There are many things that will define us in this life; the kindness we show others, what we do as a career, who we associate with, what school we go to, where we live, what country we were born in, who we marry/partner with, our children, how we care for those we love, how we treat those we dislike or even hate, the passions/hobbies/interests we choose to pursue or things we’ve lost along the way.
Sometimes we choose the things that people define us by. Other times, it’s not our choice, it’s just what others imprint and associate with us. We can be associated with something we’ve lost just as much as something we have, by something we’ve endured or even escaped.
It can come down to what we look like, the colour of our skin, our religion, culture or nationality. These aspects tend to be things that people make rash judgements about, usually out of their own preconceived ideas and prejudices, than anything actually to do with us at all.
For a large portion of my life, a uniform defined me. A badge, a blue checked ribbon, a job, a gun. And I let it define me with pride.
The first thing people would mention when introducing me to others, “This is Erin and oh, she’s a cop”. Although that aspect could be frustrating, I knew it was not meant with malice, but pride from my friends who had seen me strive towards my goal and succeed in joining our state police force in my early 20’s.
But it’s also easy to let the thing that define you become your sole identity too. Especially with a job and career that can be so engrossing and all encompassing, as being a police officer.
As my career progressed, I felt more represented by the simple image of the blue ribbon, as I became a detective and no longer wore the uniform. The badge, too obviously, but the blue ribbon represented those we’d lost on duty. Every time you went to work, you knew deep down that it was a possibility you might not come home or you could get seriously hurt. But that was the mindset you had to reconcile, every single day, or you couldn’t do the job.
The names of those officers we’d lost in tragic circumstances were still whispered through the ranks years and decades after their passing; awards and foundations were named after them, their names and sacrifices always spoken of with reverence and compassion for those loved ones left behind.
The longer I was in, more of my friendship and social network became other cops too, because not many others keep the strange hours we do. Or see the things that we see. So it became easy and effortless to be identified and defined by my job, as opposed to anything else.
I think that’s why, when I left, I felt so lost. I had gained the love of my life, a new country to live in and a different, unexpected future full of amazing possibilities. But I had left my country, the only career I’d ever wanted or anticipated having and an enormous source of my identity that had defined me for so long.
That blue ribbon, that badge and uniform had represented me for an entire decade; a third of my life at that point. It was a community of like-minded people you were immediately welcomed into, just by wearing the same clothes, weapons and equipment, doing the same job, facing the same risks and laughing at the same inappropriate things. You could show up to a scene, not know the other officers there, but instantly have to trust them with your back. That instills a sense of camaraderie unlike many others.
Growing up, I was defined by others as the girl who’d lost one of her parents tragically. Then it was by what I did for a career and what uniform I wore. What do I think it is now? Definitely part of it is that Australian girl my husband married and brought back here with him. I guess I hope moving forward it’s by the love I show my family, the way I’m raising my kids, to be kind, thoughtful and considerate, and as a compassionate, loyal friend.
As a Coach, (in my second career act) to be known as someone who supports my clients in determining and achieving their goals, gaining clarity on difficult situations they face and assisting them on improving the quality of their life and relationships. By showing up for them authentically, with empathy, understanding and consideration, never judging or shaming, only empowering and encouraging.
I think I’ll be happy with that…..