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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Doing Your Best Brings Out the Best in You

What do you call a doctor who graduated from medical school with a “C” average? 

The answer is “Doctor”.

This joke was told during a gathering at my house for which my kids were present.  I got defensive during the conversation because I place a great deal of emphasis on my children maintaining their grades.

Because I know their intellectual capabilities, I believe that earning a “C” in class means they aren’t trying as hard as they should.  Should their grades drop, I’ve found that once they get past the excuses of “it’s too hard” or “it’s my teacher’s fault”, they usually concede that they could be putting forth more effort. 

I’m not suggesting this is always the case.

Given my deficiencies in mathematics, if I attempted an accounting degree, I probably wouldn’t make the grade no matter how much effort I put into it.  To illustrate the point, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, you will forever think the fish is stupid or is not trying hard enough.

We all have limitations in some aspects. What I’m referring to is our natural tendency to take the path of least resistance – to simply get by.

The truth is, a “C” average will get you a degree.  I cannot dispute this notion because it’s factual.

What I can dispute is that effort plays a large part in our accomplishments and intellect alone does not make a person successful.  In fact, I know many people who bear intellectual superiority and cannot seem to accomplish much because they don’t follow thought with action.  Knowledge without application is meaningless.

I’ve always been of the opinion that those who care enough to do their best work are those who will experience great success in their lives.  I am referring to those who take pride in their work and understand that what they produce is an extension of who they are.  Whether it be a project for school or a presentation for work, I can tell a lot about you just by looking at your output.

There is a simple question that I ask myself in nearly every aspect of my life:  Is this your best?

Many times, I fall prey to mediocrity just to get something crossed off my task list.  But I find that when I challenge myself to bring my best, I meet the challenge. 

If we were to hold up the proverbial mirror and ask ourselves if we are doing our very best, and if we are honest, most of us would admit that we spend too much time just “getting by”; and the consequence of that is little reward for our effort.  And I’m not talking about an external reward (although that often results).  Sometimes just the satisfaction of knowing you put everything you had into something you did is enough to bask in accomplishment. 

Your best might be different from one day to another.  There are some days when you might struggle just to be present and put your face out into the world.  Sometimes just showing up is the best you can do.  And that’s okay.

But most of the time, you can be better and you know that you can.  As a police officer on the street, I knew when I was giving the best of myself.  On my best days, I knew I went above and beyond in investigating a case where I could have easily cut corners.  I knew when I went out of my way to assist a citizen instead of remaining comfortable with minimal effort. 

Any time I’ve just gone through the motions, it brought me no satisfaction.  When I work hard and give it my all, I feel accomplished and successful and those on the receiving end shared in the benefit.

When you do your best, you feel your best.  So do more of that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Our Titles in Life and how they Intertwine

*Published in the Sun-Times Beacon News in May 2014

There are two titles in this life of which I am most proud:  mother and police officer.

These two roles may appear to be mutually exclusive. But for me, they began to intertwine from the moment my first child was born in 1998.

As a young rookie, I answered many calls of child abuse and neglect and though I was affected by the incidents, becoming a mother magnified them.  I began to correlate every child who was hurt with my own children – especially if they were the same age.  As a result, I spent many nights after work watching my daughter and son while they slept and thanking my higher power that they were safe; while grieving for those not as fortunate with whom I had come in contact during my shift. 

Being a parent made me more patient.

One evening, I responded to the home of a mother who called 9-1-1 because her two year old child was missing.  I didn’t have children then and I recall immediately passing judgment after learning that she had allowed her child to escape from the house.  There was a pond in the back-yard and our officers were wading through it hoping not to find the young boy.  Thankfully we found him unharmed wandering around the neighborhood but I scolded the mother for not being more vigilant in minding her child’s whereabouts. 

And then I had children. 

My kids are 20 months apart in age so I learned very quickly that toddlers are no match even for the most conscientious of mothers.

I would turn my back for literally a moment to find one drawing on the wall (having no clue how they secured a marker) and the other stuffing their socks into the toilet.  They taught themselves how to turn the doorknob despite it being several heads above them and they took great pleasure in letting the dog out and watching me give chase throughout the neighborhood in my bathrobe.

Those lessons in humility would transcend into nearly every call to which I responded as an officer.

I learned to withhold judgment and to be empathic.  It’s easy for a person to judge what they don’t know or understand so I started to seek first to understand, and then be understood.  Naturally, this was not applicable in every situation. There are some things I’ve seen over the years that I will never be able to comprehend but motherhood changed me for the better.

Policing has changed me for the better as well. My children might respectfully disagree, however.

Being the children of a police officer has meant they’ve had to contend with interrogations and suspicion.  One of the things they’ve learned is that I rarely ask a question to which I don’t already know the answer.  I concede that their plight is a bit more cumbersome than those of their peers but I hope I’ve instilled in them the same lessons I’ve tried to instill in our police officers -- that they must lead by example.

Women in policing are no different than those in other careers (excluding the interrogations and pat-down searches). 

We are all struggling to balance our work and home lives; and we are hoping that devotion to our careers doesn’t come at the sacrifice of our children.

I became a police officer before I become a mother so the longevity belongs to the former.  My career will come to an end someday but my role as mother will remain until I take my last breath.  I’ve not been a perfect mother or a perfect police officer and I know there have been times where one aspect of my life has suffered at the hands of the other.  But my hope is that I’ve contributed positively to both.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms just trying to get it right.