Books on Vocational Reflection

I finished reading Complications by Atul Gawande last week and really enjoyed it.  It was his first book and covered stories from his apprenticeship phase of becoming a surgeon.  I thought back to the first book I read from him, The Checklist Manifesto, and realized that while I enjoyed the topic Manifesto covered, I found it lacking a certain charm that Complications had.

Manifesto felt like a good idea that was stretched a bit too thin to fit the book format, and was heavily supplemented with references to studies done by other researchers.  This isn’t meant as a criticism – it was a good book!  But what I felt Complications (and his other book Better) had is the first hand reflection on one’s professional development.  It’s not just a memoir of one’s life, nor is it a tell-all, but instead it’s a focused meditation on the training, learning, failures, achievement, and lessons one gains from devoting themselves to their vocation.

Over the last three and a half years of reading, I’ve found I really enjoyed these kinds of  books.  I looked over my reading list and pulled a bunch of examples randomly below.  Some of them are about medicine, others are of actors, and a few books from the business world.  The common thread is that it’s less about the personal biography of the person and more about the development of the professional (for this reason, I didn’t include Elon Musk’s and Enrico Fermi’s biographies, or career retrospectives like the books from James Comey and Hillary Rodham Clinton).

It describes a world bigger than the person telling the story, and their attempt to grapple with the epistemological, ethical, and professional obligations that comes from entering a profession, and where their limits lie.  These are not stories about heroes – the stories are about human error and fallibility, and learning to deal with that revelation.  It also keeps its eye towards what it means to serve others, and where the profession should go in the future.

Ultimately, these books differ from the animated bibliography in one crucial area.  The animated bibliography is often a book that results from a person researching and stitching together the ideas of others.  In some cases, these books will require the author to attempt to put the ideas into practice, but in my opinion this is in service of selling the credibility of the book.  However, the books I’m discussing here and listing below are different because they are an account of people who are learning by doing.  They are applying what they previously learned during formal education, and reflecting on the outcomes to see what lessons can be derived.  In some sense, the books are an autopsy that try to tease out causes, or at least serve as a cautionary tales for those who come later.

 

A Thousand Naked Strangers – Kevin Hazzard

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23/ This book came from the @artofmanliness #podcast a few months back. Talk about an exhilarating read! I identify strongly with the author, Kevin Hazzard, as he spins his memoirs of life as an Atlanta paramedic in "A Thousand Naked Strangers." His listlessness and feelings of being unchallenged, not knowing just how much potential he had in him, or how far his limits went, are things I've grappled with recently. A lot of what he wrote resonates with me, but his tale also serves as a caution: Am I on the right path? Am I willing to make the necessary sacrifices? Am I strong enough? Can I hack it? Will I choke? It's a trial by fire in the purest sense and a book I intend to revisit. #reading #books #selfimprovement

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Doctored – Sandeep Juhar

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/29 – my trip to Scotland threw my reading schedule off, so I haven't finished a book since before I left. I picked this book up in the spirit of Larry Smith's advice to read broadly in your passions when looking at career options. Since I'm considering paramedicine, I thought this would be good to check out. Juhar writes a fantastic reflection on the 5 or so years after he finished his formal medical training, and the stress and burnout he experienced as the realities of a medical system with misaligned values is forced upon him. Money, family, and values all weigh him down as he is forced to work within the private medical industry in Manhattan. I very much enjoyed his prose and story. I'm very happy I picked this up from the library. #reading #books #selfimprovement #medicine

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I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had – Tony Danza

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-/32 I'd Like To Apologize To Every Teacher I Ever Had by Tony Danza. This was a spur purchase I made while browsing books on sale from Audible. I figured I could relate to his experiences, having just finished my first teaching experience this past year (albeit at the college level). The book was a lot more engaging than I expected! I felt absorbed as Tony told his story of his year teaching high school 11th grade English. While initially the set-up for a reality show, the experience quickly morphs into a huge learning experience for Tony as he learns what it means to be a teacher and what it takes to be effective in reaching students. It's a humbling story, and I am glad to have learned from it. @tonydanza #reading #selfimprovement #books #nonfiction #teaching #education #memoir

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Total Recall – Arnold Schwarzenegger

*Note – I include this mostly because of his telling of his time as a body-builder and actor.

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-/30 – Total Recall by Arnold Schwarzenegger. As a kid, I was into his movies. After I started getting into exercise, I got more into his bodybuilding achievements. While I didn't follow his political career, his recounting of his Governor years was quite interesting (though personally I enjoyed the first two acts of his career more). The book was quite long, but I enjoyed the story and got some good advice out of it. My only critique is that parts of the end felt more like he was writing the book for damage control of his personal life and career (i.e. his infidelity and son). Still, I'm glad I listened to the story. #books #reading #selfimprovement #audiobook #nonfiction #autobiography #memoir

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A Life in Parts – Bryan Cranston

 

The Art of Learning – Josh Waitzkin

 

Shoe Dog – Phil Knight

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-/31 – Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. This is a good book, not because I have any affinity for Nike shoes (I don't think I've ever owned a pair) but because it's a great story. The skeptical part of me knows that Knight controls the narrative, so as a narrator we can't fully trust his objectivity as he tells his side of some of the bad events in Nike's early years. Nevertheless, even if he's stretching events to make himself look good, the lessons of his missteps are worth learning from. That, and the charisma his prose evokes, made this a gripping story to listen to and one of my top reads this year. #reading #selfimprovement #books #nonfiction #learning #education #audiobook #Libby #management #business

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Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull

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-/35 – Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull. I love love love this book! I've already recommended it to a few friends because it's that good. Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar, gives us an account of his early life and the history of Pixar up through 2014. I grew up watching their movies, so getting the behind the scenes stories was fascinating. The best part, though, is his reflection on what did and didn't work. From his experiences, he draws out lessons for running a company and promoting growth, sustaining output, ensuring transparency, and fostering creativity. The book is captivating and one that I plan to add a physical copy of to my shelf. #reading #selfimprovement #books #nonfiction #learning #education #audiobook #Libby #kpl #library #memoir #pixar

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The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande

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-/29 – The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. I'm torn on this book. On the one hand, the ideas are good and he has some good insights into the process of making good checklists for complex situations, like medicine. On the other hand, I was really hoping for a more technical dive into the fields he discusses that involve the uses of checklists (aviation, medicine, and construction). It felt like his attempt to make the material accessible also made it superficial and too easily digestible; that he deliberately didn't go deep in order to push out an easier book (not accusing him of it, just the feeling I got from it). Still, I am glad I read it, and like Koch's 80/20 Principle, I have already tried applying concepts and learnings from the book to my job. #reading #selfimprovement #books #nonfiction

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Better – Atul Gawande

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-/8 – "Better" by Atul Gawande. This was a great listen. I first checked out his book, The Checklist Manifesto, a few years back. While I enjoyed it, I felt it lacked a certain depth I had hoped to have had in diving into the origins of some of the checklist systems he discussed. "Better" is the kind of book I had hoped for "Checklist." This is the book of a craftsman reflecting on his work. He muses on many critical areas of medicine and asks how doctors have tackled the idea of being better. Here, he runs the gamut of behaviour changes, adapting to impossible situations, monetary incentives ruining practice, the need for diligence, and a few other valuable essays. While he's a surgeon, he explores fields outside of his own to see what kind of lessons we can learn from their stories. The book is packed with valuable insights, which is unfortunate because I blasted through the book fairly quickly, so not all of it had a chance to stick while I mulled it over. A reread for sure! #reading #selfimprovement #books #nonfiction #learning #education #audiobook #medicine #reflection #craftmanship

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Complications – Atul Gawande

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-/17 – Complications by Atul Gawande. This is the third or fourth book I've read from Gawande. I first encountered him in the Checklist Manifesto, but like his last book I read I really enjoy his reflections on what it means to be a doctor. Something about the gravity of the work speaks to me, and his reflections on the gaps in what can be known by people expected to have all the answers is fascinating to me. I should seek out books by other authors in professions that spark deep reflections on the training and expertise intersecting with the quest for mastery. #reading #selfimprovement #books #nonfiction #learning #education #audiobook #medicine #reflection #craftmanship #memoir #surgery #Libby #kpl

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Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Keep Your (First Aid) Skills Sharp

I wrote my masters thesis in 2012 on the relationship of knowledge, first aid, and the moral requirements of rescue.  The thesis argued that 1.) if you have special knowledge or training (first aid), you are morally required to render aid, even if there is no pre-existing legal requirement; and 2.) everyone should be trained in first aid.  While it is the case that I have to keep my first aid certificates current in order to work at the bar, I believe that it’s important to keep these skills fresh and sharp regardless of your occupation.

You never know when you’ll need to draw upon the skills, so frequent practice is important if you want to be effective.

There have been two instances while working at the bar where a pedestrian was struck by an automobile while I was working.  The first was New Years Eve a few years back, and the second was this past St. Paddy’s Day.  Thankfully, in both instances the person did not seem to be critically harmed in the incident, and both were conscious when they were loaded into the ambulance to be taken to the hospital for further attention.  I suspect that while both had some degree of recovery ahead of them, they thankfully won’t likely experience prolonged physical suffering.

In both instances, I was working on the door, so I was the first responder on scene to start treatment.  In the case of a traffic collision, the most important steps are to protect yourself, and start control of the scene.  I can confidently say that I’m terrible at the first thing, and half-decent on the second.  This is why consistent practice is important.

Protect yourself

I fail on this in two regards.  I have a tendency to run out into the street to reach the pedestrian quickly, meaning that I put myself at risk of getting hit by a car while on scene.  The other thing I’m bad at is getting to the pedestrian and starting treatment before I finish the scene survey (which includes putting on medical gloves to protect myself).  These are big no-no’s.  I expose myself to unnecessary risk while trying to be first to the injured, when realistically I should take an additional 15-30 seconds to stop, take in the scene, and put on my gloves.

Control the Scene

I am adequate at this because I tend to default to immobilizing C-Spine and trying to talk to the pedestrian if they are conscious.  I could do this better in a number of way, such as having a fellow staff member control the spine while I assess for additional injuries and control the scene (directing people around me, updating EMS, taking notes, etc.).  In regards to the staff at the bar, I am probably the most experienced first aider, so removing myself from the decision-making portion of the response has benefits and drawbacks.  I am the best person to perform first aid until advanced medical care arrives, but I also have enough experience to understand the dynamics of the scene.  At this point, it’s best that I trust my fellow staff to respond appropriately.

Responding to a traffic incident is chaotic, noisy and confusing.  On top of this, adrenaline courses through your body, making your hands shake and your limbs jittery.  Your brain feels like mush because your thoughts are lightning quick.  Time seems to slow down, and that ambulance that is 5-8 minutes away always takes an eternity.  You are hyper-focused on your patient, but aware that there is a light din of noise at your periphery.  It’s like a bubble is around you, and you are hoping like hell that you don’t mess anything up under the spotlight of the gawking mass of people encircling the scene.

This is all normal.  It (sadly) gets easier the more you do it.  You become calmer each time you respond; it’s happening to me already.

The lesson to take from this is to always keep your certs current, and find time to meaningfully practice your skills.  Someones life may depend on it.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Letting Go of the Pursuit

Last week, I announced that I’m shelving the pursuit to be a paramedic.  This decision was made on pragmatic grounds: with trying to start a life together with my fiancé, I need to focus on setting down strong roots and establishing financial security.  Changing careers while both supporting my partner and building stability is far more risk than I’m willing to tolerate.  Good things are happening at work right now, and I enjoy a generous paycheck and benefits.  If I hope to continue to pay off my existing student debt in a timely manner, contribute towards the mortgage, etc., my best option is to stay put for now.

Having said that, deciding to not go the paramedic route is not without its share of doubt and heartache.  When I started entertaining the idea that I wouldn’t apply off this February, I felt like I was giving up.  I had carefully laid out a timeline and a series of objectives that would take me step-by-step to my destination.  To give up now would mean I failed in my goals.  I felt like I was a failure.

I’m largely over this mindset now.  What helped me re-frame this was a passage out of Peter Pan.  I stumbled across this quote on a Medium post late last year and jotted it down in my notebook.  From time to time, I read the passage to remind myself that I have more important obligations than what I want.  Sometimes, you need to re-evaluate your goals to ensure you’re staying true to your priorities.

*Side note, my awesome fiancé, whom I read this quote to, put a copy of Peter Pan (the book) in my stocking for Christmas as a result.*

“There are many different kinds of bravery.  There’s the bravery of thinking of others before one’s self.  Now, your father has never brandished a sword nor fired a pistol, thank heavens.  But he has made many sacrifices for his family, and put away many dreams.”

Michael: “Where did he put them?”

Mrs. Darling: “He put them in a drawer.  And sometimes, late at night, we take them out and admire them.  But it gets harder and harder to close the drawer… He does.  And that is why he is brave.”

It’s important to remind ourselves that there is no shame in letting go when things change.  My decision to become a paramedic was made when I was in a different place in my life, but I’m no longer in that place.  There is certainly nobility in staying the course, even through uncertainty and change.  But it’s important to reflect on your priorities, and act in accordance with what is most important to you.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan