Musings for the New Year, 2015
December 31, 2014

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Before I get to my New Year’s Eve musings, I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. If you liked the post but haven’t read comments yet, I really encourage you to. A few of them blew my mind, and they’ve added so much new meaning to the dialog. Thank you all, as always, for being so open about the recovery process. It’s really a joy to be a part of this community, to take comfort in our shared strength.

A few days ago, a friend of mine texted me to wish me a merry christmas. “This has been a tough year, I know,” he said.

I was surprised for a moment, but I quickly knew what he meant: 2014 did not begin promisingly. I had my only med school interview on January 8th, was told that I was a shoe-in, and returned to DC gleeful and certain that I was on my way. Then I got walloped with a terrible case of flu, and on the same night that I was sent home from urgent care, sweaty and shaking and nearly unable to breathe, I got an email rejection (later on, my interviewer told me that the committee had deemed my physical sciences MCAT score “a touch too low”). I lay in my apartment for two weeks, convalescing halfheartedly under a mountain of blankets, sipping water and pounding aspirin and listening to the hum of my humidifier. I knew in my heart that the interview had been my only shot, and indeed, only a few months later my rejection was a sure thing.

In the moment, of course, it felt like catastrophe. My post-bacc was long and hard and demoralizing, a 4 year process that left me wondering who I was and what my skills were and whether or not I’d made the stupidest mistake of my life in trying something that I seemed to be so ill suited for. I justified it, naturally, with the steadfast belief that one school–just one school–would take a chance on me. When that didn’t happen, I had to confront both the loss and the discomfiting realization that I couldn’t bring myself to reapply. What did that say about me? Had I not wanted it badly enough? Was I a quitter?

Nearly a year has passed since all of this happened, and while I’m still mourning the shift in my future plans–still prone to envy when I cross paths with a med student, still somewhat ashamed when I tell people about my post-bacc experience, still coping with some professional insecurity–life has taken some surprising and wonderful new turns. First I met Steven (ironically, we got together just after the med school rejection, a vivid example of a window opening as a door closes if ever I’ve experienced one). Our relationship, as you can all probably tell, has enriched my life in wonderful ways. I can’t imagine a better partner or friend, and I feel grateful to him for inspiring me to be my best self in so many ways.

Steven has helped me with the great challenge that I and so many of my readers struggle with: the quest to be as compassionate to myself as I am to others. In past years, a big professional blow might have sent me into a nasty tailspin of self-loathing, possibly into relapse. I like to believe that I’m secure enough in recovery that I’d have remained relapse-free on my own, but Steven was certainly a force of kindness throughout it all, reminding me that, when I disavow and deny my own value as a person, I contradict all of the messages that I put forth so lovingly and sincerely here on CR and in my work as a nutritionist.

Steven has also been an incredible ally in my relationship with food, opening his arms to my vegan lifestyle, sharing meals with me enthusiastically, and helping me to unravel my thoughts when I have a bad body day, a food anxiety, or a recovery challenge. Yesterday morning I was emailing with a friend, and I told her that lately I’ve come to see that recovery is not just about the acceptance of nourishment in the form of food. It is about acceptance of nourishment on many personal fronts, and that includes acceptance of love. I’ve never felt or given love as freely as I do with Steven, and this is both a source of great joy and (I think) a sign that I’m learning how to love myself a little more, too.

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In August of this year, I left DC and returned to my beloved hometown of New York. It was bittersweet and strange and exciting all at once. Ridiculously, I wondered if I’d have any embarrassment upon my return; what would it be like to tell former colleagues and friends that I wasn’t going to med school? It was fine, of course. Almost immediately upon returning home, I realized that my friends and loved ones could care less about whether or not I become a doctor. They’d cheered me on dutifully, but one close friend echoed what I think many of them felt when he said, “it was never clear that you had to go to med school to help people the way you want to.”

And as soon as I started up my work as a nutritionist again, I knew that he was right. I’m still exploring other health care avenues so that I can be a better source of help for my clients–and in particular so that I can be a better ED recovery resource–but the work is now, and it is real, and it is enough. I didn’t have to put my life on hold for med school in order to do it. Another friend almost brought tears to my eyes when she said, “maybe this happened because, in all of the years you’d have been struggling through med school, you’d have missed an opportunity to help people who need you here and now.”

There’s an important lesson here, and it has to do with the “live in the moment” stuff that is sometimes so hard for me (and for most Type A folks). In all of my gung-ho pursuit of a grand and noble career dream and an enthusiasm for decoding all of the mysteries of the human body, I forgot what it was that made me want to go to med school in the first place: a desire to touch people’s lives by helping them to feel better (mind, body, spirit). I could have done that as an integrative GI doctor, and I can also do it by writing Choosing Raw and sharing recipes and being a nutrition professional, just as I do right now. Dreams and goals and academic objectives are worthy and good, and sometimes they’re necessary to get us to the next step in our professional capacities. But they can also prevent us from taking pleasure in the things we’re already doing. And, if you hitch your professional fate to a goal that’s overly distant, you run the risk of allowing present-day opportunities to languish.

I don’t think I’ve totally figured out what I want from my career or what form my work will take (who has?), but what I have learned is that it was silly to think that structuring my life around the great and long med school journey could somehow give me all of the meaning and fulfillment that I seek. It’s up to us to create our own sense of professional identity and fulfillment, every hour and every day and every year. And no degree, not even the M.D. (which I retain such reverence for, even now) can save us from uncertainty and unexpected twists of fate.

So, as 2015 commences, my goal is to craft a life that I love, here and now. No more waiting for my work to begin, no more wrapping my professional life around degrees or programs. Whether I return to school for another ten years or not at all, I’m committed to doing the work I love, which is to help people fall in love with food and nourish themselves deeply.

Likewise, I’m committed to actively savoring my life–experiences, friendships, food, love. What stands in my way most is the same tendency that blinded me so often during my post-bacc: a choice to elevate goals and concrete accomplishments over experiences or feelings or truths. For me, this takes the form of getting overly anxious about productivity (something I’m working on), creating grueling work schedules that keep me from having any fun, and a tendency to worry (almost obsessively) about time management. Back in October, a friend and I were chatting. She said, “you know, it’s my choice to constantly feel as though I’ve overcommitted myself, so maybe it’s time to accept that I get some satisfaction from being almost-too-busy, and adjust my attitude. If I wanted things to be different, I could make that choice at any time.”

I agree. I tend to overbook myself (I did it this fall, and it almost kept me from enjoying my homecoming), which means that on some level I feel stimulated by having a lot to do. Rather than stress about it, I’m adjusting my attitude so that I can appreciate that I’m an active participant and architect of my own life, and I can step back whenever I need to. If at any moment I feel as though I’ve lost my capacity to truly savor life experiences, from travel to cooking to spending time with friends or with Steven, then it’s time to scale back. If I’m to be spared the grueling hours of med school and residency, I might as well show appreciation for my new situation by taking time to actively enjoy the things I love most: music, yoga, food, friendship, and New York City. And when I am very stressed or busy, it’s my job to be able to bring some good humor to the situation, to recognize that few work-related things are ever as grave as I make them out to be. I always think of something my former boss used to say to me: “Gena, the lives of children do not hang in the balance.”

Words I so often need to remember.

That picture up top is a view of Vieques, the beautiful island from which I’m writing this post. Being on vacation here has predictably challenged some of my restless Type-A energy, but it has also allowed me to do some reflective writing, to ponder my recovery, to laugh and read and swim with Steven. On Saturday, we’ll go back to New York, but I hope I can bring home with me a refreshed outlook on my work and my time, a tender appreciation of how good my day-to-day life is, and a commitment to not let small things stand in the way of my deep, ongoing gratitude for experience. My caring friend wasn’t right about 2014: it was an up-and-down year, maybe, but also one of the best I’ve ever had.

Readers, thank you for another year of incredible dialog, community, and shared strength. I’m so grateful for you. Happy new year, and may all beings living be happy and free.

xo

Categories: Food and Healing

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    56 Comments
  1. A belated happy new year to you Gena! Wow, sounds like 2014 was a great game changer for you. Thanks for so honestly and eloquently sharing your reflections with us readers.

  2. I’m obviously just catching up, but tears! So happy for you, so inspired by you. Here’s to 2015 being the best yet. Xo

  3. Beautiful post. You’ve learned a lot over the past year and are taking things in stride. You definitely had ups & downs, some challenges, but lots of rewards too.
    “There’s an important lesson here, and it has to do with the “live in the moment” stuff that is sometimes so hard for me (and for most Type A folks).”
    Oh man am I ever working on this!
    I get crushed about things I work really hard at too – but I also firmly believe that everything happens for a reason and maybe your path wasn’t meant to align with being a doctor, or maybe not yet anyway. I’m really glad you met Steven – he lets that beautiful inner light of yours shine even brighter =)

  4. I think you might underestimate the impact you have on others. You’ve been a great source of inspiration to me in many ways over the past 5 years. Your blog was one of the first I started reading and it was when I was studying in France, struggling with an eating disorder and wondering if I was ever going to feel good about myself. Five years later I can definitely say my life has changed and you have been a part of that shift. Thank you for your honesty and courageously sharing the challenges and gifts that have come your way. I’m grateful for your authenticity, not to mention your balanced view on health and nutrition, your absolutely mouth-watering recipes, and the compassion that comes across in your posts. I hope 2015 is a really wonderful year for both you and Steven. <3

    • Alex, what kind words. Thank you. It means so much that my blog found you and meant something to you at that vulnerable moment. And it’s been a big joy for me to watch you bloom and grow in such strong, inspiring ways.

  5. Honestly Gena, in many ways you may be able to help your clients a lot more this way. I think that most doctors who want to help people with natural approaches need to unlearn a lot of what they are taught in med school. – and also need to continue their education with clinical nutrition etc. And I have observed that those who dedicate their education to learning natural medicine are generally more successful healers than the doctors who are really just dipping their toes into natural healing methods.

    If you really want the degree you could go for one specializing in nutrition, health science or maybe a doctor of naturopathy? But unless you want to treat people in emergency situations the treatments you need are not part of the MD toolkit.

    Regardless I am sure you will be successful whatever approach you take and I wish you all the best.

    • Thanks, Mizpah. These are very interesting observations, and I appreciate them — as I appreciate your reading and supporting all these years!

  6. Gena
    You have clearly grown in leaps and bounds this past year….it is so inspiring to hear and your acceptance of a huge disappointment and your ability to see the gifts that have come from that is incredible. Thank you for sharing your journey. I 100% believe that things happen for a reason and you will see more and more reasons for this disappointment as you move forward with more doors opening for you.

  7. Happy New Year, Gena! Glad you enjoyed Vieques! We went there last summer for the first time and it was magical! I’m not sure why I haven’t been reading your blog recently- I guess sometimes a break from food-thinking is refreshing for me- and this post reminds me how much I get from your blog. Thank you for all you do and share! I do frankly believe you’ll be able to share your gifts with a broader audience by not going to med school.

    • Laura, from the very start you have been (as I hope you know) a source of great wisdom as I navigated the post-bacc experience. Thank YOU, and happy new year!

  8. As always, such a joy to read your posts. I enjoy your perspective and candour so much. I too have taken the approach to craft I life a I love, and so far it has been working extremely well. I’m so glad that you found Steven and can’t wait to see what’s in store for you in 2015 <3

    • Ashley, it’s so wonderful that we’ve been reading each other’s work for so long, because we’ve been able to watch each other grow in a lot of ways. Here’s to 2015 and crafting lives we love. <3

  9. Great post and Happy New Year! Lately I’ve been struggling a lot with the work life balance as my job continues to get busier and our department in transition. Dealing with stress will be a huge thing for 2015 for me I think.

  10. Happy 2015 and thank you for your honesty, guidance, and, of course, delicious recipes!

    I too struggle with the whole work-life balance thing and a new practice has been tremendously helpful in me staying productive but also finding time for the people and things I love. At the start of the day (or the night before) I check in with myself to determine what my soul needs, what my body needs, and what one thing I need to do today to feel productive. I can’t take credit for the practice (that goes to the wonderful Allison Braun) but I’ve been doing this for almost two weeks now and its been outstanding. I’ve gotten more done and feel more peaceful/stress-free. Figured I would share in case its something that sounds good to you too. 🙂

    • Sounds like an intriguing practice, Kait! Thank you for sharing it, and happy new year to you. Thanks for all of the insightful comments you share with us.

  11. Incredibly honest and dare I say “raw” post. Life is more so how you respond and react than what actually happens to you. Sometimes you have to just roll with the punches and hope that things turn around and get better. Sounds like things have turned around and 2015 will be an even better year than 2014 🙂 Look forward to hearing about your journey and cooking your great recipes!

  12. It sounds like you’ve found a great guy. Congratulations.
    Thanks – as always – for sharing your ups and downs so openly. I am sure that the direction your life is meant to take will become clearer over time. Good luck with everything and happy new year.
    Kimberly

  13. I’m in a similar transition place. Some people hate being stuck, so hey, at least we don’t have that! But there’s something to be said about certainty. Nice to meet your new handsome beau. Seems like it’s a good match.

  14. Gena,
    I’ve been a reader for a little while now, but haven’t commented until now. I just wanted to thank you for this and all of your other thoughtful posts. Your most recent one on your ED recovery was so uplifting, and certainly a story that I personally identify with. Happiest of New Years to you and best of luck on your NYC adventures. I’m inspired by your ability (I too am a decidedly type-A personality) to allow yourself respite and to appreciate the gratification that comes with a rigorous schedule. This is a form of balance I’ve recently found myself. So many thanks for all that you do here! And rest assured, you certainly are touching and changing lives!

  15. I love reading your posts, and have for a long time, but really felt compelled to comment this time. In 2013, I was feeling a lot of the same things, especially that I needed to live more in the present and really appreciate the here-and-now. That’s the same year we moved from D.C. to Vieques! It’s a magical place with absolutely no consistency so it can’t help but force you into that way of living/thinking. I hope you enjoy your time here and the food too! For such a small island our food is outstanding. If you haven’t checked it out yet, try TinBox. They grow much of their produce on the premises and the staff/owners are wonderful.

    Good luck in your many adventures. You really do inspire.

    • Brittany, thanks again for this comment. I loved hearing your reflections, having relocated from DC to Vieques! I hope that your time in Vieques gives you the magic and change of perspective you seek.

    • Oh my gosh, Brittany! So funny to get this comment. I can certainly see why you’ve fallen in love with Vieques; it’s one of the most beautiful and magical places I’ve ever seen.

      Funnily enough, we had a really hard time with food for our first few days here; a lot of animal products made it into our dishes, even though I was really clear about being vegan and what it meant, and sometimes we came up against some seeming exasperation about it. But we found Tin Box on our fifth night here, and it is totally incredible — we actually went back there tonight! We also had fabulous vegan entrees at Next Course and at Sorce (at the W), plus we found the health food store in Isabel II, which is packed with staples that helped us make a lot of lunches in our hotel room.

      Anyway, thanks for commenting. I’m fascinated by your story and so glad that the post touched you.

      • So, I was talking to my husband who moonlights at Next Course a few nights a week and told him about you visiting and he was definitely your server! He went “oh, the vegans!” when I mentioned you are there. Isn’t that crazy?? He said you guys were super nice 🙂

        Have a safe trip home!

        • Brittany, that’s nuts! So funny. He’s named Steven, right? (We remember because that’s my boyfriend’s name, to.) He couldn’t have been nicer or friendlier to us, so please say thank you 🙂

          What a small world. I just posted my Vieques recap — hope you enjoy it! Hugs from NYC.

  16. Thanks for sharing such personal musings. I am going through something similar, trying to pursue a career goal that is outside my natural aptitudes, and it’s still to be determined if I will succeed. I ask myself all the time if I am wasting my time and if I will be able to do it, and also wonder what people would think if I fail. But I too, realized that close friends and family don’t care what you do, they just want you to be happy. We place so much more pressure on ourselves than others do. Everyone else is too wrapped up in their own lives. In the end whatever paths we take, at least we can say we challenged ourselves, pushed ourselves outside our comfort zone, and you can’t not learn from these experiences, whether you “succeed” in the way you thought you would. You still gain something.

    PS: You look so happy in your pictures with Steven. You both radiate joy! Vieques looks beautiful too! Enjoy and hope you can rest and enjoy downtime.

    • Sylvia, it’s kind of you to notice our happiness — which is real and strong.

      Good luck as you pursue the career goal, but know that, no matter what happens, you are where you need to be.

  17. Wonderful piece, and reading this helped me to reflect more positively on my year. The part that resonated most was the idea that we may not be in the place that we intended, yet it may be precisely the place where we’re needed. With eyes opened, cheers!

  18. This is something that I needed to read, as I lost my job of eight years in December and have really, really struggled with that blow–not just financially, but also in terms of that lack of control, stability, and the identity I had holed myself into for years. I have a long way to go with my own recovery on many levels, but as I look for work going forward and try to reframe this as positive–it is positive, as it was a hostile environment–I need to remember that not everything can be planned. I have no idea what the future will bring–right now it’s bringing fear and uncertainty, but also an opportunity to explore things I might not have had the courage to do if I hadn’t been forced to. Thank you for sharing your story. Inspiring, as always.

  19. your writing is mesmerizing, gena. thank you for this post and your previous one – both have resonated…to the point where I have taken excerpts of your writing and copied them down into my bound agenda, my intention is that they will serve as reminders, at various points down the year, to help keep me calm and retain perspective.

    (And may I just ask rhetorically, what did we all do before internet? such greatness can be found within it! take care, gena, and all readers.)

  20. Congratulations on all the work you’ve done. Your posts on evolution have become stunningly candid in an insightful and eloquent way. You’re obviously going to be of service to many folks.

    Relatedly, after an upheaval in my home this fall, there’s been a lot of talk between my partner and I about ambition, balance, and–loosely speaking–brain chemistry. I live in a small university city in the South, and the creative community has been largely shaped by this one dude who based his media company here around 1970. Once his weirdest enterprise, which had recruited a lot of smart creative people to town (and that left our downtown with a massive new block-long building literally on Main Street), went down in the mid-’90s, some of those people he brought never left. Our town found itself with some super-smart creative individuals who decided they were cool with sleepier surroundings. Several of them started media companies of their own, or went to work at existing ones (like our alt-weekly) for not a lot of pay. They became beloved parts of our city. To oversimplify, those people who lacked what maybe traditionally looks like ambition were people who stuck around and made real contributions to the fabric of our city and helped shape the revitalization of our downtown. Of course, those folks indulged ambitions in this atmosphere, and this kind of thing in certain circumstances is called gentrification, but the fact remains that, as you say, you’re the architect of your life. There are so many ways to be, so many different types of ambition and definitions of success. It can be terrifying and confusing, and can feel very uncertain to let go of the long-held definitions, but it can also be very freeing and rewarding. You can make yourself proud in ways you never even anticipated. Stopping to smell the roses can sometimes result in planting a whole new bush, if that’s tortured and cliched enough to communicate anything.

    Anyway, happy 2015, for sure. Enjoy!

  21. I am awed at your courage to be so honest. It offers hope where hope is in short supply. And not some pie-in-the-sky hope, but the real thing, full of contradictions and hiccups and even genuine successes.

    My issues are not yours in obvious ways, but the challenge of self-love emerges as common ground. I, too, have anguished over the “why” of things and, after years of this, have come to the conclusion that often there is no comprehensible Why, There’s only what IS, and the better question to ask oneself is, “What now?” because ‘what now’ begs for action, whereas “why” keeps me paralyzed. So my New Year resolution is to live 2015 more actively involved in life. and my hope is that it become a year I can look back at with a smile. I wish this for the whole world.

  22. Happy New Year, dear Gena, and thank you for taking the time to share your reflections on a year that may not have gone as planned but, wow, what a year. New love, first book, living in a city you love, and a sense of clarity in your your career path. What a year!

  23. Such a beautiful, well-written post, Gena! These two lines jumped out at me: “[M]y goal is to craft a life that I love, here and now… I’m an active participant and architect of my own life, and I can step back whenever I need to.” The former is a goal I have, as well; the latter is something I’m only just learning. Both are extremely important!

    I’m so glad that Steven is helping you love yourself. I never realized how little I valued myself until I met my fiancé. He does his best to remind me that I’m amazing just the way I am. While some days I need more reminding than others, I feel like I am slowly but surely accepting myself, flaws and all.

    Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year!

  24. I just wanted to comment and say that you deserve all the positive comments and reactions you get to your blog. I have been following your posts for a few months now, and the things you write about are really inspiring and have helped me identify potential relapses in myself. Although I have never been diagnosed with an ED, it is something I’ve felt on the brink of quite a few times in my life and I have suffered with depression before. Like you, I have to always be busy and I’m constantly anxious that I’m not going to get everything done that I want to. I use it as a way to deal with my problems, because if I’m busy then I can’t think about other things. I’ve also learnt the past year though that if I do too much then eventually I will crash and that’s something I’m trying to work on in 2015. Thanks for the great posts, tips on interesting articles to read (I love your weekend reading lists!) and the inspiration you give to us all 🙂

  25. A billion times more thought-provoking than any other new year’s post I’ve read. Well put and thoughtful as always, Gena.

    As for vacation and Type As, the best thing I did for myself was to move to Australia. They know how to holiday and not feel guilty. My American brain couldn’t compute at first, And yet…I realised life goes on (and they see so much more of the world!). I never feel restless on holiday now. Work will be there when I get back, but the world I get to experience on my holiday will not.

  26. Thank you again for another inspiring, thought-provoking post. Wishing you the best in 2015, and I can’t wait to read more from you on Choosing Raw!

  27. So eloquently articulated (per usual) !! Excited with you and for you for another celebratory year– it’s going to be GREAT. New years blessings, XO

  28. Happy New Year, bella. I secretly, selfishly, hope that this celebration of the now and your new commitment to embracing unexpected and unplanned and unplannable shift will also translate into you doing some of that travel you’ve been pondering on and off these last few years… because I want you to come visit me.

    You inspire. x

  29. Dear Gena
    This was the first thing I read upon waking up to 2015 and there is so much wisdom in it, I couldn’t have started the new year to a better message. I am at my own career crossroads and, like you, have spent much of my adult life a) battling with eating and self esteem issues b) striving to achieve ‘success’ in my field (teaching). This year, my one and only resolution is that 2015 is MY year! I am going to ditch the expectations I mistakenly feel others put on me (they are generally my own!) and work instead on fulfilling my dream of becoming a yoga teacher. I”m halfway through the course, loving every moment and for that, I”m truly grateful that I have finally found what it is I want to do. I”m going to work with an American company over the summer to train to use yoga with young people batting with eating disorders which I think will be so interesting and positive. Good luck with your own journey. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015 where dreams come true!!

  30. Gena, this was wonderful to read! I especially appreciate the reminder to be kinder to myself and to understand that over scheduling myself is almost always my choice. My boyfriend and I cancelled our NYE plans (fun vegan dinner reservations), to stay home and nurse the horrible cold we caught over the holidays. I plan to spend a lot of tomorrow devouring your book, which was a Christmas gift. Thanks so much for all the inspiration and happy 2015!

  31. Gena, I enjoy your blog very much, I’ve only started following vegan food blogs this Spring and was aware of your disappointment with med school. I’m a pediatric nurse but work in clinical research now. I definitely feel western medicine is greatly overrated, I manage clinical drug trials and as important medical intervention is for many indications there is a world of alternative medicine out there. Not as a second best choice but perhaps THE best choice to help people. I much prefer herbs and natural remedies over chemical meds. Clearly there is a place for both!! The first that came to my mind reading your post was that you should look into becoming a naturopath or herbal healer it seems to me the perfect extension of what you’ve been doing.
    At any rate I have no doubt that your future is very bright! 🙂

    Wishing you and yours a wonderful New Year!
    Claudia

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