“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Aristotle
Who am I? This is a question that haunts us all at some point, especially when the people around us are trying to constantly answer this question for us.
How do we remain true to ourselves in a world that is constantly trying to make us something else?
I can tell you that it isn't easy.
I work as a full-time police officer in a busy department. In police work, everything is supposed to fit in its right place, and there is an established value system in place. In my experience the police system is founded on one major theme, and everyone is expected to conform to this mold:
Command is valued over communication.
This is an area where I have done a great job making myself an outcast.
You see, I chose to join a career where the belief system of the work is contradictory to my own.
I genuinely care for people, and I value communication above all else in my work. I prefer to talk instead of yell, and ask instead of tell.
My way of doing the job greatly differs from almost everyone else in my profession.
I have also noticed that I tend to get a lot further when I am dealing with people, and get in a lot less confrontational situations than my co-workers. Coincidence?
The truth is that people will do everything they can to make you conform to their “rules.” Because the police world is such a strong subculture, there is a lot of pressure to conform and breaking the established “rules” is even more taboo.
It can be exhausting sometimes to remain true to yourself in an environment where everyone expects you to be something else.
We have established that it is difficult and uncomfortable to be different, so why not just conform? The mold is there for a reason, right?
I can't answer that question for you, but I can tell you that the mold didn't work for me.
Let me explain why.
The reason I do things the way I do is because there are people that need and depend on me to be true to myself. The last thing the world needs is one more stereotypical burnt out cop.
Don't be so afraid to color outside of the lines that you never pick up your crayon!
You have a unique perspective to offer that no one else does, so share it!
I can't tell you how many thank you's and phone calls I have received for my openness and helpfulness at work. All because I choose to do things differently.
I have helped to change people's lives simply by being true to myself. I have gotten through to people that other officers haven't been able to by because I don't fit the mold. I promise you, nothing feels better than following the path in your heart.
Realize I am not saying that my way is better than any other way. I am simply sharing that the different approach that I bring to work has proven to be invaluable to others.
Also it is important to realize that being true to yourself means you might bump heads with other people. That is okay!
If there isn't any conflict in human interaction it usually means one person is compromising their beliefs in some way. A little bit of conflict is natural; accept it and learn from it.
There is a sort of catch that comes with breaking the mold though.
It definitely isn't the easy road and you are going to face some difficulties. At least I know that I have.
What can you expect if you choose to break the mold?
Will you be mocked? You bet
Misunderstood? Count on it.
Outcasted? Most likely
And all of it will be worth it. To the people you help and to your happiness in life, there is no alternative. You have to be true to yourself, against all odds.
I have had insulting posters made about me and posted up at work and I have been openly mocked for my way of doing things by other officers. I have been told on multiple different occasions walking up to a scene with violent individuals “Why don't you just go give them a hug”… as if I don't understand that the world isn't that simple.
This is the price I pay for staying true to myself, and I grin and bear it. Because every time someone tells me I was the only person on the scene who really listened to them, and that I made a difference in their life, it makes it all worth it.
My way of living has been difficult, but also equally rewarding for me. I chose not to compromise my beliefs just to fit in, and I would gladly do it again.
The choice of who you will be is ultimately up to you.
If you choose to break the mold, I offer some advice to help you find your way:
1. Intimately get to know who you are and what you represent.
Without a crystal clear view of your identity, it will be difficult to survive the pressure and ridicule. Get to know yourself more. Spend time meditating, writing out your feelings, and organizing your thoughts before you make any big decisions.
2. Try not to take things personally.
What you need to realize is that humans attack what they don't understand. It isn't that they dislike or disapprove of you; it is that they don't understand what you represent.
Realize that the attacks are not personal, no matter how they sound. The people attacking you are really just protecting their own ideals, because what you represent makes them question their values.
3. Realize that you are unique and important, despite what the people around you may say.
Your opinion and approach matters just as much as everyone else's!
Once you start walking your own path, never turn back. Walk through life with your head held high knowing that you never comprised what is in your heart.
Being true to yourself will eventually earn you respect among many of your peers. I have had this happen to me, and I have more than a few co-workers who understand my approach and respect it. Coincidentally, these co-workers are the officers I always looked up to. We handle situations differently, but we respect each other’s methods. This type of support will go a long way to keeping you on course.
Even a few of the officers who initially gave me the hardest time have started to be more respectful. It takes time, but it does get easier.
If you ever feel alone on your path, realize that you are in good company. Almost all the great people in history chose to break the mold and to walk their own path.
Starting right now, I challenge you walk your own path and don't compromise your beliefs for anyone.
Take the first step and never turn back.