without regards to geographic boundaries.  Personally, I think you can love this city and dedicate your life’s work to the welfare of it no matter where you lay your head.