Police Interview Newsletter
Discovering Your Inner Motivation
Discovering Your Inner Motivation
Volume 6, Issue 3
What motivates you? Why do you want to be a cop? Is it for the pay? The prestige? The power? Or, is it something deeply personal and internal that motivates you to pursue the work of a law enforcement officer?
As a psychologist in private practice, in the age of managed health care, it is a very good thing that I don’t do this job for the money. It’s pretty tough to get rich working as a police officer or a psychologist. So, why do we do what we do?
I’ve given this question a lot of thought and consideration in the past few years. I realize that my primary motivation to work as a clinical psychologist has a lot to do with the satisfactions I derive from helping people who are struggling:
- I appreciate opportunities to literally save peoples’ lives.
- It’s very satisfying to help people discover their gifts and strengths.
- I am successful at teaching clients ways to strengthen their families and friendships.
- I help save marriages and prevent unnecessary divorce. That feels great!
- As I show others how to love, my life takes on more meaning and connectedness.
- Being a psychologist allows me to use some God-given talents and passions.
The novelty and glitter of any career can fade pretty quickly. Be sure to take the time to consider whether or not you are pursuing a law enforcement career for the right reasons. The TV show “C.S.I.” is a thoroughly entertaining and action-packed piece of entertainment. However, it offers a pretty unrealistic depiction of the often-routine and laborious duties of the crime scene investigator.
So, it’s imperative that you ask yourself this critical question:
“What is it about my job or chosen career that will make me want to get out of bed in the morning?”
Types of Motivation
In his book, “Legacy Leadership – Transforming Organizations by Transforming Lives”, Mark Warner, Ph.D, Vice President of Student Affairs at James Madison University suggests that there are three kinds of motivation.
Please read the descriptions for these different kinds of motivation to begin understanding why Dr. Warner suggests that “intrinsic motivation is the most important type of motivation”. The following definitions are quoted directly (p.5) from chapter 1 entitled The Motivation Mystique:
- “Intrinsic motivation comes from within – its origin is internal. Motivation comes from feelings of esteem, satisfaction, fulfillment, belongingness, personal growth, crystallized values, and sense of accomplishment.”
- “Extrinsic motivation comes from the outside of the self – its origin is external. Motivation is derived from approval of others, material goods, salary, titles, office size, and awards.”
- “Prehistoric motivation is the motivation of yesteryear – its origin is power. Motivation emanates from authority, coercion, force, “boss” mentality, and fear.”
Dr. Warner goes on to say that “Intrinsic motivation is the most effective type of motivation. It is the type that we hope to instill in others. Intrinsic motivation is the most sustainable of all types of motivation. It transcends titles, spaces, and bank accounts – for it is always carried within. Intrinsic motivation nurtures the core of our being and stimulates positive action. It also allows us to leave that legacy which comes from the essence of who we are – we give priceless intangibles, rather than temporal material nuggets.” (p. 5-6).
“Extrinsic motivation often times lures us into the trap of self-deception. The titles and the money become the scapegoats that make life sacrifices bearable. ‘I make six figures, and only see the kids once in a while, but the extra house we bought on the lake helps compensate.’ A vacation home is great, but what legacy has been left with the kids? What relationship has been established?” (p.6).
In short, it is critical that you be deadly honest with yourself! Ask yourself, “What is it that will be so intrinsically motivating about my work as a police officer that my pay and benefits will be of secondary importance”?
Introspection – Grasping What Drives You
We often avoid doing the hard working of sitting and thinking through the choices and major decisions that confront us. Sure, children and teenagers are the handiest example of impulsive decision-making and simply choosing what looks and feels good at the moment. But, many adults aren’t any more deliberate and careful in managing their lives.
To answer this question about whether you can be sufficiently motivated (intrinsically) to be happy and fulfilled in a law enforcement career, take time to search out some additional information. There are three excellent sources of information regarding “what drives you internally” that all police applicants may want to investigate: (1) self knowledge, (2) information offered by people who know you well, and (3) the kinds of activities that happy and well-adjusted police officers report to be intrinsically motivating for them.
- Take Time for Introspection. To intelligently consider making choices about one’s career, there is no substitute for regularly taking the time to really think things through. Are my skills, aptitudes, and passions are good fit for what I may be required to do on a day-to-day basis? What parts of the job sound meaningful and engaging to me? Which of these job-related activities would make me want to get out of bed in the morning to go to work? Would this career offer a strong sense of purpose to my life? If the job paid even less than it does at present, would I still be interested in doing this kind of work?
- Ask Parents, Friends, Spouse, Siblings, and Teachers How They Perceive You. It’s human nature to believe that we know our selves, our tendencies, and our passions fairly well. However, most of us seem to have some blind spots and often fail to see what others see in us. It only makes sense, when choosing a career path, to ask those who know and love you to give you some feedback.
Asking the following kinds of questions could be very revealing and instructive: “Can you see me being happy as a police officer?” “Do my interests, temperament, and profile of strengths and weaknesses appear to be a good fit for police work?” “Knowing what you know about me, how might a police career be unsuitable for me - or even frustrating and unsatisfying?”
- Talk To As Many Police Officers As Possible. In addition to arranging for “ride-along” opportunities with police officers in your community, try to schedule some interview times with them to discover what they love about the job – the things that keep them engaged and interested. They will quickly tell you that it’s not the money. So, what is it? How do these successful and engaged police officers keep themselves “intrinsically motivated?”
I saw a longtime police officer friend of mine yesterday recently and took the opportunity to ask him about his own reasons for becoming a law enforcement officer. This motivated and energetic administrative captain, with 29 years of experience, told me that he was attracted to police work for the following reasons:
- He wanted to work outdoors and not be stuck behind a desk.
- He enjoyed the challenges of controlling situations and resolving problems.
- He looked forward to working as part of a close-knit police team.
- The diversity of police duties and assignments was very appealing.
- He looked forward to teaching/training younger officers in later years.
Remarkably, my friend continues to be intrinsically motivated by these elements of his job. He appears to have known himself rather well. The only surprise that he expressed was how much he actually enjoys his current administrative duties. As a younger person the thought of working behind a desk was unthinkable to him. However, he continues to have opportunities to do some hands-on policing, training, and directing of special projects within the police department.
So, in choosing your life’s work – be it police work, or something entirely different – take time to discover what internal sources of motivation will sustain you in your career. The pay and benefits are rarely enough to compensate for a job that you dislike.
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