I had the pleasure of speaking with Shaun O’Gorman of Brisbane, Australia. He is an author, motivational speaker, creator of The Strong Life Project, father and former police officer in Queensland, Australia.
Being a police officer was a difficult profession. Shaun came to it from having a father and uncle in the force so he idolized them and what they did for a living.
But in “the job” Shaun saw the worst of life and it took its toll on him. He struggled with thoughts of suicide and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and eventually left the force.
He speaks to police academies, business leaders, first responders and athletes about his struggles and now his goal is to help them with their hardships.
We spoke about "the job", PTSD, mental illness and injury, embracing vulnerability and maintaining resilience.
TELL ME ABOUT GROWING UP IN A POLICE FAMILY
My dad was with the force for 42 years and he even ran the police union. He was a cop in the 70s and 80s and the second most decorated cop in Australia. I worshiped him and wanted to do something that significantly helped people.
The impact of the job had him diagnosed with PTSD. The impact is real on cops and not a lot of people talk about it.
My goal was to join the force, be on the canine unit and I thought that my life would be fulfilled.
Canine officers go to the most dangerous scenes. I’d be doing 6-8 violent jobs in one shift, chasing through the brush, running after people quickly...it’s a very dangerous and lonely job.
WHAT PREPARES YOU FOR THAT TYPE OF WORK?
The answer is nothing. Unless you’re doing the work to prepare yourself for it, like through things like proper sleep, exercise, nutrition, meditation, then the effects of the job will really impact your life.
My dad had a great mask and pretended like things didn’t affect him. The job was where he was the most comfortable, he got a lot of attention and people loved him. But it’s when you’re in your normal life that life can be overwhelming.
I was too scared to ask for help. My goal is to have the conversations that help people.
TOUCH ON WHEN THINGS WERE AT THEIR WORST FOR YOU
I was on canine for 9 years and then went to covert surveillance. I went there because it’s a slower pace, not the constant action. I was getting to the point where I was getting more affected by the job, like engaging in violence if it was available.
You need to identify when something is dramatically impacting us. I call it a mental injury not mental illness. In my case, I was working harder and drank more, engaging in violence.
I lay in bed with a glock pistol pointed in my mouth and stood on a ledge outside of building on the Gold Coast. The suicide rate is double the road toll rate in Australia. This means that double the amount of people killed in road accidents die by their own hand.
Men and women are terrified to be vulnerable and speak up. It’s not a gender specific problem it’s a societal problem. The biggest impact came for me by thinking that if I raised my hand, people would judge me. All of my darkest secrets are now out in the world, I’m an open book. Now that I’ve put my secrets out I don’t care. There’s a benefit and freedom in not having secrets to hide.
WHEN YOU WERE COMING TO TERMS WITH YOUR DIFFICULTIES, HOW DID YOU COPE? WHAT WAS YOUR PATH TO RESILIENCE?
I didn’t cope, I dealt with it with alcohol and as I left the police I had a loss of identity.
In 2002 I left and 2005 my daughter was born. I did a Dale Carnegie course which opened the door for me. I spoke with psychologists and psychiatrists. It was when one psychiatrist told me that I had PTSD like a Vietnam veteran. He said, “Your 13 years on the force was like 30 years.”
I saw an opportunity to speak to first responders as someone who was on the force for many years. I now mentor people all around the world, speak to police and military on mental health impact, how to look after people, look after themselves, why they need to care for themselves and leadership. My resilience comes from helping other people.
It’s important for people to know that anything that happens in your life that’s impactful and difficult, you can recover from. If you’re still breathing there’s an opportunity to recover. Resilience is a skill which comes from practicing resilient behaviour and from not giving in.
TELL ME ABOUT THE STRONG LIFE PROJECT
The message is living with Strength, Tenacity, Resilience, Optimism, Nurture and Generosity. It’s about being the best person first and then being the best man, father, husband, etc. If we live with these, it’s a pretty good plan for life.
The Strong Life Project is podcasts, books, leadership mentoring, critical stress training, personal coaching, resilience training, and mentoring sessions. People can find me on Instagram, Linkedin and Youtube.
The big thing for me is to not sit back and wait for things to change. Get off your ass to change things because there is no one else coming to do it. It is totally up to you. We are the masters of our own destiny. If your life is shit that’s because you’ve chosen to stay where you are.
To reach Shaun O'Gorman and learn more about his story go to The Strong Life Project.