Engineer or Sheriff?

The past 10 months have been absolutely hectic as I juggled my full-time job with college and my application to become a sheriff.

Multiple times, I’ve used a couple hours here and there of “personal leave” from my accumulated vacation time in order to attend qualifying events and test dates. Then in order not to fall behind at my current job, I’ve sometimes worked 60 hrs a week without billing overtime.

But back to the point.

Since I was a 6 year-old boy, my life has had two dreams: to become an engineer or to join law enforcement. Life has been kind to me so far because I am enrolled in college pursuing an engineering degree while working for a heavy civil engineering contractor, but my other dream of entering a law enforcement career would not leave me alone.

I am 21, legally an adult, considered by law and society to be capable of making informed decisions and taking responsibility for the consequences.

Personally, I do not feel like an adult.

Life at 21 can be so unpredictable.

Change appears uninvited and often. Doors of opportunity open and close without warning and in infrequent intervals.

My brain instructs me to be smart. Look for and take the best option at hand.

Then my gut instinct chimes in telling me to forge straight ahead, neither looking to the left nor to the right – to plot a straight path, pick a single goal, and ultimately reach the finish line or die trying.

But somehow, the latter perception of life has suddenly deserted me. It’s almost as if I was chasing a single light during a foggy night when suddenly the fog lifts and I find myself at a crossroads with a light at the end of each road.

Which way should I go? I can only follow one. I am left without the security of my tunnel vision; and with the fog lifted, I have become confused.

For the last four years, I have worked for the same employer minus a brief stint as an intern in order to receive a promotion. I am in the field that I enjoy and am working in a project management position. My job brings me a feeling of success and my boss is actually great.

But all of a sudden, I have become distracted. For some reason, the fear entered my head that by making a career out of my current job, I would perhaps miss other opportunities and experiences in life.

As I browsed the internet in early January, I ran across a recruiting ad for the Riverside Sheriff’s Department which resurrected the pushed-away child-hood dream to enter law enforcement. I didn’t really give it much thought at first, but it slowly began haunting me by popping in and out of my head at ever increasing intervals.

So come mid-January, I began the application process to become a sheriff.

I mentioned this drastic step to my parents, a couple close friends, and a few relatives. My parents strongly objected, my friends supported me, and my relatives didn’t really know what to say. This whole application process was a challenge in itself because it turned the past into the present.

The sheriff department delved without sympathetic consideration into every aspect of my life, scrutinized my past, and questioned my present. They evaluated all the factors that made me who I am today, by pulling my childhood up and under the light. They laid out my teenage years and went through them with a fine-tooth comb, all the while they watched my reactions to better understand the person I am today. Their questions poked and prodded everywhere because they hoped to find my buttons.

I ignored my gut’s request to stop in my insane dash and clear my head; to ask myself what I was doing or what was going on.

I’ve put four of my best years into a construction company who has taken good care of me, entrusted me with a lot of responsibility, covered educational costs, and paid me a decent wage. But I the position I ultimately desire at the construction company will not be available to me for years and years.

On the other hand, a sheriff’s career offers better pay, better benefits, provides a retirement, and opens the doors into an extremely exciting albeit dangerous lifestyle.

There is a definite downside to becoming a sheriff. Of course, I have a somewhat natural distaste for getting shot, hurt, or even killed. During my entrance exam for San Diego County, the recruiting officer laid out the bleak facts and statistics hoping to dissuade the faint-hearted and thrill-seekers.

She told us that with the law-enforcement career also comes the second highest divorce rate in the entire country. The long 12-hour night shifts for the rookies, and the weird off-days that will not correlate with our friends or family.

There is also the emotional toll that a sheriff’s career places on a person.

As a sheriff, you come in contact with the scum of society, see the lowest of crimes, and deal firsthand with the pain and suffering of the victims. I am naturally introverted and am well able to contain my feelings but this type of job would really increase current level of stress in my life.

How would I marry someone and raise children with this career? How would I explain to my wife and children that daddy’s job requires odd hours and that one day daddy might not come home? Would the stress from work affect the way I interact with my family? Would the dangers I come in contact with every day on the job make me overprotective of my family? Would I try to shelter them so much that I would stifle out their normal lives? Would I want my children to follow in my footsteps?

Why can’t I just keep my current job? Why not just apply myself for another few years, get the position that I want and have a normal life? Why is the pay difference such a driving factor right now?

I can afford my apartment. I own a nice car. I am not living paycheck to paycheck. Have I become greedy at such a young age, tainted and warped the idiotic notion that money and affluence brings happiness? Why must I have more? Why do I want a badge and a gun? Do I really want to help others? Would I remain fair and just in all my interactions with the public that I would serve? Am I capable and able to handle having to take another human being’s life to protect myself or a potential victim?

Throughout the multiple tests, I aced my P.O.S.T exams and consistently ranked in the top 5% out of the hundreds of applicants. During the Physical Agility Testing, I set new records for myself and our “test teams” while doing push-ups, sit-ups, obstacle courses, and running.

But it seems that Fate came to my rescue by deciding for me, and although I am somewhat disappointed by Fate’s choice, I am also experiencing relief.

It was during the background checks and panel interviews that I began to falter. My background is clean but lacks “related experience”. In this stage, I found myself going toe to toe with ex-Marines, National Guardsmen, police officers, and applicants in their 30’s who had previous security experience for the coveted and few open positions.

So in the last stages of the process, I was told that I had failed to qualify.

Nothing more. The sheriff departments are tight-lipped as to why you are disqualified.

But I am somewhat and surprisingly relieved.

I no longer have a distraction.

I now have a single goal to pursue and have both the freedom and opportunity to focus all my intellect and energies into reaching that goal.

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