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Contributing Authors: Kirsten Pabst, NDAA Well-being Task Force Chair, Mary Ashley, NDAA Well-being Task Force Vice Chair and Michael Rourke, Weld County (Colorado) District Attorney

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This year has been a doozy for our profession. In the last 12 months we’ve faced unprecedented challenges, including navigating the justice system through a global pandemic, helping our communities respond to clashes over racial inequality, watching violent crime — especially domestic violence — escalate, and brainstorming ways to be responsible stewards of limited resources designated to supporting our law enforcement partners and keeping our neighborhoods safe. All while doing our normal taxing and stressful jobs in a virtual format, requiring us to learn new technology at an exponential rate. On top of that we have been concerned about the health of our loved ones and economic survival of our communities. We’ve lost daily connection with co-workers, friends and family, and we’ve tried to guide our kids (equally stressed and cranky) through the challenges of remote learning.

It has been a tough year. But, when new challenges force us outside of our routine, we have an — also unprecedented — opportunity for personal reflection and growth. See how some of the Well-being Task Force members share their personal gifts of clarity, compliments of 2020.

Small things matter most

It really is the small things that matter most. While everyone is trying to stay away from each other, sterilize their environments and prevent disease, it is the little things we do for one another (or ourselves) that have more value than anything else: the unexpected text saying someone is thinking about you; the simple gesture of asking how someone is doing and sharing a good wish for another; even the power of eye-contact as we often now have masks on and cannot “see” smiles or reactions. Just going out, buying a real Christmas tree and decorating it so I can sit, look at it, appreciate my home and surroundings, has become extra meaningful this year.

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New opportunities for self-reflection

I had never participated in a video meeting until this year, thanks to COVID-related remote work. At first, Zoom was pretty awkward, and people tended to talk over one-another. The change in cadence of conversations over video has helped make become a better listener. Seeing my own grumpy mug in the corner of the screen reminds me to smile more often, too.

The importance of connection

Forced isolation has really underscored the importance of connection, to other human beings, and our animal friends. Being trapped at home has forced us to quickly learn lots of new creative ways to connect, including Teams, Zoom, Messenger, and others. I’ve relished the time with my dogs, too, who’ve taken to working alongside me, patiently waiting by my desk for each meeting to end. A few weeks ago, my family sat down and watched My Octopus Teacher together, a story about how connection, even with a sea-creature, can help heal broken hearts. We were all dabbing our eyes.

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We appreciate our co-workers and families

I’m old school. Always have been, always will be. That means we go to work, in an office, serve our community, and then go home at the end of the day to the family we love. This year taught me two things: first, we work with amazing, dedicated professionals WHO ACTUALLY CAN WORK FROM HOME AND DO A GREAT JOB; and second, part of me will always remain old school, for I sure have enjoyed spending extra quality time with the family I love.

Prosecutors have grit. We’ve learned that we are stronger than we thought and more adaptable than we realized. We saw what was happening outside. We looked inside. We became better people with bigger hearts than ever before. We don’t know what lies around the corner but we do know one thing: whatever 2021 brings, we can handle it.

This piece was co-authored by Well-being Task Force members Mary Ashley, Kirsten Pabst and Michael Rourke.

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The National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) is the oldest and largest national organization representing state and local prosecutors in the country.

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