An optimist, a pessimist, and a realist walk into a donut shop . . . Give me a few minutes, and I promise I will explain how this relates to being a police officer (besides just the fact that it mentions donuts!).
I would say that the majority of police officers enter the profession with a great deal of optimism about what the future holds. After all, the main reason people become police officers is because they want to “help people.” If you have a sincere desire to help people, and are willing to commit a significant amount of effort toward that goal, what could possibly go wrong? Indeed, the law-abiding people in our communities, and especially children and other vulnerable members of our society, deserve to be helped. Police officers begin their career by placing very high expectations on themselves about what it means to be in a position to help people, and how true they intend to be to that special commitment.
Your expectations on yourself may be legitimate. Society’s expectations for you may be legitimate. But soon the weight of those expectations begins to overwhelm you, and you begin to realize that you have placed yourself in a position in which you are not permitted to hurt, or to fail, or to simply be human. Sure, there are days when you may be able to shake it off, regain a sense of hope, and push back against the negativity. But eventually you find yourself becoming more pessimistic than optimistic about the difference that you are making as you perform your job in your community. You become depersonalized, demoralized, and detached. Soon you find yourself:
- Developing a preoccupation with stress-producing people or situations
- Overindulging in escape behaviors like alcohol, drugs, or overspending
- Avoiding intimacy and seeking fantasy over reality
- Seeking to control everything and everyone as a means to survive
- Justifying your actions by blaming other things and other people
- Choosing simply to leave the profession
Just as optimism is not the problem, pessimism is not the solution. The answer is found in developing the ability to be realistic – about the profession, about your abilities, and about how to respond to the stresses that, if left unchecked, will result in a steady decline of interest in your job and ultimately in burnout. This means that you should learn to find joy in your work without letting your work become your identity. This means taking time for yourself, too, like making sure you get plenty of rest and watch your diet. This means engaging in some productive activities that keep you fresh and positive. And it also means identifying one or two people in your life to whom you can be accountable, who will listen and offer feedback and encouragement, to help keep you focused on what is important in your life and in your profession.
If you need help figuring out how to do any of these things, feel free to reach out to us by sending a message at m.me/callforbackup.org/. We’re here for you. Meanwhile, remember:
An optimist, a pessimist, and a realist walk into a donut shop. The optimist sees the donut; the pessimist sees the hole; the realist eats the donut! Be safe, be well, and enjoy your donut!