Someone once said that the greatest reward of suffering is experience. If this is true, then we must all be experts. The experiences I’ve gained as a Correctional Professional are priceless. They are the lessons that keep me motivated and energized everyday.
I enjoy my job. I like the responsibilities entrusted to me by the community and the challenges presented to me by inmates and staff. I like the people with whom I work, the camaraderie in the squad room, and the “wacked” sense of humor that most of us develop to survive mentally each day. I thrive on the unspoken bond developed between us, knowing that — even though you might not always agree with or get along with someone — when the need arises, you are a team. You respond as one to accomplish a common goal.
A student’s question
A few weeks ago, I was reacquainted with a big reason why I enjoy coming to work each day.
Marty Potter, a very good friend of mine and an instructor at Moraine Park Technical College in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, invited me to sit in on his annual workshop for his Corrections Science students. The purpose of the workshop is to expose students to representatives from federal, state, local, and private correctional facilities in an effort to enhance career opportunities after they receive their degree. As panel members, we share our stories with them and answer their questions. These interactions provide a valuable learning experience for everyone.
At one point during the day, a student asked me a question that cut right to the core:
“What keeps you motivated on a daily basis in this profession?”
My initial thought was to respond with all the usual answers: money, prestige, status, the desire to help others. Yet, as quickly as these thoughts came to me, another more important reality popped into my head: “I’m not sure.”
I needed to come to grips with what motivates me, not someone else.
What’s your journey?
I started thinking about why I got into this business in the first place and began to realize that my motivations have changed over the years. At specific times throughout my career, I’ve found new ways to energize myself and keep going, both physically and mentally.
Thus, my intent here is to provoke thought in you.
As a Correctional Professional, what are the factors that keep you coming to work everyday? Be honest with yourself. What motivates you? What inspires you? What are you passionate about and how do you apply these concepts to what you do each day?
The answers may surprise you.
I was a carpenter for eight years prior to becoming a Correctional Officer. I hated getting laid off during the winter and had no benefits other than insurance, so I was looking for job security (no pun intended). I wanted my parents to be proud of me. I was 27 years old and thought maybe it was time for me to start acting like an adult and start thinking about my future.
I was hired as a Correctional Officer at the Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution in Plymouth, WI. A couple of years went by and I felt like I was becoming an established Officer. I had become good friends with some outstanding Officers — individuals who chose to have a life outside of the fence. People who didn’t take work home with them, who spent time with family and friends outside of work, and who didn’t let their job consume them.
How often have you found yourself at social events with fellow Officers and the only topic of discussion is work? We’ve all been there. It’s not a healthy environment. I choose to stay away from it and looked for other avenues to pursue.
You can make a difference
I first met Marty while attending a class at the state training academy. He challenged me to make myself a better Officer by taking some courses at the Technical College. I did, and eventually worked my way to an associate degree in Corrections Science.
Marty told me I could make a difference.
It’s amazing how powerful a motivator it is when you’re told you can make a difference. I had never been a great student in high school, but now I was doing something because I wanted to, not because I had to. My motivation was maintaining a 4.0 grade point average and I did it.
Two years later, Marty asked me to become a staff instructor at the technical college which I gladly accepted. He was willing to stick his neck out for me and to give me an opportunity to shine. When a person is willing to do this for you, you tend to feel loyal to them.
Remember though, loyalty is a two way street, it’s reciprocal. Respect given, is respect gotten. We use our parents, role models, and mentors as motivating tools because we don’t want to let them down.
Becoming a Principles of Subject Control (POSC) instructor early in my career and getting the opportunity to work with Gary Klugiewicz continues to be one of the biggest motivating factors for me today.
As instructors, we have the opportunity to give back to others in a positive manner. If that’s not motivating, I don’t know what is. I remember back when my Supervisor asked if I was interested in becoming a POSC Instructor.
I asked, “Why me?” and I’ll never forget his response.
He said, “Because I believe in you. You lead by example. You’re not afraid to make a decision on the spot and you’re a people person. People come to you with issues because they trust you.” That’s huge in our business.
Finding your path
Over the years, guided discovery has taught me that what motivates me does not necessarily motivate others.
We work in a business that has many people getting caught up in the “woe is me” attitude. These individuals are comfortable living far below their potential and it affects those around them.
I look at these people as brick walls in life’s road. I believe they are put before us to remind us how badly we want something. Instead of going around them, we need to go through them, knocking them down by doing the right things, modeling the right behavior, showing a positive attitude and working together instead of against one another. When people work together, good things happen.
I have been very fortunate throughout my career. I have put myself in a position that has allowed me to advance up through the ranks. I have accepted the challenges and responsibilities of these positions and been motivated to do the best I can and to always try to do the right thing. Couple this with having a great support system at home, which includes my wife and three children, how can one not be motivated everyday? I simply cannot let them down.
So, I challenge you to reevaluate yourself. Think about why you chose this profession and what it means to you. Then find your daily motivator.
I challenge you to discover what it is that really drives you.
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