Life’s Tunnels

Mike McGough
November 2023

At 22, he became a patrol officer.  As a rookie, there was a lot to learn; it was a steep learning curve.  At times he had to look hard to see the light at the end of his tunnel.  He was committed, and in time he became a dedicated officer who enjoyed his work.

By age 30, he earned a master’s degree in counseling, and he wrote a manual for police officers on community relations.  He was a loving and committed husband and father of four.  In his spare time, he coached several of the teams on which his children played, and he found time to be a volunteer in his department’s community outreach program. 

In his late thirties, things began to change.  The change was slow; at first it wasn’t particularly noticeable.  He found ways to rationalize away what was happening.  He was still involved, but his level of participation had declined.  He was respected as a patrol officer, but the fulfillment he once felt had waned.  He was just there.  He was in a holding pattern feeling as though he had little if any control or input into what may come next.  He was stalled.  He confided to his wife and a few peers that increasingly he felt like he was boxed in, kind of like he was in a tunnel, like when he was a rookie. 

When the reality of that perception became troublingly real for him, he knew he had to address it.  He went to see his most trusted mentor—his first sergeant.  Over lunch the experienced sergeant told him that it was time for him to look inside of himself.  He said, “You’ve got to look and see if you might be sabotaging your own best career interests with a lack of personal initiative.”  His mentor went on to explain that regardless of the job, career, or profession one chooses to pursue, a sense of personal fulfillment is important.  He concluded by saying, “That’s a big part of what makes us who we are and allows us to become who we want to be.”    

The younger man shared that he was really trying to work through, but that just about the time he thought he was seeing some light at the end of the career tunnel he felt he was in, the light flickered and went out.  “That happens from time to time,” the retired sergeant replied.  He then explained that the career years are a major portion of life, and that some people need periodic changes to maintain their commitment and achieve any level of personal fulfillment.  He said that for some it could be a promotion or a position change.  For others a new venue can reinvigorate them.  He then said, “But for some people, it takes a bigger change, possibly a career shift.”

The younger man wondered if it was time for him to think about such a shift.  Could he make the move from the known and comfortable into something new and challenging?  Could such a move help him get through this tunnel and past what his grandmother often called “the dithers.”  He decided it was worth a try.

He applied for and was hired to be a youth counselor and advocate at a community service agency in the same town where he was a patrolman.  He was excited.  There would be a steep learning curve, but he told himself he was up for it.  It may be its own kind of tunnel, but he welcomed it. 

It started out well.  He was in touch with his sergeant to thank him.  He took him to lunch, after his three-month probationary period.  He shared how happy he was.  But then, with some reserved caution in his voice he said, “But I’m afraid the light I’m now seeing will soon fade for me again.”

The sergeant smiled and said, “Oh, it could, but my guess is it won’t.  When you came to realize that you needed a change in your life’s work, you didn’t rush into anything.  You took your time, and as you shared, you weathered some time in one of life’s periodic tunnels.  When the time and situation were right, you made a decision, you made a change, you committed to it, and you’ve assumed a leading role in your life.  Notice how many times I just said you—that’s important!” 

Change, regardless of the stage of life you’re in, can leave you feeling like you’re in a tunnel of sorts.  As much as possible, consider your life changes carefully and purposefully.  Don’t fear some tunnel-time, but as much as possible be the key player in determining the changes in your life and thus the tunnels you’ll need to pass through!