Sarah-Jane Lennie – True Strength Podcast – Episode 8
As part of my True Strength project, I’m featuring interviews that dig deep into how people succeed and I was delighted to interview Sarah-Jane Lennie. SJ is a police officer taking a career break to conduct research into resilience. The interview has lots of insights into how SJ succeeds, about strengths, weaknesses, mindset, and resilience. To listen to the interview, simply click ‘play’ on the audio player above or you can read the transcript below. You can find previous podcasts and details of how to subscribe on our podcast page.
Sarah-Jane Lennie dominant Gallup StrengthsFinder (TM) talent themes:
1. Strategic: People who are especially talented in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.
2. Learner: People who are especially talented in the Learner theme have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. In particular, the process of learning, rather than the outcome, excites them.
3. Individualisation: People who are especially talented in the Individualisation theme are intrigued with the unique qualities of each person. They have a gift for figuring out how people who are different can work together productively.
4. Achiever: People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.
5. Futuristic: People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future.
6. Activator: People who are especially talented in the Activator theme can make things happen by turning thoughts into action. They are often impatient.
7. Intellection: People who are especially talented in the Intellection theme are characterised by their intellectual activity. They are introspective and appreciate intellectual discussions.
8. Input: People who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information.
9. Belief: People who are especially talented in the Belief theme have certain core values that are unchanging. Out of these values emerges a defined purpose for their life.
10. Ideation: People who are especially talented in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.
So SJ, I want to find out a bit more about you, will you tell us what you do?
Well this is such a good question! I think I describe myself as a Researcher. At the moment and hopefully for the future, I’m looking into emotions and how that affects our resilience and our burnout and about that particularly within police officers because I am a police officer, although on a career break at the moment, I have been a police officer for the last 15 years.
So tell us a bit more about your journey there and how you got from being a police officer to being a researcher?
Wow, well I joined the Police after having been in the army. I’d been in the army as a musician. I’d left and gone to University and started temping for the police to get myself through University and join as a police officer. I did quite well. I think being a police officer is my vocation. I like being a police officer and it was something I excelled at. I was a good leader, I was good with people, I got onto their high potential development scheme which is their fast track scheme, and I was working as a DI in Greater Manchester Police in Wythenshawe. And this is after a good 14 years as a police officer, quite a bit of experience in counter terrorism, child protection, murder investigation, various different parts. I loved it, I loved being a detective, it really was a job I loved but I started suffering quite a bit with anxiety in the end. I was dealing with shootings, murders, like I say high profile domestic violence, high levels of violence, lots of death, lots of nasty bits and pieces and I struggled emotionally with it and it all built up on me and it got to the point where I took a decision, a very difficult decision, that I needed to do something else and I didn’t know what that something else was going to be. I knew I loved learning and I always wanted to go back to University and I was always interested in psychology but before I left when I started speaking to people within the organisation, I told them what my experience had been, how I’d felt, my fear of what I was doing, how scared I’d become with everything and I found that pretty much every police officer was suffering to a greater or lesser extent with what I was dealing with which I thought was dreadful, was astounding, was just not right that we suffered in silence in the organisation and that we weren’t supported and weren’t able to support each other through stigma, fear of persecution of expressing our emotions of what we deal with, although it’s quite a natural thing to feel quite terrified and upset by the things we dealt with. So it was natural for me to look at researching and supporting my colleagues and what I wanted to do was support my colleagues in actually coping better than I did with the stuff that they deal with. So that’s why I decided to go back to University and studied a Masters in HRM but that was with a view to getting into the psychology which is where I’m at at the moment, doing a dissertation looking at how we deal with emotional labour, emotional dissonance with dealing with traumatic events and how that leads to burn out. And I hope that one day I can influence police culture and make a better place for people and help support them.
And what would that look like when you’ve changed police culture for the better?
It will look like a place where people can openly have conversations about how they feel. And I don’t mean this is a constant thing. I mean, learning from the literature, just even having an environment where people say, “actually that was horrific, I’m at bit upset by that, I’m uncomfortable, I’m afraid” is enough to support people to getting through it. And that’s all it takes, it’s getting rid of this stigma and the ability just to talk about it and acknowledge that we’re human beings, that we have emotions and it’s quite natural to feel upset by bad things. So that’s what I want to do.
So in answer to what do you do and how do you get there, it’s research but a really interesting route to take you to some research that you obviously care deeply and passionately about.
For me, the research is, I’m looking at it differently. A lot of the research that has been done has been in very quantative measures. I really want to get to the root, people’s stories, the authenticity and what people have to say about what how they feel and giving my fellow colleagues a voice and the platform to actually say with anonymity and confidence that they can express themselves. And I want to take that back in a really professional format to the organisation, which is my route through the dissertation and Ph.D that I’m hoping to go on to do, and say that this is what people are saying but in a way that they can acknowledge it as a credible piece of work.
And I hope that you know that I think what you are doing is absolutely fantastic and really really important work. So let’s talk about you a bit. We’ve just spent a few minutes looking through your Gallup Strengthsfinder results and talking about your dominant talents. As you look at your dominant talents as a result of Strengthsfinder or any other way in terms of who you are, what jumps out at you as describing SJ?
The first one’s definitely Individualisation because I just think that’s the most important thing to humanity is that we’re all individual and that’s important. We should all be allowed to be individual and just be supported in that but valued for that individuality and I care so much about that and that’s individuality in emotion, individuality in creativity, in all the different ways that we are. That’s what’s really important to me. The other one I would say would be Learner because I always just have this desire to know more and just understand more because that’s just what I enjoy.
So a Learner that is fascinated by people and now you’re hoping to do a Ph.D where you get to interview lots of different people – that sounds like a dream job!
Definitely, it really is. And it’s kind of like, I guess it’s not too dissimilar to what I was doing in the police. I’m still playing to the same strengths, my passions and desires, just in a different context.
So if we were asking people that have worked with you, say the team that worked around you in the police, how would they describe you?
I think fair and supportive would be the best. Hardworking, definitely hardworking but also with strong integrity. I always believe in treating people really well and supporting them and I was really looking after my team, people on the street, people I would meet, and I think that’s what they would say. They would probably say I was individual as well in that in the way that I am, but yes, definitely more fair and supportive and caring sort of person with the organisation, not judgemental.
So what I hear coming out loud and clear then is loads about Achiever, Belief, Individualisation and Learner.
Yes, I think Belief, when I’m passionately driven by something I really care about it and that’s why I care about trying to help my colleagues in the police force and I find it such a drive and I think the other things you talked about, Individualisation, Learner, Futuristic in that visionary sort of side of things, are all driven by this passion to achieve and realise my beliefs in a better way of living life.
So you’ve got a load of super powers, you’ve got a load of things that you are just naturally really gifted at and you find easy, if you’re like any other human being I’ve ever met, you’ve got also things that you find really difficult and you’re not very good at. What are you useless at?
Ohh, adding up! I can’t decide if I’m just really really bad at it or just really bored by it but maths is my failure and I think those sort of details I just switch off totally so that’s definitely not good.
And what else do you struggle with, what do you find more difficult to do that other people may not even see in you?
Slowing down and not worrying. I do everything all the time, I’m constantly driving, that’s the Achiever coming in. Everyday I’m judging myself by what I have achieved on that day and if I’m not worrying about something, I’m literally worrying about the fact that I’m not worrying about something and I’m thinking I’m not living every minute to the fullest that I could be and I’m quite harsh on myself in that. So as much as I’ve learned recently that I need to live my life better and that I need to not be so harsh on myself, it is a struggle not to worry that I’ve not wasted some second in the day.
You see that’s interesting because I don’t think that’s a consequence of a weakness, I think that’s a consequence of a strength and natural talent that you’re almost over-using. It’s that kind of Achiever that’s being used not in the best way. So how have you learned to cope with that? What are your strategies for being somebody who is naturally driven and hardworking and wants to see the results of what they’ve done but also getting to chill out and lighten up a bit? How do you do that?
Well, first thing I found important for my journey is struggling with anxiety and everything that I saw in places, I recognised that sleep is my number one priority, so I make sure and I’m quite proud of my new routine which I’m not good at, but I make sure I get sleep and that’s one way of looking after myself. For slowing down and calming down, that desire, and I will do this with writing, is to keep studying and working and reading more and more, is that I actually have to stop myself and say “Got to bed now” and I have a set time for doing that. I know that sounds quite strange and I’m saying how do I control myself, there’s other ways and yes I run, yes, I took up yoga which is really important to me because, not in a very gentle way because it’s quite complex yoga so it makes you stop and think about it.
Why does that not surprise me?!
This is my problem, I learned when I was struggling that I know what maladaptive coping strategies are so I avoided them. So I said that I won’t drink, so I cut that out, I didn’t chill anymore, going down to the pub with my friends and running more instead, which became in itself counter-productive because it was just something else that I beat myself up on. So, you have to be careful when you are aware of different things about what stress is meant to look like. I think as an Achiever, I can guess that I’m learning, that you can drive yourself insane in different ways of “I won’t be stressed, ever, I won’t be something else”! So no, I’ve learned to regulate myself, I’ve learned to force myself to stop and to learn that I need to rest and to recognise that resting myself is a good quality.
And that’s really important. Can I ask, how much sleep do you need?
I probably need quite a bit! I don’t do well on 4 or 5 hours, I’m a good 6-7. I do need it, I think I wear myself out during the day.
I’m similar, I know I use my Fitbit to track sleep and if I get 7h15m hours of sleep, I’m absolutely at my best and I wish I was one of those people who can get by on 5 hours but I’m not. I can survive on it but I’m at my best when I get around 7h15m hours, within a few minutes, give or take.
I understand that very much but it took me a while to learn that.
So, let’s talk about how we get the best out of you and how we get the worst out of you. What sort of environments and conditions do we see that get the very best of SJ?
I think it’s giving me a clear task and just let me go and do it and then let me know when I’ve done it and give me feedback and that’s quite simple, give me the freedom to be creative, to come with ideas and solutions, just don’t control me. I think it is just be clear of what you want from me and I will be so keen to deliver that for you in the best possible way if you just let me go for it and then tell me how well I did and how well I didn’t and how I can improve because I do value feedback. Yes, just let me go out and do it and I’ll be good. Getting the worst out of me, if I feel devalued, constrained. I think a lot about what you talk about is people tend to expect you to do things in the way that they would do them and that’s probably not the way I’m going to do something or want to do it. In fact, if you almost force me down that route, regardless of whether it was something I would do anyway, I would probably rebel against it. So yes, being constrained is quite difficult, which is fairly odd coming from someone who has been in two uniformed organisations that are quite disciplined, but I just liked working within those environments really.
So how well did those environments bring out the best in you?
They did. I did well in both. I mean one was creative as a musician in the army but it was actually the army side that I enjoyed the most. No, I did well in both environments but the police was such a variety of work that was going on, dealing with different people in different circumstances all the time, so you have to be creative in so much, you think on your feet, you have to think differently to achieve things in quite difficult circumstances so I think that suited me definitely.
So, can we take a step back and look at big picture because I want to talk about the impact you want to make on the Universe, about when you’ve had enough sleep, what does get you out of bed on a Monday morning? What difference do you want to make, what drives you?
I want to make so much difference! I see so much at the moment about how the fact that we don’t acknowledge mental health. I see it from our soldiers, in our police, in our NHS, in every organisation, in our children, it seems like madness to me that we don’t give our mental health the same amount of respect that we do our physical health. That we almost, the one thing that makes us human, our emotions, our creativity, our individuality, that we don’t support it and we don’t bring out the most in it, so I really want to add to the conversation that’s already going on and add in a very positive way and like I say through research and through an authentic “I’m coming from a place and a person that’s been there and been through this” I want to make people go, I want to give them the confidence to say “this is how I feel”. Whether it’s a good or a bad or whatever it is, I don’t mean we have to dwell on it, I just mean let’s just say and acknowledge that we have emotions and that’s not strange or weird or inhibiting or a bad thing, in fact they’re really positive and then help people who deal with all the nasty things in life that we don’t want to deal with, whether they be soldiers or nurses or doctors or police officers or firemen, is help them to do those jobs because we owe it to them I think, because they do things for us to allow them to have these emotions and support them to be better at what they do and I really want to add to that because if we do that, the world could be a really really better place. We could be more productive, we could be healthier, we could be happier, more humane to each other, have more empathy, there is so much, I could go on and Yes, that’s what I want to do.
So how are you going to make that happen?
Well, I believe I’ve started a little bit on my journey. So I started off my biggest learning curve was actually being open about how I felt because I recognised from that instantly that when I spoke to my fellow colleagues in the police and said “I’ve had this bad experience”, they felt confident to open up to me so I realised this was something I could lead the way in, to go out there and say “This is how I feel”. So I’ve spoken at different venues about my experience, my journey and the response you get from people who come back say “Oh, I’ve struggled with this” or “I know a police officer who has struggled with this” or somebody else, it just starts that conversation and I think that’s a really important way to beginning things is to starting the conversation. Moving on from that, I’m doing a dissertation for my Masters which Emotional Labour, linking to burnout in the Police Force and I’ve got my scholarship to do my Ph.D which is going to be leading on from that but on a national scale and I really believe that research, as I say getting people to tell their authentic stories so that they believe in the research as much as bigger organisations, can actually have a significant impact or certainly, as I say, add to the story because I can’t change this on my own, nobody can, and it has to come from everybody adding their bit, their experience, their authentic story to the conversation. So that’s how I’m going to help towards what I believe should be a better future.
Which I think is fantastic! Let me ask you about your authentic story because your experience of sharing your own authentic story is that other people seem to open up pretty quickly to you. If it’s that easy to open up, what holds people back at the moment? Why do we not talk more openly?
I don’t think it is that easy but once you’ve done it and you realise that it is. For me, so I struggled when I was working as a DI– I had this great career that was going to happen, I was on a fast track, I was the golden girl who was always going to be really resilient, I was a bit of a tomboy as a kid – suddenly I’m not dealing with my emotions, I’d not really acknowledged my emotions in my life to be honest to this point. So I get to this point where I realised “OMG, I need some help, I’m not coping”. I’ve got self-awareness to understand this but I can’t really speak out because the moment I speak out, my fear that my career was going to be over, people are going to see me as a lesser person, that I’m going to be stigmatised as a person who can’t cope, who’s not resilient, who’s not up to the job. And that’s exactly how I saw it and so the point where I decided to speak out was actually me saying “that’s it, I’m done”. I didn’t think I could go forward and say “help me”. Though I did try to in some ways but I knew by that step, I’d had long conversations with my husband, this is my career done as soon as I speak out and say this, so it wasn’t that simple. It became simpler after I’d made that decision and I felt that I’d thrown my career on the heap, then I could talk because there was no damage to be done, it had been done and I began to open up to people. So, the reason is people fear the response they’re going to get, the fear that the persecution is not just to their careers but personally, that people are going to stop speaking to them, how they are going to be viewed, am I now a failure – I still have a bit of that, that I feel I’ve failed because I still can’t do my job and I don’t think if I would go back to it that I would be much better emotionally, I would still feel it was quite distressing. But I’ve attached my own stigma and I can’t get rid of that because I’ve grown up with it and it still exists within the culture so that for me is the inhibitor to people speaking is the perceived consequence and I think they are real consequences as well.
So if I heard you correctly, there’s two things that tend to hold people back. There’s an individual aspect and almost a fear of being stigmatised and also that wider organisational cultural expectations and whole host of other things. Without asking you to guess what the contents of your Ph.D thesis is going to be, what do you think we can do to change that? Because, I’m imagining that embarking on the journey that you’re embarking on, you must believe that we can change it, so what’s your hunch, what do you think?
I think because there is no truth in it, I don’t believe that there’s any truth in the fact that if you find disturbing events distressing that you are a lesser person so that’s a really good starting point is getting that message out. I do believe that there seems to be a disconnect, there are people in the police that can be quite open emotionally and say that this is not pleasant stuff and they don’t suddenly fall off the side of a cliff and stuff. We need more people to come out and acknowledge these emotions and then still carry on with their work so we need people to lead the way and give people confidence that they can go on and be successful and maybe that’s something I can do by saying that I went through this but I’m still a successful person. Maybe there are other people in the organisation that will be braver than I was that stay within the organisation and do the same thing. I think it needs to come from the top, some of it is coming from the top, I just think that there needs to be more of it. But I think, the thesis is I do think that actually people who are more emotionally intelligent, more emotionally aware, more emotionally able to acknowledge their feelings will be far better police officers because they will be dealing with other people’s emotions and will be more empathetic, more understanding, more aware, more able to engage and support people. So it’s where we should be going to be a better police service.
Absolutely. Well let’s explore that a bit more because I’m always fascinated that there seems to be a myth that we think that everyone else has got a quiet head and is sorted and relaxed and calm and thinks in a really ordered basis and my experience both as a person and as a coach and having thousands of confidential discussions about this, is that’s not reality so it’s one of the reasons I’m really interested to help tell people’s authentic stories as you said. So can I ask about SJ’s head? What’s it like to be in SJ’s head?
As you quite rightly said, what is a quiet head? Oh, how many channels of thought can you have at one time! On my school records it said all over them “Day dreamer”, “Day dreamer”, “Day dreamer”. I am a day dreamer, I reflect on things but also I’m imagining things, possibilities. I’m trying to work things out but there’s a lot of that going on, really visual, massively visual, quite creative in that sense, very creative in that sense and it’s hectic there. That was my disadvantage when I was in the police because I thought about all my ongoing investigations and the people that I’m supporting all the time and that was a constant chatter that was constant negative and a constant worry and there was a lot of it going on so I have learned, no I haven’t learned, but I’m trying my best, I’ve certainly learned to stop indulging in some of the negative chatter because you do tend to, I indulge, I will follow a negative stream of thought and I’ve learned to turn them into positive streams of thoughts. So I’m learning to manage that hectic stuff in a more positive way. I can’t calm it down, it’s going on all the time but who can? We have so much information these days that it’s very difficult to switch off.
So you have a busy head and the way you’ve described it is how I’d expect of someone who’s really good at being Futuristic, Strategic and Ideation I’d guess. How do you make the most of that, how do you get the best out of your mindset?
Sometimes I really enjoy thinking about a lot of things and trying to work out different things and imagining different things and having lots of things going on. I think it’s good fun and you make new connections, you have great ideas and dreadful, rubbish ideas but there’s new stuff being found all the time and you’re looking at different bits of information in different lights and making different patterns and connections with them and I find that brilliant. And when I go running I indulge in that, I definitely indulge in that and when I go and do the yoga, I try and shut it off.
So how well do yoga and running work for you in that context?
Very well, I think finding the yoga and the time to actually stop the chatter for a bit because when you’re thinking about trying to twist your arm round your back and stand on one leg and breathe at the same time, there literally is no more time for anything else. I do, I need space, I need head space to actually develop ideas and run things through my head and solve problems so that’s my running time and that’s my fantasy day dream time. Then the yoga is a time when I stop it off and everything stops for a little while so I can just have a bit of peace before it all starts again and I find that quite useful.
I think that’s really insightful because you’re giving yourself time to just be you and I think you used the word indulge and to just use those strengths and apply them but also you’re recognising that you don’t want to have a busy head every single minute of every day and so you’ve found ways to almost switch off a little bit and focus on different things like standing and breathing and twisting.
You wouldn’t believe how difficult that can be! It’s definitely one of the things I’ve learned from my experiences in the police and trying to figure out my own resilience and my own wellbeing, is that I need, even though I know I’m not very good at it, I need to try and just control myself a little bit and not always indulge.
So you’ve come from a background of busy jobs and lots of responsibility and you’ve got your hands full with your research now; how organised are you, how good are you at getting things done?
Ah, you see, well yes, people say I’m really organised, like my supervisor said it to me the other day, she said “You’re really organised” and I think there’s a little bit of my anxiety fear is that I just get things done now. I think right I need to get somebody to do it, right clear that to do list, make sure it’s done well and then I can relax on it because you never know. And that maybe a consequence of my previous job, you never know what’s coming through next, you never know when you’ll get it done. I’m not one of these people that’s likely to put things off till the next day, I’m more wanting to get it done and then I can relax a bit more. So I think that might drive my organisation, I wouldn’t say I’m necessarily organised, I don’t have things in neat rows, I’m not like that, I’m scattered but I do like to get things done and I think that keeps me on the straight and narrow.
And I think when we measure whether somebody gets things done, we’re measuring it by whether you get stuff done, not the columns and ways and things like that so it sounds like you are very productive but it’s simply a “right, I’ve got to get this cleared as soon as possible” which is one way of doing it and it sounds like it works well for you.
Well so far, I’ll let you know in September!
So we’ve talked a lot about resilience and wellbeing and we’ve talked about it in terms of your personal journey, and we’ve talked about it in terms of your research as well, what do you do now to look after yourself. If we were looking at all your sort of top tips for resilience and wellbeing, not for the population at large but for you? You’ve talked about yoga, you’ve talked about running, you’ve talked about sleep, what else?
What else? It’s putting things in perspective. I think, and I’ve got a little bit of handle on this as having stepped away from places where people could die or get very ill or injured, but I can still create my own anxiety and I know that. I can create it from an assignment which is not necessarily healthy so I need sometimes to take myself to one side and have a little word with myself and actually get perspective because life is the journey and the experiences and it’s said so much and it’s difficult to get a handle on that and I am goal orientated, there are things that I want to achieve but it’s only now that I’m really getting than handle on my everyday life. It’s an absolute pleasure the research that I’m doing, the things I get to read, the people that I get to meet and speak to. So alongside with keeping fit, giving myself time to think, giving myself time not to think, eating well, sleeping well, drinking water and connecting with people around you that you love and care about. It’s taken me a while to get here, it’s the little simple pleasures in life.
But you’ve got there. Let’s explore two of those things, perspective and then that support network. Perspective, how do you get that then? So imagine you’re in the middle of an assignment, how do you get that restored healthy and perspective again?
It’s hard and it is literally learning, understanding how my head works is, like I said about following a negative train of thought, stop to ask. I mean you don’t know it’s going to go wrong, it may go right, just keep working it. We say in my house, my husband “how do you eat an elephant? One slice at a time”, is take a bit of time, don’t get overwhelmed, pick things off and also realise and value the things that you have. If I fail an assignment my husband is always still going to be there, he is the number one important thing to me, so stop worrying, do your best, accept yourself for who you are but try and achieve what you want to achieve and just don’t crucify yourself. But it is hard, I’ve got to say, it is hard because I do worry, I do want to achieve. You can’t always sense when you are getting things right especially when you’re doing something new and that’s a sense of anxiety in itself, that unknown. Like I say, I like feedback, “Am I getting it right?”, we all do so I don’t think I have a handle on it but I’m getting better at it but there are times when sometimes you do get overwhelmed by the big fear.
I think perspective is fascinating and there is one incident that sticks out in my life, I’ve got a weekend job as a lay minister in the Church of England so I did a Theology degree to train for that and one of the modules that I had to do was called Death and Grief so whilst normal people were doing normal weekend things, I was spending Saturdays at Funeral Directors and Crematoriums and things like that on this studying. I remember one particular Saturday when I had a really busy week, I was anxious about a few things I wanted to finish off in the week and some things not finished off and my mates were going out and I wanted to be out with them and I was at a Crematorium instead and probably my head’s not in the best place, but one of the things they wanted us to do was to witness a cremation. So the coffin was there and it was ok until I saw the coffin that was labelled was a bloke about the same age as me and I had one of those stop dead in my tracks moments and getting home after that was very different because things I’d been worrying about suddenly I stopped worrying about and things that I had been neglecting suddenly became important and I think that’s a really interesting experience because absolutely zero changed that day apart fromm my perspective. It’s just that looking at it from a different direction and I often liken it to snooker, a bit like saying when you’re snookered and you look and think it’s hopeless, the first thing you do is get up and walk around the table and have a look at it from a few different perspectives and you see it differently so it’s really interesting that you explore perspective as I think that’s such a rich vein of opportunity to be able to recognise that we are caught in a bit of a false perspective and be able to take some different perspectives.
It is interesting because really a lot of that is also built for our own filters and one thing that’s important to one person is not important to the next person which you’ve got to think, as you quite rightly say, look at it from the other side of the table, yes good way of saying it.
So you talked about your support network as well, what sort of support network have you got? You mentioned your husband but you talked about having people, having friends, having loved ones. What support network have you got now and how does that compare to when you were in the police force or when you were a full time serving police officer?
I think when I was serving police officer I felt more like I was the support network for other people and I wanted to be and that was important to me and I probably didn’t recognise as much the support I needed. But that came mainly then from my husband. What I’ve learned is that I’m introverted so I can isolate myself and what I’ve learned is that’s not healthy for me, I can just be my Achiever, sat in front of my computer, read my books, right, right, right, got to do more work and isolate myself and get into this horrible little mess of complete worry and for me now I am very active and aware of going and speaking to fellow students, going and meeting fellow students and friends discussing what they’re doing, sharing experience of their study because at the moment we don’t have any lectures, we don’t have any reason to meet up at all so it is quite an isolated place. In some ways I thrive on that, so I’ve been going out doing a bit more running and living in my fantasy world and working it all out, in other ways I can worry myself and feel quite overwhelmed by it. So I have different strategic people that I go and talk to. They’re important and I will tap in and they’re good because I’ve got this introverted quality or aspect I should say to myself, they’re very good at dragging me out, “no you will come for a coffee”, “we’ve not spoken, come on how are you doing?”. And it’s good because sometimes I’m there and bouncing and stood there talking to people but it can take a while to drag me out but I’ve learned and highly recognise that I need to make sure that I’m actively going out and chatting to people. So husband is massive to me, he’s such a support for me and wonderful and then there’s my friends and colleagues who I go and have strategic lattes with.
What a fantastic thing to do! I’m always worried about people who are there for everybody else and whether it’s just because of their nature or whether it’s to do with their perception of what their role ought to be but I always immediately worry about people who are there for everybody else because it does beg the question, who’s there for them, because I think everybody needs that support network.
Definitely do. It’s quite difficult sometimes. I’m somebody who will take on other people’s problems and again, probably growing up as a police officer and in a police family as well, that you feel that sense of responsibility and I massively feel a sense of responsibility. I will take responsibility for other people and it’s something I can’t help and I will dwell on and worry about but I totally recognise now, having learned the hard way, that if I don’t look after myself then I can’t be there for those other people so I have to do it, otherwise I don’t function well so yes, you’re right, the people who go out and look after other people, it’s all about what I’m about really isn’t it, it’s going back to my research, it’s we need to make sure they’re looked after well otherwise it just won’t work.
Absolutely and I whole-heartedly support what you just said about you need to look after yourself first in order to look after other people. It’s that ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’ mentality that can be really important. You need to be in a position, I think, to lead by example because that’s the best way of all to lead because if we don’t do that we lead through hypocrisy.
We don’t lead. It’s true, there’s a message they have on all dashboards of every police car is “no point getting there fast if you don’t get there at all”. As police we try to rush to incidents when we are called on and the pressure to do so but therefore if you kill yourself on a blue light run, trying to save somebody else, they would never get saved so it is that important. Take care of yourself, get there rather than not at all.
That’s a really powerful metaphor. Another big question, if you could speak to your younger self what would be the advice? Or to ask it a different way, what do you wish you had known quite a few years ago?
I would just tell myself to stop worrying. I mean… really!
Why, what would be reason you’d give? SJ stop worrying because…
You’ll be fine, you’re going to have a great time, you will do wonderful things, you’re a good person, stop worrying. I’ve always judged myself and worried about the person that I was. Things have gone fine, it’s OK, ups and downs like everybody else but just don’t crucify yourself. I think the other one that I’d say is that I was always into my art, my acting, my music, get back into your creativity, tap into your creative self, explore that and enjoy it and stay with it.
SJ there is a really good chance that there will be serving police officers listening to this podcast now and I’m guessing that many of the things and challenges you’ve talked about will resonate for a lot of people. What advice would you give to them?
I think it echoes some of the stuff we said. You do an amazing job and you a very difficult job and it is distressing and that doesn’t make you weak or a lesser person or a lesser police officer. In fact it makes you a better police officer. It probably means you are doing your job very well. The most important thing is that you can turn up for work the next day so look after yourself, you need to get there. Look after your mental health, it’s really important. If you need to speak to somebody, speak to somebody and don’t be afraid of it. Talk. That’s what I’d say.
Where can people find you online and connect with you?
If you want to know all about me and my story, go to The Reflective Detective on WordPress.com. The first 3 of my blogs and I don’t blog too often, I’d like to blog more, but the first 3 about my story and I think that’s worth seeing just for what you can experience and how things can change no matter how resilient you think you are:
You can follow me on Twitter where I’m @SJseventeen. Yes, that’s me, and if you want to email me, SJLennie17 at gmail.com, I would be more than happy to chat.
SJ, Sarah-Jane Lennie, I think you are amazing and I think what you are doing is amazing and really really important so it’s just to say thank you so much for being honest and sharing your authentic story today.
Thank you very much for the opportunity, and ditto.