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A Letter to My Younger Self
March 08, 2021
By Lt. Col. Amy Dehner, Chief Deputy Director
No matter who you are or where you work - none of us have the luxury of looking back on our life to retroactively apply lessons learned. Instead, we make the usual references to hindsight, or what we could or should have done. As we celebrate Women's History Month and International Women's Day, I'm breaking with hindsight to pen a letter to my younger self about the important lessons so many of us learn, but never really get the opportunity to fully reflect on:
As a college athlete and Army National Guard Veteran, you'll spend a lot of time in uniform. In fact, most of your adult life will be associated with wearing one uniform or another. While you won't completely realize the impact uniforms (and the desire to wear them) will have on your life until later, the fact is, you won't know life any other way. The idea of being part of a group driven by the same standards, working toward the same goals is what you'll grow to associate with wearing a uniform, be it in basketball, the Army's digital BDUs, or the blue of the Michigan State Police.
People will ask all the time about what it's like working in a male dominated profession. You'll find your own answer, and it'll be, "It's like any other experience - it's whatever you make it to be."
Starting out in the State Police, you'll be fortunate to have a woman as your first post commander. She won't let you cut any corners and will set a high bar for you, but she'll also show you how to lead with dignity, class and a little fire in your step.
Perhaps most important in your career will be the impact of men, predominately white men, who will serve as your Field Training Officers and their impacts will be a credit to wherever your career takes you. They'll be your brothers and watch over you as such - and while they won't give you any free passes in your training, they'll ensure you're treated as an equal and will teach you to accept nothing less. If there's anyone to be credited with any perceived success you might experience along the way, it's likely those men.
You'll realize it's not about being one of the boys, matter of fact, it's not about being one of the girls either. It's about being unapologetically yourself and realizing that's what people will respect you for - not your willingness to conform to someone else's expectations or their perceived norms.
You will fail - at a lot of things. These failures might not be as embarrassing as the time at 10 years old when you'll be told that gymnastics isn't for you because your knees touch the ground while still hanging on the uneven parallel bars, but you'll be able to put together a lengthy failure resume where you fell short. The key to overcoming these failures will be that you'll have good people in your life along the way who will pick you up, dust you off and push you right back into the fray before you can talk yourself out of it.
You'll spend most of your adult life wearing men's uniforms. Now-as an author's note, I don't need to tell any women out there that wool pants and polyester shirts are not our most flattering look, but I'm proud to don our blues and represent the State of Michigan EVERY day. To be fair, we have women's uniforms - they just weren't made with a 6'2," 165 pound woman in mind.
You'll come to know that policing isn't going to be what you thought. It's not about brawn, out-muscling someone, or tallying arrests - it's about how well you communicate with others and can show compassion -- it's about selfless service to complete strangers, and it's about committing yourself to lifelong learning, even when the price of that learning has to come from money out of your own pocket.
You might find yourself in frequent conversations with people who are quick to tell you they don't want their son, daughter, spouse, friend (insert any random person you care about) to be a police officer. When you ask them to explain this, you'll hear that it's because they're smart, driven and have bright futures in other things. While you won't disagree with the notion that everyone has a calling, and that calling isn't always to law enforcement, your challenge to the individuals in those conversations will be this, "I understand that you care about your loved one because of all those things that make them great, but if you don't want great people being your police officers…well then, who do you want to be your police?"
You will learn that success, tradition and standards are NOT synonymous terms. You will dedicate yourself to the idea that balancing the traditions of ceremony have nothing to do with maintaining high standards or in defining how success can, and should be, measured.
You'll know the importance and the duty in being a good mentor to others, both in and outside the policing profession. In doing this, you'll also grow to understand that if you want the next generation of MSP leadership to better understand the unique challenges faced by women in a largely male profession, you'll need to make a specific point to be a good mentor to your male counterparts.
You won't shy away from saying you want to work with the best, and you'll come to know that the best people are male, female, black, white and brown. They are Native American, non-binary and LGBTQ. They are Jewish, Muslim and Christian - and everything else. You'll know that these people are represented among your colleagues today. The best to you will come to mean that your co-workers have life experiences and thought processes different than your own, and while we might not always agree, there is not a single public safety issue out there that we can't solve when we bring all our perspectives to the same table.
You'll think we are the best at the MSP, but you'd expect anyone from any organization to say the same about the place they work if they are truly invested as an employee. Life experience, education and personal struggles aren't what makes us different, they're what make us great and what makes our service stand out from the rest.
At almost 104 years old, you'll know that the MSP has had a lot of firsts along the way - the first female trooper and the first African American trooper will be at the foundation of those firsts. A look at modern era MSP directors will also mark firsts for African American and Hispanic men - not to mention our first female to ever hold the Colonel rank. That's not to say we're done in this arena, as I'm certain the first woman of color to sit in our Director's chair is probably somewhere in our ranks at this very moment.
Finally, you'll come to know that the MSP is your calling, and the honor of your life. After nearly 17 years in service to the citizens of Michigan, it's also the place you will be proud to call your home.
Good luck…and don't forget to keep your shoes shined!