32 (Or the Long Overdue Life Update)


When did reflective birthday musings became a CR tradition? I guess it was the big 3-0. That was my second summer in D.C., and this, amazingly, is my fourth. It’s also my last. In August I’ll be moving back home, to New York, to figure out what’s next. I haven’t started packing, but I’ve started tidying, and a few days ago I found my old lab goggles, which you see pictured above. I think I’ll keep them for posterity, as a memento of the post-bacc years. They served me well.

I guess this is the post where I tell you that I didn’t get into med school. I’ve known for a while now—since late January, really—but I haven’t had the heart to write about it. To those of you who were wondering, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long.

I’ve tried not to make this post a post-mortem on the details of my application process: what my GPA was, what I scored on the MCAT, how many programs I applied to and which ones, how many interviews I got, etc. It would be reasonable for anyone to ask me for these specifics; med school rejection hinges on certain well-established likelihoods, after all, and I’d imagine that my pre-med readers are curious. But aside from the fact that it’s hard to share such details with the world, how or why I didn’t get in isn’t really the point of this post. If you’d like to know more about my application experience because you’re considering the process or are in the middle of it yourself, please feel free to email me. I’ll be happy to share.

Before I go any further, allow me to disclaim: it’s hard for me to talk about my post-bacc experience and its outcome without getting emotional, and even sometimes a little maudlin. But I don’t regard this rejection as the end of the world, I promise. A lot of people get rejected from medical school every year, and now I’m one of them. Whether you’ve been pre-med or not, there’s a good chance that at some point you tried something that didn’t work out. It happens to all of us, sooner or later, in big ways and small. I’ve had disappointments, but this is the first time I got walloped with a big one. It was disorienting in all of the predictable ways, but it was also a tremendous learning experience.

I’m nervous about writing this post, but if nothing else, I hope it provides some comfort to anyone who’s feeling stuck in the wake of one of these inevitable life curveballs. More should be written about “failure,” if that’s what we want to call it. We read so much about triumph over adversity, persistence in the face of great odds, and unlikely successes. We don’t always read about what it’s like to do something and find out that you’re not very good at it, or to work hard and not improve, or to desperately want something that you’re nevertheless incapable of pursuing any further.

And that, dear readers, is the story I’m about to tell.

During my first post-bacc semester at Columbia, my advisor informed me that I’d have more to prove than an average pre-med because of my age and background. I’d have to hold myself to standards that were even more stringent than the already unforgiving “numbers game” that defines medical school application, she said. Her words were portentous, but I kept going in spite of them. I kept going through eight more rocky semesters, even as the academics grew more challenging and my sense of confidence, so robust when I quit my job and began this crazy process, began to falter. After I completed Orgo II, the class that I’ll always remember as my post-bacc nemesis, I lay around on my mother’s sofa, waiting for my final grade and contemplating whether I should return to school at all (you guys might remember; I blogged about it). When the grade came back—tarnished but not quite unrecoverable—I picked myself up and dusted myself off and returned to Georgetown for physics that summer. A year later, I’d made it through genetics and the MCAT and was busy applying to schools.

I would have made sense for me to stop at any point along the way, because that moment I had so often been promised as a post-bacc student—the moment in which I would supposedly start to feel as though I was becoming fluent in the unfamiliar language of the hard sciences—never really came. I told myself that if I dug in my heels and doubled up my efforts, it would surely be a matter of time before my natural agility in these classes emerged. I studied endlessly. I got tutors. I attended every office hour and every recitation. And while I’m certainly glad to have given my courses the effort they deserved, I can’t say it ever got much easier.

Looking back now and knowing the outcome, it’s hard to say why I persisted. I think a lot of it was sheer stubbornness, an inability to accept that there was something I really couldn’t be good at. I’d never had that experience before, the experience of working really hard at something and not improving. It wasn’t true for all of my classes, but it was true for some of them, and I found it maddeningly hard to accept.

Part of it, too, was reluctance to recognize my mind’s own natural inclinations. When my post-bacc began, I was determined to shed the idea that there are two types of minds, humanistic ones and scientific ones, and that I possess the former. I’d been prone to that kind of thinking in the past, and as my post-bacc began I could see how dramatically it had limited my intellectual growth (I’ll now always regret that I didn’t take the sciences more seriously as a high school student). I began to glimpse the fascinating connective tissue between the humanities and the sciences; I started telling my former colleagues that some of the same deductive skills one uses as a reader are actually quite applicable in biology lab work, and that the same analytical tendencies that behoove an editor are called upon each day in a class like Orgo. All of that is true; the world is not divided into “numbers people” and “word people.” But we all have certain intellectual inclinations, certain inborn strengths, and my post-bacc was a glaring reminder of what mine are.


But if the courses were a struggle, then it was a struggle offset by the joy I took in my volunteer work and my job as a physician’s research assistant. That’s the real reason I persisted in spite of unlikely odds: I really, really wanted to be a doctor. And all of my exposure to the daily practice of medicine seemed to affirm how much I’d ultimately enjoy it. Like many hopeful medical students, I assured myself that classes like Orgo weren’t a good indication of what lay ahead. I told myself that my future curriculum would be less abstract, more applied. And of course I comforted myself with the idea that after my first two years, I’d be given a chance to shine in the clinical setting. At that point, I reasoned, empathy and passion would finally work in my favor, and medicine would welcome me into its waiting arms.

For the record, I think it’s true that things would have gotten better after my second year of school; that, anyway, is what most doctors have told me. But I think that one of the worst errors of judgment you can make as a pre-med student is to assume that the training is irrelevant, and that the end result (clinical practice) is all that matters. The training is incredibly long, and how well you’re suited to it matters a great deal. Sure, the pre-med curriculum is pretty far removed from clinical experience, and I think it’s a shame that classes like Orgo II discourage so many applicants each year. But even if you’re tempted to dismiss the significance of Orgo or physics entirely (and I don’t, by the way), the fact is that hard science and standardized testing will be a recurrent and significant part of a very long education.

As you’ve probably gathered, I’m not reapplying. It’s much harder to admit this than it is to tell you that I didn’t get in. Because rejection, while painful, is a neat little story that places you in the victim’s seat. And while it would be easier to describe my med school process this way—as an ordeal in which “the system” shut me out unjustly—the truth is that it’s incredibly common for pre-med applicants to have to reapply one or even a few times before they get in. I’ve chosen not to. There’s no way to explain or justify the decision except to say that I just can’t. To some degree it’s practical: I’m reasonably certain that numbers held me back, and I’m equally certain that my grades, no matter how average they may have been, reflect the best effort I had. Perhaps it’s time to stop fighting so hard to succeed in an endeavor for which I seem ill suited, and return to some of the activities that come more naturally to me.

But this is secondary to the real reason I’m not reapplying, which is an unshakable inner certainty that I’ve hit the end of the road with this pursuit. It’s taken me by surprise; early this fall, I told everyone, myself included, that if I got rejected I’d keep trying, year after year, until someone said yes. Yet as soon as it became clear that rejection was on the horizon, I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to try again. It was one of the clearest instincts I’ve ever had, and even if I can’t explain it, I can’t deny it, either. Maybe it’s just a feeling I’ve created to excuse my own exhaustion and discouragement; maybe it’s my way of making peace with the fact that I’m giving up. Maybe the whole purpose of pre-med and its rigors is to identify people like me, who don’t want it badly enough to keep going even when they’ve been knocked down. If that’s the case, so be it; I’ll accept my station as one who’s been successfully weeded out. I know that I wanted this very badly—more than I’ve ever wanted anything—and I also know that I can’t go any further with it. It’s confusing, but there it is.

I’ve been instructed by family and friends not to use the word “failure” to describe my post-bacc experience, but I don’t mind. My post-bacc years were all about failure. I failed tests. I failed quizzes. I failed practice problems. I failed, at the beginning at least, to realize what I was up against. I failed to see the early signs of a partnership dissolving before my eyes in the midst of all this. I failed in all sorts of ways. But the great silver lining of my post-bacc journey was the realization that failure is not the end of the world.

I’ve been reading Kathryn Shulz’s charming book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error. It’s about the experience of error more than it is the experience of failure, but these two are often intertwined, and the book has felt incredibly relevant these days. Shulz’s thesis is that we tend to learn more from our errors, from the process of recognizing mistakes and then processing them, than we do from being right. It’s not a novel thought—common wisdom holds that we “learn from our mistakes”—but as Shulz notes, it’s amazing how much time we spend avoiding being wrong, or admitting to our mistakes, in spite of this. We shouldn’t. “Wrongness,” she writes, “is a vital part of how we learn and change. Thanks to error, we can revise our understanding of ourselves and amend our ideas about the world….however disorienting, difficult, or humbling our mistakes might be, it is ultimately wrongness, not rightness, that can teach us who we are. ”

I can think of no period of my life in which I so often felt mistaken, humbled, or incorrect as I did during the post-bacc years. Things I felt reasonably certain of, ranging from the trivial (answers to a chemistry quiz) to the significant (my certainty that some med school or other would find me desirable, even if I’d had a rough go of things) to the profound (my confidence that I could be good at absolutely anything, so long as I worked hard at it) turned out to be wrong. It was good for me to confront these errors in judgment, and emerge on the other side. Most of us, especially those of us with perfectionistic tendencies, tend to avoid situations in which failure is strongly possible. I’ve spent my life gravitating toward experiences and opportunities in which I believed I could excel. I quit violin when I had my first recital and it became clear that I was just OK; I quit ballet when I realized that I wasn’t as graceful or as coordinated as the other girls; I quit fiction writing when I discovered that my skills were more editorial than creative. If I couldn’t be the best, or close to it, then why bother?

I think this sort of logic shows up in the ED thought process, too. “I have to be the thinnest woman in this room.” “I must be the most restrained, the most disciplined.” So much emphasis on superlatives. There is a desperate fear of being undistinguished, of being just like everybody else. (There is also that tendency to think in binaries that I’ve mentioned a lot lately: you’re either the best, or you’re nothing at all.) The impulse to be distinctive can be positive and productive; if channeled appropriately it can fuel ambition, creative pursuits, and authentic self-expression. But it can be monstrously destructive if it takes up residence in an eating disorder, and it can also be incredibly petty. I’ve given up on needing to be thinner than other people, and I’ve also given up on using food and diet as a means of feeling special or superior. But until quite recently, I took perhaps a bit too much satisfaction in feeling exceptional through my accomplishments or my performance (professional, academic). And oh boy, did my post-bacc test me there.

For this reason alone, I’m glad I did it. After so many of the things I usually hitch my pride to—good grades, academic achievement, certainty of purpose—had started to erode, I was left with the task of making peace with myself. And after the rejections rolled in and my fears of not getting into school all came to pass, I had to maintain a sense of self-respect. I had to face the facts: I wasn’t very good at my post-bacc, and I didn’t get into school. In spite of this, I’m an OK person, and life goes on. If my post-bacc rid me of fragility in the face of failure, of an ego that was a little too tightly bound up in fleeting accomplishments, then I have no regrets. If It showed me that being wrong is not the end of the world, that, in the words of William James, “our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things,” then I count myself lucky to have done it.

The other important gift my post-bacc gave me was the capacity to cope with uncertainty, something I’ve never been good at doing. It became clear quite early in the process that I’d have no assurances or guarantees about what my next step would be for a very long time. (I wrote about this in both my 30 and my 31 posts.) Before I began my post-bacc, I worked in an industry I’d always planned on entering, in a position I’d held for a long time, and I lived in the same forty block radius I’d always lived in, surrounded by people who were for the most part remarkably like-minded. I loved that life, but I’ve also come to love a life that’s a little more unpredictable. I can no longer remember what it feels like to know exactly what I’ll be up to in a year, or five, or ten. And believe it or not, I relish the open spaces. Hoary though the sentiment may be, life really is an adventure, and I’m glad it’s keeping me on my toes as I move into my 32nd year (or is it my 33rd? I can never remember how that works).

I won’t pretend that this process has been easy, or that I’ve always been as philosophical about it as I sound today. For the record, I had a nice long obligatory period of self-pity. I spent my first month or so post-rejection wearing sweatpants and drinking wine and feeling generally pretty rotten. I cried and whined and sulked. But as a friend of mine pointed out, the devastation I felt reminded me a little of what it’s like to go through a particularly ragged breakup. You’re sitting at home, crying or drinking or yelling or eating chocolate (or whatever it is that you’re doing), and you feel as if the world has come crashing down around you. But at the same time, there’s a part of you—a solid, undeniable part—that knows you’re going to be just fine.

And I am fine, of course. I still have ups and downs, days in which something or someone will trigger a little spiral of bitterness or regret. But my life is as rich and blessed and interesting as it always was—except that it’s even richer now, thanks to the post-bacc adventure. The last four years were not easy, and I’ll never remember them as my happiest. But I’ll remember them as bracing and intense and fortifying in the way that all formative life experiences are. When I think back on it all–the sleepless nights, the library vigils, the way we (my fellow post-baccs and I) cried on each other’s shoulders–I can only smile at how weighty it all seemed, every test score and every exam. Every lab report. If only I’d known that the ultimate value of my post-bacc experience had little to do with becoming a doctor after all. I came to a new city and made new friends. I learned more than I ever could have imagined, about subjects I’d never really explored. I got to meet a bunch of fine future physicians, and for a short period of time I was lucky enough to call them my peers. I got a second undergraduate career, and with it the delightful and bizarre experience of living like an eighteen-year-old again. And, much to my surprise and when I least expected it, I fell very much in love. (I’m not moving back to New York by myself, by the way.)

As for what’s next, who knows. I guess the short answer is that my book comes out this summer, and I’ll enjoy watching it come to life. My best friend’s little sister gets married at the end of this month, and I’m eager to spend a weekend upstate, at my happy place. There will be two weeks at the beach with the boy in July, and I’m hoping they’ll be languid and lazy and sun-drenched. At the end of July, I’ll be saying goodbye to this city—this city that I’ve come to love in spite of the fact that I didn’t plan on loving it, in spite of the fact that I came here for a relationship that didn’t work out and an endeavor that didn’t go my way. And I’ll be returning to wonderful New York, where I’ll experience cohabitation for the first time (speaking of adventure!), and to figure out what the next big endeavor will be. I don’t yet know what it is, and it’ll probably be quite a while before I do. But that’s OK. There’s a Wendell Berry quotation that my mom sent me during one of the more difficult moments of my post-bacc. Maybe some of you know it:

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve come back to these words, how they became like a mantra during this chapter of my life.

Here’s what I know: I didn’t do my post-bacc because I wanted an MD. I think that most pre-med students convince themselves at some point or another that no career will ever be as fulfilling as that of a physician; it’s what you have to do in order to push through the classes and the competition. I was no exception, and of course I was prone to romanticizing doctoring, too, especially in the early days. But I was wrong. Becoming a doctor was never really the point. What I wanted to do all along is to help people and heal them and teach them about how to love themselves (and others) through what they put in their bodies. So long as I can do that, nothing’s lost. This is the goal, and it’s what will guide my deliberations this coming year.

Thank you to everyone who cheered me on through this long and winding process. Thank you to the med students and pre-meds who commented and emailed me, to the orgo professors who offered me their help, to the readers who gave me kind feedback and sound advice when I was struggling, and to all of you for assuring me that getting into medical school was not the full measure of my worth. It’s taken me some time to see it, but you were right. Know how profoundly grateful I am.

And now, I’m off to celebrate 32.

Till 33,







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Categories: Food and Healing

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  1. Hi Gena,

    I just stumbled upon this post. I’m a current second-year medical student and blogger and struggled with feelings of doubt and failure after scoring poorly on my first and last MCAT run. I too irrationally felt like it was a measure of my worth as a competitive applicant to medical school but that was far from the truth, as I was eventually admitted, years later. Thanks for sharing your journey and your transparency is admirable. Best of luck to you in your future endeavors.

  2. Hey Gena
    I know this post is old, but I just wanted to say that i appreciate your sincere writing and it really resonated with me.
    I tutor students for the MCAT, DAT, and all undergrad science classes and I’ve scored over the 90th percentile on the GRE and PCAT…yet my undergraduate transcript is a minefield of Cs and Ds. I finally got a second chance (I thought) by doing a master’s degree. Well, during my master’s, I found out my boyfriend of almost one year was secretly engaged to another woman…eight months earlier. He had a ceremony with his family and then I picked him up at the airport. I have never known such deep pain and betrayal in my life. I ended up bombing my courses and being that tear stricken, emaciated girl at my job and work. Today I had a job interview and guess what-they asked for my transcript. I felt so humiliated to hand over a 16 page transcript filled with bad grades and an incomplete master’s degree. I’m not 32, I’m turning 35 soon and I don’t even make enough to rent my own apartment. I feel like I’m in the pits of loserdom, but perhaps I need to make the realization that I can be an excellent guide for others in school, but it is not something I can participate in myself anymore.

  3. Gena,

    I’ve thought a lot about this post because you are voicing the conversation I was having internally with myself! Reading this post helped me move through a personal block. As a post-bacc (formerly a professional in another field) I had to realize that I wasn’t going to be able to make it all the way. This blog post allowed me to say, “You know what, I am not able to do it and that’s okay.” It’s funny how we need others to give us permission – maybe just the support – to not be perfect. I’ve always felt like I have to plan everything; but this time I may have saved myself years of heartache by not going in the wrong direction. Thank you for allowing us to be kinder to ourselves and to know that it’s okay to change course. Much appreciation!


  4. Gena,
    Thank you for sharing this. Your honesty was touching and is much needed when a lot of times, we read about the ‘happy’ and ‘successful’ times. I’m one of those people that is afraid to fail. And as my very intelligent husband says, ‘we have to fail to learn, to move forward–never coast’.

  5. Gena,

    You are a life-saver in a very stormy, scary sea of post-baccs out here. Even for the best, brightest of us out here it’s bewildering; and few have the courage to do it with such grace and authenticity. I know that I cannot. For some probably God-given reason I stumbled upon this post at the right time. Thank you infinitely for writing this. This post is life-changing for more people than you realize.

    With tremendous gratitude,
    Julia D.

  6. Gena – I just read this, and I can’t believe I missed it months ago. You have always been an inspiration to me, and one of the two bloggers that I genuinely perceive as having influenced my decision to study natural health (and go vegan!), even if we’ve never met in person. I don’t see your journey as a failure, but inspiration to show the world that you can persevere, conquer things you had trouble with, and find your way in life, even if it isn’t the way you thought it would be. I’m trying so hard to learn and apply this in my own life, as health problems have set me back, turned me away from long-held goals, and turned my life upside down. I’m learning that these health problems are really helping me in a way, because I wouldn’t have started reading your blog, and I probably never would have pursued Natural Health.
    You have changed my life, and I hope that others feel the same way. My husband knows you by name because I talk about you and your blog so much. I’m about to turn 27 and my life is completely different than I ever imagined, but that’s okay. I wanted to be a computer programmer, making ridiculous amounts of money so I could have everything I wanted. I’m still a programmer, but I don’t make a ton of money, and I certainly don’t have the things I thought I wanted. And that doesn’t bother me anymore. I don’t want to focus on the distant future anymore. I want to focus on the here and now, because at the moment, that;s all that matters.
    Thank you so much for being an inspiration, for being so honest and candid, and for all the help you have provided to all your readers.

  7. Gena, I am SO SO sorry I missed this post. I’m also sorry things didn’t work out – I know how difficult those post-bacc years are, yours especially given all the other work you do outside of classes. I think you wrote about it beautifully and I have no doubt that you will continue to be a prominent force for health, healing, and self-love. Perhaps just in your own different way, but most definitely you will (continue to) do it. xoxo

  8. This was such a great read. Thanks for being brave enough to share – it’s a hard lesson, but one that many people can relate to. I enjoyed your positive outlook.

  9. I found your link through another blog, and enjoyed reading your story. Have you looked into occupational therapy for a next step? A wonderful blend of humanities and science!

  10. Thank you for writing this post – I travelled a similar path only to get rejected and for a long time I knew I wasn’t going to apply but I kept telling people I would. It became more about me than it was about them. I sometimes struggle with jealously when I hear about others who were admitted, but I have to remind myself that medicine wasn’t my path and now I’m creating a new one in the field of nutritional sciences. Thanks again xo

    • And thank YOU for such an honest comment! It’s refreshing to hear someone honestly admit their foibles/struggles and makes me feel better about my own! It makes the world feel like a more accepting place to live in! 🙂

  11. First time reader, and commenter 🙂

    Your point about brains being wired toward either the humanities/sciences was really interesting – I’m definitely the former, but went to school with a good friend who was very visually arty though not good with more language-based stuff, but who went into the sciences despite finding them quite challenging. She’s now an osteo and I’ve always admired how hard she worked to get there.

    I went to school with a lot of highly driven people, yet 10-15 years on very few of us have actually accomplished what we always planned. None of the wannabe lawyers became lawyers (and the most ferocious one didn’t even make it into the law programme). Only one of the wannabe doctors made it into med; the others went into audiology.

    I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say, except maybe it’s funny that you never know where life will take you (and I definitely sympathise as my husband is now definitely a full grown adult with no idea what he wants to do with his life and no formal quals). I do believe that things tend to work out eventually, and I hope your path reveals itself soon.

    Happy birthday.

  12. There is no such thing as failure, just a bump in the road. As long as you are still in there pitching. Remember when one door closes, another opens and who knows, you may look back and think “What was I thinking!” (when you are ensconced in your fulfilling, happy life).

  13. Hi Gena,
    I read your blog often, but hadn’t stopped by in a month or so as I”m in medical school myself, and (surprise, surprise) have very little time to read my favorite blogs!

    I really admire your honesty, and admittedly, also how comfortable you seem, at least from my vantage point, with your decision.

    I see myself as somewhat similar to you in that I have a background of an MPH and an ND, and decided in my early 30s to pursue medical school. I was so passionate about combining the best of natural medicine and preventative medicine with my medical school and becoming an integrative physician extraordinaire. But, as most people who are passionate about holistic health, I also value my own health and wellbeing. In my experience medical school has been absolutely exhausting, and one of the worst things for my health I could do. The fatigue is constant, the studying relentless, the competition fierce, and the energy always sagging. That being said, I don’t regret it. I have about 2 years left now, and am excited about what opportunities the future will bring. However, I do sometimes question if it is all worth it, and the toll on my health, despite my best efforts to exercise, de-stress, and eat well.

    I am now even starting to question if I want to pursue family practice to have my own holistic health practice, or something like emergency medicine where I can just clock-in and clock-out and minimise stress and all the worry about work outside of work. I’m thinking more and more of doing just that, and focusing my passion on holistic health on balanced lifestyle retreats on the side. My experience in medical school has shown me how important a balanced lifestyle is, and how many tools we all need to achieve a balanced lifestyle. It has become my absolute passion, even more than integrative medicine and vitamins, functional medicine, etc. Some of my friends in the natural health side of things are saying that pursuing a specialty other than family medicine would be a waste of all my efforts and passions, but I disagree.

    I guess I’m sharing my story to say that even once you do start medical school your focus can change, and that despite how passionate you are, it is still very much exhausting. I think the best thing any of us can do for ourselves is be flexible and gentle, and realise that paths change in life all the time, and our passions can be channelled in many different directions.

    I hope whatever new, expanded, path you end up pursuing it brings you happiness, fulfills your passions, and leaves room in your life for health, balance, and vitality. I wish you all the best! And happy belated birthday!

  14. Gena- thank you so much for that post. I had the exact same experience with my pre-med courses, and being a comparative literature major, I also felt limited by my belief that I wasn’t a science person. Long story short, I wasn’t as brave as you and never applied to med school, but I found out about this wonderful window that opened when that door closed. It was called Naturopathic Medical School. Now, I’m studying to be a naturopathic physician in portland, oregon, and my real dream of healing people with food, love, herbs, and the body’s innate ability to right itself- will be my reality in 3 more years. This career path is definitely something I wish I had known about during those long hours studying for orgo 2 ( it would have given me hope). Anyways, thank you for sharing your experience- it resonated with me more than you can know. And if you feel like it – look into NCNM ( national college of naturopathic mediocre). I wish you all the best on your journey!!!

  15. This is beautiful, Gena. Thank you for sharing this experience, particularly with the addition of the distance and perspective you’ve gained since January. I want to echo what some other commenters have already noted: you already have been “help[ing] people and heal[ing] them and teach[ing] them about how to love themselves (and others) through what they put in their bodies.” You have been doing that work on your blog for as long as it’s been around. I know I, and your other readers, are so much better for it.

    I love that Wendell Berry poem. Another favorite quote I have returned to so often in my last couple years of utter uncertainty is: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rainer Maria Rilke.

    I have been in what feels like a state of liminality in terms of both personal relationships and career. It has been taxing but it has been a period of undeniable and profound growth.

    It feels good to know I have good company with some amazing women out there. Thank you for this and enjoy the excitement of your journey ahead.


  16. This is a beautiful post that made me think about my current situation. People need to realize that their are many wonderful careers in the world and the most important for us is to find our individual calling and enjoy every bit of our life’s journey. Even though being a doctor sounds very noble and prestigious to everyone’s ear, how many doctors do we know who are really amazing at what they do?
    This summer I’am lucky to be interning in the lab with bunch of 1st year med school students. Seeing my fellow lab interns exhausted, nourished by TV dinners and hydrated by Mountain Dew makes me wanna choose LIFE!
    “Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart…. live in question” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

  17. Obstacles are sometimes placed in our way because we’re going the wrong way.

    Looking forward to your New York return.

  18. What a beautiful post, Gena. I so admire your courage and honesty in writing all of this. With all of your talents and pure desires to help people, I can’t wait to see what comes next for you!

  19. Gena, happy birthday! I’ve followed you for many years and it’s been a joy to have been on this journey with you. It must not have been an easy post to write, but perhaps freeing once you did. You are incredibly self-aware and seem to be approaching this so measured, as always, though I’m sure it was not always that easy to deal with. I commend you on taking such a bold step at the time you did, and for giving it your absolute all. It is often those moments of humility that build us into better and stronger humans.

    While being a doctor is an extremely admirable and difficult career, I truly believe that your future holds in store an exciting array of opportunities that give you the power to inspire and affect change on a dramatically larger scale. I’ve witnessed the vast number of people you’ve impacted with your Green Recovery series and inspired to eat and live more kindly and compassionately. Your book will take us there; that I am sure of. New beginnings are scary but exciting. Happiest of birthdays to you, and I wish you a joyful new beginning! Thanks for all you do.

  20. As you say, a lot people have gone through similar issues. And they have come out stronger on the other side.
    I’m 32 years old and am still making my game plan (I was in the financial industry for almost a decade, realised I disliked it intensely, quit to go back to school to become a nutritionist and graduated just in time to move to a new country that I can’t work in…). Sometimes life throws us these curveballs and they kick us down, but inevitably, we come back up. It sounds like you already have. You rock and I’m one of those annoyingly optimistic people that believes everything will work out for the best =)
    Happy Birthday!

  21. I am 27, have a BS and MS, quit my Biomed PhD program to apply to medical school and have currently been rejected 2 years in a row simply because of my physical sciences score on the MCAT. The fact that one tiny number out of three can so easily dash hopes and dreams despite being an otherwise perfect candidate is enough to keep me going on this path for at least a few more rounds. I am retaking the MCAT for the 4th time in September and I’m about halfway through my primary app for this application cycle. The med school entrance game is ridiculous and I absolutely understand your decision to not pursue it further. Good luck!

  22. Gena HUGS!! You are one of the most bravest, smartest and most beautiful woman we know. We admire you so much and know you are going to great things in life!!

    Happy Birthday!!

  23. Thanks for this brave, honest post. I’m glad you’re feeling okay about your decision not to reapply. You are going to do awesome things and I can’t wait to see what they are. xo!

  24. I think you are more than “an OK person.” I think you sound pretty amazing and brave. How one reacts to and handles a set-back says a lot about a person and let’s just say you’ve inspired me greatly just now. I hope you keep your heart open to all of life’s adventures and I wish you all the best in your next chapter!

  25. Your writing is amazing!! Maybe you should keep that in mind as you ponder possible careers! It’s so funny, I think I was the only one who commented advising you to give up when you blogged about your doubts long ago. I struggle also with very similar feelings after giving up on a post-bacc computer science degree – I had/have great dreams of becoming a fine example of a female software engineer – something the tech industry greatly needs. Thank you so much for being vulnerable and sharing yourself with us; this is what keeps me coming back to your blog the most actually. I had noticed that it didn’t seem like you were sharing as much of yourself anymore. (Which is perfectly acceptable of course, but I do love reading posts like these and knowing I’m not alone with these feelings – and I love a glimpse into another person’s life! Lol.) I am excited to keep reading your blog faithfully again. Your cookbook is on my Amazon wishlist btw. 🙂

  26. Dear Gena, Happy Birthday. It’s been a while since we’ve been in touch. I wanted to thank you for this post. The honest and clarity with which you speak is incredibly refreshing and inspiring. In the few months or so since I discovered your website and got in touch with you I want you to know the positive impact you have had and continue to have on my life. Whatever it is that is ahead for you, I know you will continue to touch lives in meaningful ways. I’m so looking forward to your book. Cheers to you!

  27. I’ve lurked around your site for a long time and I actually came here to see if you posted an update, as I’m in a post-bacc and just generally interested in your journey. Thanks very much for such an honest, frank post.

    Like you noted, so many people (59%, actually) get rejected from med school each year. The odds are long and the work to get and stay there is grueling. So many people push ahead regardless because they’re ashamed to step back, examine their life and think about whether this is really what they should do, as you have. If you’ve concluded that med school isn’t right for you, I hope you are getting a lot of support from your family and friends. It’s a much harder, more emotional decision to make than reapplying.

    Thank you again, I was really touched by your post.

  28. Wishing you all the best in your new endeavors. You are already helping people, and I have no doubt that you will find a way to continue that goal.

  29. Hi Gena!
    Firstly, happy (belated) birthday to you! I very much enjoyed reading this entire entry. I thank you for being so open and insightful about the whole ordeal; I’m currently going through something a bit similar (albeit not quite as extensive a journey), and your words have resonated with me and helped me in ways I couldn’t quite word as eloquently 😉 Anyway, you said, “What I wanted to do all along is to help people and heal them and teach them about how to love themselves (and others) through what they put in their bodies.” I can say that I, for one, have been truly helped through your words. 🙂

    Thank you,

  30. Gena, you are a very brave person for putting your life online for everyone to see. It’s so easy to talk about life when things are going well, but its another when things aren’t as great. I could feel the heaviness being lifted off your shoulders as the post went on. By the end, you were talking about love and all the great adventures that lay before you. Good for you 🙂 You are moving on from an experience that knocked you down and you are doing it with grace, love and acceptance. Even though you didn’t get into med school, you are still a brilliant person. Here’s to the next part of your life! Congrats on the new man 🙂

  31. Gena, you are INCREDIBLE! (and don’t you dare shirk it off as an empty compliment). I don’t doubt you would have made a great doctor, especially from the patient standpoint, but I’m so excited to see where your journey takes you next. You’ve been helping and healing people with far more than Orgo II and physics knowledge for a long time now, and now having all that education (regardless of whether it culminated in an MD) to back up your next move will only make you stronger, and more of a force to be reckoned with. I sure don’t think many people who do what you do (write, nutritional counseling, ED counseling, et. al) have a medical post bac, to boot! You just ran the marathon of a lifetime, girl, and don’t let anyone, including yourself, take that away from you. <3

  32. Gena,
    Happy Birthday. And good for you. Seriously. I couldn’t like/ thumbs up/ adore/ dig this post any more than if you ‘ d said “guess what?! Got into all the med schools I applied to!!! Yippy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
    It takes so so so much courage to do what you’ve done in so many ways. 1) you shared your honest story (presumably) with everyone. Bravo. You just made yourself more ‘real’ to me. 2) You tried. So many wouldn’t have given med school a shot at all because of the fear of failure. and 3) you realized that maybe you aren’t meant to continue down this path. and you listened to yourself. My goodness, that last one is hard. (the other 2 aren’t exactly picnics though.)
    I am technically a “science brain” and I failed organic chem the first time I took it. I think because of that one dumb class, it has affected my self confidence at work . It’s as if it hangs out on my shoulders saying “YOU SHOULDN”T BE HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I’m a food scientist (I realize the irony of my career and the fact that I am a loyal follower of your blog.)
    Anyway, I never ever comment. But i just wanted to wish you the very best of luck when you return to NYC on whatever new road your life takes.

  33. I have been following your blog for some time now and I must commend you on being so open and truthful about the struggles you have had.
    You’ve come a long way baby, as they say.
    You are starting a new adventure and growing as a person in this crazy world.
    You have helped countless people you are unaware of.
    Keep being open to new experiences.
    I wish you all the luck and happiness you can stand from here on in.

  34. Please don’t give up! I’m 32 and just got accepted. I tried for many years. Feeling like a failure is one thing, but believing it is another.

    • I love that you posted this. I am 27 and I’m about to apply for the 3rd time and I’m starting to lose steam. Thanks for the motivation!

    • Ummm… not to be rude, but I think you missed half of Gena’s amazing post, and particularly the bit where, talking about her decision not to reapply, she says it was “one of the clearest instincts I’ve ever had, and even if I can’t explain it, I can’t deny it, either.” I can tell you’re really happy that you made it into med school, and I don’t want to rain on that parade, but if you do become a doctor, I hope you will learn to listen to your patients with more sensitivity and openness than you’ve shown here in your response to Gena’s post. Just sayin’.
      Gena — Your honesty and integrity in this post and in the path you’ve journeyed since January are beautiful. Thank you for the Wendell Berry and William James quotes — ones to take with me on my own path.

  35. Gena,

    I’ve commented once before on your blog and this post exemplifies why I have been a long time reader. I am not the type of person that ever really comments on blogs (although sometimes, I do have a comment or two to say in mind). This time, it felt absolutely necessary. You have been a source of inspiration for a healthier lifestyle for me when I needed to maximize my own potential. Changing my diet has improved my mental wellbeing, ability to concentrate and overall health. I don’t think I need to toot the horn of the virtues of healthy eating to you 🙂 I want to take an opportunity to (hopefully!) try and be a source of inspiration or encouragement to you.

    I was pleased to see that some other commenters were thinking the same thing I was. You are a perfect fit for an MPH program and I’m willing to bet you’d get into a very competitive one. Mailman at Columbia would be a good choice for you in New York. I actually almost went there, it’s a phenomenal program. I know you’re down and the prospect of going back to school is probably not the most alluring but your goals of helping others, gifts in the humanities and multidisciplinary background is precisely in line with what this field is about. More importantly, I know you said you have decided to put the idea of a career in medicine to rest but if ever the flame or desire return to you, public health is a great bridge for this. Many people don’t know this, but there are certain public health courses that are considered basic science courses and can be used to enhance your science GPA if the flame ever returns to you. Your wounds are still fresh, but I hope that you will gain the strength to not look at this situation as black or white… but to rather, “go with the flow” on this one. In fact, that mantra has served me well in my own career.

    Many of your qualities have resonated with me. I struggled in my pre-med courses. I never felt like-minded with the students who excelled in them. I was a social science major and thrived in those courses and in the humanities but was still drawn to the biological science. My efforts academically were often unparalleled. I exhausted all my resources with tutoring, practice problems and so forth— but this itself is a skill and I refuse to accept it as any sort of inadequacy.

    I mentioned to you once before, I was very strategic because I identified my weaknesses early on. I carefully selected courses, went to an “easier university” and would focus on one challenging course at a time. Despite that, it was still difficult for me and my scores were pretty good but not stellar. Also, there is no fooling the MCAT and my score reflected that. I do believe that had I really taken my pre-med courses to the limit (specifically, selecting more challenging courses or taking them at a better university) perhaps, it would have been reflected in my MCAT score. Sadly however, medical school admissions IS a numbers game.

    Nonetheless, I discovered public health myself at the end of my undergrad career. I was jaded by my struggle and unsure I would get into medical school or if I even really wanted to. A public health program was the best thing that ever happened to me. I loved my program, excelled in it and it became the foundation of my understanding of medicine. I developed skills, gained knowledge, and made wonderful life-long likeminded friends (Lot’s of ex-premeds!). I did apply to medical school after completing the program, half-heartedly. Today, I’ve just completed medical school. Re: The go with the flow mantra–it works sometimes. Medical school was hell and I struggled literally every single day, hit various road blocks, failed exams, have been disrespected and questioned perhaps for the past 4 years. I have also acquired a knowledge of the human body and disease that I now render invaluable.

    Medical school may not be for you, I myself question if it was worth all of the agony many days. I won’t know the answer to that till it’s all said and done. Maybe I’ll have an answer for you in the next 5 years. Maybe I won’t. At the end of it all, I hope you genuinely believe that your efforts were not in vain. Those tireless nights doing orgo problems or wrapping your brain around physics may not be called upon specifically– but what you have gained from this process may prove to be quite useful to you in the long run.


    Please don’t hesitate to contact me.

    P.S. A very, very happy birthday to you! 🙂

    • Amanda, after having a rough time in med school I’m just wondering what specialty you’re going into? I hope you found your niche! 🙂

  36. Gena, thank you yet again for your honesty, bravery and wisdom in this post (and every post). You are an inspiration. Reading every single comment above mine only reiterates that.

  37. Gena, thank you for sharing your story. I’ve been following your blog on and off for years, and it always seems to be just the right post at just the right time for me, so thank you for that as well. I am actually really excited to read your “33” post next year. Your world seems open to possibility now- your future is reborn!

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