Swift | Silent | Deadly

Personal Update: Freedom, Career Change, Paramedic

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This is just a quick post to announce a pretty major personal change. I will also briefly meditate on the nature of freedom, financial freedom, and explain the difference between paramedics and EMTs.

As I told you guys recently, I’ve held a lot of positions in my professional arc. I’ve been a soldier, paramilitary contractor, lock defeat instructor, author, and digital security instructor. I am about to add a new chapter: paramedic student and hopefully, paramedic. I am currently enrolled in a paramedic program. This isn’t quite what I had planned to be doing right now, but let me talk about that just a bit.


After we moved here, I continued traveling to do my previous job on a part-time basis. It was fine, but I began considering something that would benefit me in ways other than merely pay well. I thought hard about seeking a job in law enforcement. I thought really hard about it and even applied (and was accepted) to a nearby police academy. During my EMT class, however, I realized I had much, much more to learn in the medical field. I realized that becoming a paramedic offers massively more space for personal growth and development than being a cop is likely to.

A real quick discussion what this means in terms of education: the terms “EMT” and “paramedic” are sometimes, incorrectly, used interchangeably. The paramedic curriculum is approximately five to six times longer than EMT. Rather than requiring three ambulance rides like EMT, over the next year I will be required to do over 340 clinical hours – almost ten times as many clinical hours as those required for EMT. These clinicals aren’t just in an ambulance; they are divided between an operating room, an obstetrical clinic, a pediatric clinic, a burn center, an intensive care unit, emergency rooms, (mostly) ambulances, and several other specialty clinics.

A paramedic’s skillset is much more complex than that of an EMT. Paramedics can administer many, many more drugs, including potentially dangerous drugs like narcotic analgesics, sedatives, and paralytics. Paramedics are allowed to perform much more invasive, complex, and potentially dangerous procedures, too, like surgical airways. Because of the complexity of the paramedic’s skillset, maintenance becomes. . . well, at very least a part-time job. To maintain my credentials after school is over, I will actually have to work as a paramedic, for an agency authorized to provide advanced life support. Since this isn’t just a cert I can get and keep with minimal effort, I decided to go all-in.

But Aren’t You A…?

I’m not a company man or career man, and never will be. I have charted my own course, and have never stayed at any job longer than eight years – the length of time I spent in the military. I spoke to one guy who I loosely know online who asked an interesting question. After telling him I was pursuing paramedic he said, “I thought you taught cyber security and such?” I think that comment reflects the typical American viewpoint that the job you do somehow becomes what you are. When I become a paramedic it will simply become one facet of a very complex, multi-faceted whole, one more chapter in a (hopefully) interesting story.

I know many Americans who are convinced that a career is “The Only Way” and that to eschew a traditional career is irresponsible. Most people I know are basically slaves to their careers, though. They purchase homes and cars and get credit cards, and live at the maximum level that their income will allow. When the get a raise or a newer, higher-paying job, they expand their material lifestyle to account for that extra money.

From the outside looking in (and from personal experience with this type of lifestyle) their lives are a cycle of sitting in a car they can’t really afford to go to a job they really don’t like to pay for a house they barely see. I know people who are well into a “career” who still live paycheck-to-paycheck. There is no way they could quit their job and go back to school. There is no way they could give up that six-figure income to pursue a job that starts at $36k/year, if you’re lucky.

Even many those who don’t live paycheck-to-paycheck – and some of whom are the epitome of financial responsibility – are still ensnared in the idea of a “career”. They are postponing happiness today for the idea of a retirement “one day.” For better or worse, I’m not. I’m going to be involved in work that satisfies me, and that is providing me opportunities to learn.

The Freedom to Pursue One’s Interests

Before I go into this next part, I want to make one thing clear: I am not perfect. I am not the dude that has made all the right moves or all the right decisions in life. Five years ago I was unemployed, had $30k in credit card debt, and could barely put together $500 if I really needed to. That was the end result of five years spent commuting to a “great” job with a six-figure income and excellent benefits (and, of course, two brand new cars, “elite” credit cards with ever-increasing limits, post-graduate school debt, and a mortgage at the absolute highest dollar-amount I could get approved for).

Then I got serious. With a little luck of the right job finding me and a ton of hard work (including driving a piece of crap with 300,000 miles on it to cutting my own hair), I turned those financial numbers around in under two years. Then I kept saving, and saving, and saving. When it was time to buy a home I refused to borrow more than a dollar amount I chose, which was about 1/3 of what the bank was willing to loan us. Now we comfortably pay the bills with the lowest of our two incomes. Our vehicles have been paid off for a long time (I have paid cash for the last several vehicles I have owned). We don’t have any debt other than a mortgage, a some student loan debt my girlfriend has. After moving from a city with one of the highest costs of living in the US, we now live in the one the most affordable areas possible.

Ultimately, I set myself up with the freedom to change careers relatively painlessly.

I think we all have an idea of what freedom is, and what financial freedom is. As much as we like to talk about how “free” we are, many Americans are completely enslaved by debt. To be clear, I’m not talking about people that work three part-time jobs just to make ends meet. I’m talking about people on the $100,000+ hampster-wheel that have become so enmeshed in debt that they can’t use all their earned vacation, let alone take a year to learn a new trade.

Secondly, there is an idea that to be financially free you have to have millions of dollars in the bank. I disagree. I am by no means rich or wealthy. But I have created a lifestyle in which work is not the central theme, and to which huge, monthly inputs in cash aren’t necessary. There is nothing wrong with work. Work offers satisfaction and sense-of-purpose, but it’s certainly not all their is to my life.

Why Paramedic?

There are certainly a lot of areas where I could stand to gain some knowledge. There are jobs where I could make more more, or ones that would be more comfortable. Why did I choose paramedic?

First, I would be a tremendous asset to my community during any sort of grid-down, long-term emergency. A lot of a paramedic’s extended skills are drug- and equipment-bound, but the experience gained from riding in a truck for a few years is invaluable. Even in a non-grid-down I will be more valuable to a neighbor in the event of a medical emergency. Though I have a TON of skills that would be useful in a long-term, grid-down emergency, none of them can be summed up in one word as effectively as “paramedic.” I know that titles are certifications are secondary to skill, but they are important to many people.

Second, I am greedy for experience. I have been to a lot of medical classes. I have treated a decent amount of traumatic injury. But that pales in comparison to the possible, and I want experience. I want to become highly competent, not merely educated, and that requires experience.  I wanted to become experienced at skill-at-arms, so I joined the military; at the four-year mark I still hadn’t been to combat, so I signed up for four more. I want a similar experience in emergency medicine, so why would I expect not to similarly immerse myself?

Third, I want a challenge. Is paramedic school challenging? Yes it is. I am very intimidated by the amount of information I  am already expected to learn, just in the first couple of weeks. The idea of learning scores of drugs, their interactions with a patient’s existing medications, varying doses based on body weight, indications and contraindications, varying effects on adults vs. children vs. pregnant women. . . Like I said, it is going to be challenging. But the things I’m most proud of in life? They aren’t the number of years I spent grinding out a job, how much money I put in the bank, or the stuff I bought. They are the difficult things I have accomplished. The most difficult things to achieve are usually those that are most worth having.

Parting Shot

The next year is going to be insanely busy. There may be times when I am absent on the blog, or at least not as present as I would like to be. I will try my best to make those times as few and far between as possible. Stay safe out there!

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