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Brian Willis

Brian Willis

Brian Willis is a retired officer, trainer and author who now serves as deputy executive director for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA).

William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.

Fear of Failure

Failing to succeed is not the end of the world.

August 08, 2008  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

If there ever was a true fear of young officers, I think I know it. No, it is not the gun-wielding psychopath. Nor is it your patrol car spinning out of control over a cliff. Deep down, it is the fear of failure.

In the academy it could be a failed test or a "no go" during a practical exercise. During the FTO phase, it could be low scores or remedial training. Whatever the case, the truth is, failure doesn't mean the end of the world. In fact, it can make you a better cop.

Put the failure in perspective.If you fail a written test and have to take it over, take the lumps first.

The academy director will counsel you and your department will bark at you. You go back, study hard, and pass it. Put it behind you and do not make that mistake again. So you won't graduate with top academic honors; oh well. You wanted the job, not class rank. Drive on.

If the issue is a performance exercise, again, stop and rethink. Some tasks you are now learning are totally different from anything you have ever done in life. Just a brief practice may not cut it. You may have to get assistance or remedial training. So if you want the job then put some sweat equity into it. I knew a recruit who failed on his midterm physical fitness testing. He had amassed top-notch academics but needed some more time on the weekends and afternoons on the track. It can be done if you're willing to put in the time and effort.

Failure before your classmates and your supporters is reality. You must also learn how to handle failure in life; this is a life lesson. There will be a time in your future when you get outrun by a suspect, you lose a traffic case, or your buddy has better firearms scores. This is life; we do not win at every conquest.

What's important is not that you failed but how you handle the failure. How do you get up and dust yourself off? Do you get back in the game?

The entire recruit process is a preparation for your career. It is a long race, so do not burn yourself out on the first lap. A police career is like designing and building a building. What you bring to the job is your family upbringing, education, life experience, and your inner drive. This starts a good foundation. Your academy training and FTO process make the foundation and structure for the building. If you have ever watched a craftsman build, you know that sometimes they miss a nail or bend it, but, they drive on.

You've probably heard that in woodworking, you measure twice and cut once. This is true of police work as well. You prepare with training and make proper decisions but when you act it will be accurate. Of course, Journeyman carpenters have made errors in their training; so do young officers in the FTO program. Get over it and deal with it.

Failure can be a valuable learning process. Here's a sports analogy. You would never improve as an athlete if you always competed with others who had lesser skills than you. So you win every game, but who is your competition? If you do not compete against those who are better than you, your skills will never be maximized.

This is like the young officer who only wants to do enough to get by or is "good enough for government work." You are not pushing yourself. To get stronger, you must lift heavier weights. That will mean some days you lose and some days you are sore. Police work is no different.

Don't expect to never fail. You will at one time or another. You will be passed over for a promotion or a transfer. You'll make a mistake on the job. It is going to happen. Don't let it keep you from your goals.

I measure my resolve by how I cope with adversity. For me that is the true measure of greatness.

Train to hard, train to win!

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