Twenty-twenty was a total “dumpster fire” in most peoples’ book. Coronavirus and associated quarantines/lockdowns/etc, the election, insane ammo prices, riots… The past year just seemed to keep on coming up with ways to make people unhappy. Happiness is a choice. Though a lot of shitty stuff happened this year, 2020 was an outstanding year for me personally.
This year could have really sucked for me and my girlfriend. It ended up being incredibly happy. We look back on the “lockdown” fondly – we go so much stuff done and had so much time to spend on ourselves and each other. It wasn’t all great. I lost a ton of work; I didn’t earn a penny until mid-August. This was my lowest-income year since my early 20s, and my new “career” moved me from making ~$90/hour to making just over $12/hour.
Yet was still one of the happiest years in recent memory. I chose not to focus on what I lost, but on what I gained. And thanks to setting up a very affordable lifestyle we were able to embrace the quarantine and not worry too much about money. I would strongly encourage you to give up the brand-new car and the extra bedrooms and pursue such financial stability.
I realize plenty of people have it much, much worse than I do and I feel for those people. This isn’t a sob-story because I have nothing to sob about. Though I was a little “money poor” this year I was “time rich.” I hope you had a great year, too! If not, let that motivate you to build a more resilient future for yourself. Here’s what I accomplished.
The blog really took off in volume of content this year. I published almost 140 articles – an average of almost 3 a week! I developed an audience. Certainly not a huge one, but at least a consistent one. Thank you guys for your help with that!
I didn’t attend any shooting courses in 2020. I had planned to attend a couple – a revolver class with Claude Werner and Gabe White’s “Pistol Shooting Solutions.” Coronavirus took care of one of those for me, and a scheduling conflict with my paramedic class knocked out the other. Honestly, I’m OK with missing those classes; they would have been fun but my time was better spent on my medical training endeavors.
I also shot much less this year than in previous years due to increased ammo cost and the expected duration of the run on ammo. I still managed to do plenty of practice with my firearms, though. Check out my dry practice logs. I got in over 50 hours of training with my EDC gun, along with another five hours each with rifle and shotgun. I count that a success.
Medical training is an area where I really thrived this year. I decided that this was really important to me, and to go above and beyond. A massive goal I accomplished was becoming licensed as an Emergency Medical Technician. This has been a goal for a long time and I finally found/made time to get it done. I went to an EMT course in the military, got certified through the NREMT, but never maintained that credential. It has always been a burr under my saddle.
A couple of random circumstances ended up with me having a couple of months with no work, so I jumped into a class. COVID kept me out of work even longer, so I jumped at the chance to “just” be a student. I could have complained about how much money I was losing, but to be honest the free time provided an amazing opportunity that I might not have otherwise taken.
I really enjoyed EMT and have massive room for growth in medical knowledge, so I decided to continue my medical education. I began a paramedic course. During the paramedic course (which is still very much ongoing) I did clinicals at an infusion clinic, an intensive care unit, an operating room, five 12-hour shifts in a two different emergency rooms, and 12 hours with a hospital respiratory department. I also completed a college-level Anatomy & Physiology class this year.
All-in-all my medical knowledge has skyrocketed this year with about 500 combined hours of training and on-the-job experience. Sure, it’s not cool-guy gun training but this is a field where almost everything taught is something for which I still have ample room for improvement. I wouldn’t be getting nearly as much out of gun classes.
Mental “training” is also important. At the beginning of the year I committed to reading 52 books this year. I totally smashed through that goal; I hit 52 by mid November. I didn’t find this to be a terribly hard goal to attain once I was back in the habit of reading. Here’s my list (also available on my Bookshelf page):
61. Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss
60. 1984 by George Orwell
59. Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea by Steve Callahan
58. The Survivor’s Club: The Secrets and Science That Could Save Your Life by Ben Sherwood
57. The Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx
56. How to Stay Alive in the Woods by Bradford Angier (not recommended)
55. Anatomy & Physiology for the Prehospital Provider by American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Bob Elling, and Kirsten M. Elling
54. Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralson (highly recommended)
53. Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why by Laurence Gonzales (highly recommended)
52. The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy by William Strauss and Neil Howe
51. American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee
50. 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive by Cody Lundin (highly recommended)
49. Inside the NRA by Joshua L. Powell
48. Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield
47. The Stranger In the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
46. The Evolution of God by Robert Wright
45. Survive! Essential Skills and Tactics to Get You Out of Anywhere Alive by Les Stroud
44. Warnings Unheeded: Twin Tragedies at Fairchild Air Force Base by Andy Brown
43. The Mastermind: Drugs. Empire. Murder. Betrayal. by Evan Ratliff
42. The Long-Range Shooting Handbook by Ryan Cleckner
41. Calling Bullshit: The Art of Skepticism in a Data-Driven World by Carl T. Bergstrom & Jevin D. West
40. Dreamland: the True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones
39. Zero Footprint by Ralph Pezzullo and Simon Chase
38. The CSAT Way by Paul Howe
37. Beer School: A Crash Course in Craft Beer by Johnny Garrett & Brad Evans
36. Educated by Tara Westover
35. Drink: The New Science of Alcohol + Your Health by David Nutt
34. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
33. DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman, MD
32. Savage Son by Jack Carr
31. Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
30. True Believer by Jack Carr
29. Fentanyl, Inc.by Ben Westhoff
28. Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity by Charles L. Marohn, Jr. (highly recommended)
27. Emergency Care and Transport of the Sick and Injured by Jones & Bartlett Learning (EMT course textbook)
26. Combative Shotgun by Mike Boyle
25. Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors, and the Drug Company that Addicted America by Beth Macy (highly recommended)
24. The Defensive Shotgun by Louis Awerbuck
23. Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Nowby Jaron Lanier
22. The Terminal List by Jack Carr (highly recommended)
21. Left of Bang by Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley
20. The Final Day by William Forstchen
19. Coyote America by Dan Flores
18. The Rift by Walter Jon Williams
17. Choose Adventure: Safe Travel in Dangerous Places by Greg Ellifritz (My Review)
16. Gun Guy by Bill Wilson
15. FBI Miami Firefight by Edmundo and Elizabeth Mireles
14. The One Star Goodnight by Christopher Dufour
13. Tactical Lock Picking(pre-release copy) by Pat Watson,
12. Hidden War by John Nores (didn’t love it),
11. The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
10. Deep Undercover: My Secret Life & Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America by Jack Barsky
9. Gunshot Wounds: Practical Aspects of Firearms, Ballistics, and Forensic Techniques, Third Edition, by Vincent J.M. DiMaio
8. The Lie Behind the Lie Detector by George W. Maschke and Gino J. Scalabrini
7. Kill Decision by Daniel Suarez (highly recommended, My Review)
6. The Stand by Stephen King (audio)
5. The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
4. The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson (highly recommended)
3. Western North Carolina Beer by Anne Fitten Glenn
2. The Force by Don Winslow
1. Concealed Carry Class by Tom Givens (My Review)
I got on several big reading kicks. I went pretty deep into opiate/opioid abuse and addiction with Dopesick, Fentanyl, Inc., Dreamland, and Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries. This was partially driven by my new job; I see overdoses pretty regularly. It was partially drive by a desire to better understand the molecule for which people sell their bodies, abandon their children, and make repeated, voluntary close-calls with death.
Late in the year I went very deep down the wilderness survival rabbit hole reading and rereading some really good technical manuals including Cody Lundin’s 98.6 Degrees and Les Stroud’s Survive!. I also read some books on survival mindset/philosophy including The Survivor’s Club and Deep Survival as well as some harrowing first-hand accounts of survival like Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea and Between a Rock and a Hard Place. I finished it up with Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life by Neil Strauss – a very entertaining and fun re-read for me.
I read a few really serious, deep books like Gunshot Wounds, by Vincent J.M. DiMaio. I also read a little bit of really fun fiction like Jack Carr’s “Jim Reece” trilogy. Being able to read so much this year was awesome. My next article will share some tips to help you read more books.
Other Areas of Personal Improvement
Joined a volunteer Search & Rescue (SAR) Team: I joined the SAR team, passed their pack test, and had quite a busy summer/fall. I participated in several legit “finds” and a couple carry-out or helo-out rescues. I also got some good training and see a training direction I intend to follow for the next couple of years.
Taught my first wilderness survival class: I taught the class that I wrote about here a few weeks ago. Judging from my attendee feedback (and performance later that evening on an exercise) it was a success! I would definitely like to begin doing more of these on an open-enrollment basis. I also got way, way deeper into wilderness survival personally and you can certainly expect more articles along those lines in the coming year.
Gained part-time EMS employment: Going to school is cool; going to school and getting real-world experience is amazing! I was hired as an EMT with two local EMS agencies – one part-time, one PRN (as-needed). This certainly wasn’t my goal going into this year. As I dove into paramedic studies, though, this became a goal because of the potential to gain experience, and I’ve certainly gained some of the experience I seek.
In my very short time I have helped deliver a baby, performed CPR/worked cardiac arrests, attended multiple motor vehicle crashes, splinted broken bones, bandaged severe burns, stopped severe bleeding, and treated dozens of medical patients. It has been quite an experience.
Quit tobacco: Technically I quit tobacco on November 23, 2019, but this year I spent a full, calendar year tobacco free. It’s the first one since I was 13 or 14 years old (which is way, way too long ago). This is one of proudest accomplishments this year. I have a long-form article about this coming very soon.
We made some pretty massive progress with our longer-term preparedness goals.
Garden: we started a pretty decent garden. Though it wasn’t the wildly successful harvest of our dreams, it wasn’t bad. Most importantly it was a huge learning experience. We found some things that work (straw-bale gardening for squash) and some things that didn’t work (straw-bale gardening for tomatoes). We accidentally discovered some things that grew like gangbusters (butternut squash) and some things that didn’t grow at all (any kind of pepper).
We learned that we can do a back-to-back crop of some things (early and late cabbage and potatoes). We also learned that through June, July, and August we made enough veggies to seriously supplement our grocery purchasing, and give a little away. Next year we’d like to step it up just a bit and produce plenty of extra for preserving, too.
Chickens: I wrote an after-action on raising chicks a few months ago. Since then we’ve started getting eggs (quite literally) by the dozen. We began with 20 chicks. All of them survived to adolescence and we gave two (a rooster and a hen) away. We butchered the three extra roosters, and one hen fell prey to a predator. That still leaves us with 13 hens and one rooster. We get 12-13 eggs, pretty much every day. We routinely give several dozen per week to family, friends, and neighbors. We have also given about 15 dozen to the local soup kitchen so far. We’re going to try preserving eggs in lime water in the very near future but we haven’t gotten there quite yet.
We also butchered a few chickens. Butchering your own meat is an experience that not very many humans today possess. If you’ve never done it, I recommend it. It’s an experience. It will definitely make you appreciate your inexpensive, plastic-wrapped, boneless, skinless chicken breast just a little more. We did a butchering day and put several birds in the freezer. My girlfriend and I were both fully involved, and she even insisted on killing a chicken herself, so (in her words), “I’ll know I can do it if I ever have to.” That was the coolest part of that day for me.
General Preparedness: I’m not quite where I want to be in terms of preparedness food, water, etc. But we’ve been building and as it stands right now we could weather a solid four months without leaving the property, and with no or minimal external support (assuming normal operating conditions around here). I’ve also seriously stepped up our medical capability this year with equipment to supplement my training.
Four months might sound like a ton to many of you, or it might sound like next-to-nothing to a few of you. But it’s an honest, no-shit assessment of where we’re at and what we’ve managed to build over the past 18 months of living here. I’d like at least two more months’ worth but I’m not unhappy with where we’re at, either.
We turned some massive corners in our community-building efforts. I don’t know how to quantify this one but I’ll try.
There are now two couples on the road that we consider friends and not “just” neighbors. One lives up the road and are a little younger than us. They are pretty “woke,” liberal, hippie types. The other couple lives down the road. They’re almost exactly our age, and as conservative Catholics with a lot of kids are at the other end of the spectrum. Falling right in the middle, we big have ideological differences with both. Instead of focusing on how we’re different and looking for ways to find fault with them, we focus on how we’re similar. We all want a tight-knit community, a safe community, and people we can help and ask for help. It is amazing to live around people who can acknowledge and respect others differences without becoming consumed by them.
We really got to know people during the quarantine lockdown. Our garden is out by the road and a LOT of people were walking the road in April, May, and June. Being out by the fence let us introduce ourselves and talk to people. We also did some trading. We brewed a batch of beer (our “Covid-19 Cream Ale”) and took six-packs to all of our neighbors. In return we got loaves of fresh bread, eggs (before our chickens were laying), homemade yogurt, pickled goods, preserves, and deer meat (and it seems like I’m forgetting something).
We had people over to our fire, including our neighbors and the owners of the coffee shop in town. We went to other peoples’ fires. I helped one neighbor dig a cellar. We went and found one of our neighbors that we didn’t yet know when his dog was run over in front of our house (the dog lived). We pulled out a neighbor’s truck after he got stuck in a ditch. We were the neighbors trusted to go check up on the old lady across the street when she didn’t come to the phone for a day or two.
Its interesting – when we walk down the road and think about it there are way more houses where we know the occupants than ones we don’t, at least up toward our end of the road. We’ve spoken to nearly everyone, had a lot of people over for dinner or drinks, or otherwise engaged with them. We don’t feel like the outsiders any longer; we actually feel like the center-of-gravity for this end of the road. Last night my girlfriend baked three batches of Christmas cookies and soon we’ll distribute those out to the houses we we know…and a couple that we don’t yet know.
This isn’t a huge list of accomplishments, but I’m proud of them. 2020 was a great year for me! Losing income wasn’t any more fun for me than for any of you. I could have focused on that, but I chose to focus on the things I could control.
As you read this I sincerely hope you’re auditing yourself and asking, “what did I do this year?” Further, I honestly hope the answer is greater than the sum of my answers. If your answers aren’t satisfying to you, change it this year. There’s no magic to it; you just have to decide to do it, and then do it. No life-hacks, no shortcuts, just hard work. That’s it.
I’ll be back very soon with a how-to on making and keeping resolutions, followed by a list of what I intend to do in 2021.