My friend Tony had always wanted to be police officer. Even as a child Tony dreamed of becoming an officer, wearing the uniform, and proudly serving the community. There’s nothing unusual about Tony’s dream except that Tony is a girl, or more precisely, at this point, a thirty-three year old woman. Her dream wasn’t typical of the girls who she grew up with, most of whom had more conventional desires, like becoming rock stars, models, actresses or mothers. But Tony can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t want to be a cop. When she met Ray, the man who would become her husband, she told him about her career goal and Ray thought that was a pretty cool thing, and his response was “that’s great! I think it’s a terrific idea. You’d be great at that.”
But as we all know, talk can be cheap, and while it’s one thing to encourage someone to pursue their dream, it’s something else altogether to actively support them in going after it, particularly when it means making sacrifices yourself.
But Ray’s support didn’t waver, even after Tony completed the very demanding application process and was accepted into the police academy. Even after her life was completely consumed with the demands of the training during the nine months she was in the program. Even after having to hold down the fort and pick up a lot of the slack at home with their two kids while Tony was struggling to manage circumstances more challenging than any she had ever encountered in her life.
In a program with fifty cadets, there were seven women. Only three of them would eventually graduate. Tony was one of them.
Tony told me that the four women who left the program were all strong, capable and intelligent, but the changes that they went through and the demands upon them destabilized their relationships to the point where something had to give. In their cases, it was the job. Tony thought that the partners of these women felt threatened by their wives’ growing strength and consequently found it difficult to support them in their commitment. Without that crucial support successful completion was impossible. What separated Tony from these women was her incredible network of loving, committed support.
Ray wasn’t her only cheerleader. Tony lived in a big house, inhabited not only by her, Ray and their two pre-school daughters, but both of Ray’s parents as well. Not only that, but Ray’s aunt, his mother’s sister and her husband Jim lived nearby. Close enough so that they too, could be active members of the support team. And they were.
While it could have been easy for any or all of these people to complain about Tony’s absence and the stress that it put on the rest of the family, everyone pitched in together to support Tony in fulfilling her dream. They cheered her up when she got discouraged. They reminded her of how much they loved and believed in her. They did the dishes, took out the trash and helped manage the household and the family. They created a seamless network that allowed Tony to focus completely on her primary commitment of successfully completing the training program.
While in training, Tony left home at 5:30 in the morning and often didn’t return until after midnight. It was a grueling experience, but she took enormous comfort in knowing that the kids were in great hands and that everyone in the family was helping out, not simply to do her a favor, but out of love for her and from the awareness that everyone would ultimately benefit from Tony’s success and fulfillment. This is a great example of what is often referred to as “enlightened self-interest” or the ultimate win/win game.
Dozens of Tony’s friends and family celebrated her graduation with her. They all knew that it wasn’t just Tony, but the whole team, the whole family that had earned this achievement. It was an especially moving moment for Tony and her family when her Uncle Jim, who himself had been a law enforcement officer, stepped forward to pin Tony’s badge on the lapel of her uniform at the ceremony.
Tony is currently employed as a fulltime police officer and she loves her work, which she sees as literally “being in service.” Her family has completely recovered from any hardships that they were subject to during her training period and they all are thriving. Tony’s sense of self-respect and pride has grown enormously out of this experience, and continues to grow as she takes on new challenges in her personal life and career.
If you have a big dream and have been holding back from going after it, it might be that you have not yet created the platform of support that is necessary to go after your deepest heart’s desire. We don’t have any peace of mind when we deny our strongest longings. Creating the necessary platform of support can be the single most important thing that we can do to meet the challenges that our dreams require us to encounter. Like Tony, we can do things that my seem beyond our reach if we have people who believe in us, cheer us on, remind us that we can do it and are there for us in a meaningful way. We can earn that kind of support by being there for others, both family and friends.
I was inspired by Tony’s story and reminded of the value of real support. I invite you to let her story be an inspiration to you and get working on your own network today. It could be the best investment of your life!