“When you don’t know what to do or how to move forward, stand still.”
This is a piece of advice that my mother gave me during my post-bacc years. That time in my life was marked by a lot of indecision and agonized choices–most often, the choice of whether or not to keep going with my program for another semester or not. I’d receive yet another poor score or a discouraging comment or simply be hit with a spell of burnout, and I’d doubt what I was doing and why. Why had I quit a job I liked for an academic track that I hated? Why had I moved cities? Was was I laboring so hard at something I seemed to be so bad at?
I’d be hit with these questions, call my mom, and we’d talk about it. She couldn’t tell me whether or not to quit, of course. But she could encourage me to slow down, to resist the urge to panic, to stop piling unnecessary anxiety and urgency on top of a serious decision. In telling me to stand still, she was doing her best to issue the gentle reminder that I didn’t always have to come to a determination while I was at the height of unhappiness and confusion. It was the same advice that another friend had given me, in different terms: “never decide whether or not to quit a marathon while you’re running uphill or downhill. You decide if you want to keep going when you’re running flat.”
It’s funny to reminisce on these times now, because when I look back on my post-bacc experience I can see clearly that I was handed many good indications that going to medical school would not have made me happy. I think I’d have appreciated the work of being a doctor, but I don’t think I’m cut out for the education, training, and lifestyle. I can’t help but feel that I was spared something massive when I got rejected, even if it felt shattering at the time. So the question becomes, why didn’t I stop sooner?
The only answer I have is that I couldn’t have come to this conclusion without allowing myself to experience the process in its entirety: the hopeful beginning, the humbling disillusionment, the rebuff. I know it’s a cliche, but there’s a lot to be said for not wondering “what if?”
I also like to think, or hope, that my post-bacc was a learning experience, even if it didn’t take me where I thought I wanted to go. I think it taught me to be more resilient, or at least aspire to resilience; I think it taught me that no goal is worth the price of my own happiness. And, to circle back to my mom’s advice, I think it taught me how to stand still in a moment of self-doubt, overwhelm, or indecision.
It’s not a lesson that has come easily to me, because standing still in the midst of turmoil and allowing clarity to surface demands patience, and patience is not exactly my personal forte. Left to my own devices, I’d often choose forced decisiveness over an uncertain pause. Still, I suppose that half the battle of learning a new skill is to be handed good tools and guidance. My mom’s advice hasn’t left me; I return to it again and again when I’m not sure what to do or how to move forward.
This week, feeling a little stuck and more than a little overwhelmed, I experimented with pausing and slowing down rather than coming to hasty conclusions. It was not an easy experience, but it was certainly interesting. And it reinforced another lesson I’ve been learning lately, which is that turmoil, indecision, and uncertainty are not fixed in stone. When I’m feeling something strongly I tend to assume that I’ll feel that way forever. All I want is to chart a course of action that will allow me to leave the feeling behind. The problem with operating this way is that it never gives me the benefit of watching my own perspective shift, and consequently recognizing that resolution and calm can emerge from the process of waiting.
To what extent this sort of patience will ever feel like second nature I’m not sure, but I guess it doesn’t have to. It can be a practice, like so much else. The practice is teaching me that uncertainty is not just a meaningless haze; it can serve a purpose, so long as I can learn to accommodate it.
I’m sharing an article on anxiety today that evokes some of these same themes; it certainly made me think about the dangers of working to shut down or appease emotions before we’ve had time to process them. And on the topic of pauses and patience, I’m linking to an inspiring article about the benefits of welcoming meditation into schools. All that, along with some really wonderful fall recipes.
I’d really never think to put figs into a pasta dish, but Lindsay’s creamy garlicky pasta with charred broccoli and figs has me more than convinced. I love how simple this dish is, and I love that the sauce is legume-based!
I admit to never having been much of a nougat person, but put “sweet potato caramel” in the title of just about anything, and I’m on board. Anya’s vegan sweet potato caramel nougat looks like a delicious treat for snacking.
Making a vegan Po’Boy might sound like an impossible proposition, but this recipe proves once again the amazing versatility of cauliflower. I can’t wait to share this one with my New Orleans-dwelling bestie!
I know that summer is generally thought of as prime salad season, but I always get equally excited about colorful fall salads. I’m loving this vibrant mixture of roasted beet, lentils, fennel, and citrus from Jennifer of Delicious Everyday.
It’s really hard to say what I love best about Gina’s creamy almond butter fall pasta: the tender roasted squash, the creamy almond butter sauce, the bitter broccoli rabe (one of my super favorite greens, even though I don’t use it nearly enough), or the crumbly, crunchy cracker topping. So much texture in one dish!
1. As I mentioned, this article details what happened when one elementary school started sending students who had misbehaved to a brightly decorated meditation room instead of to the principal’s office, or to detention. The practice has cultivated patience, engagement, and even excitement about social service projects and outdoor activities. Really uplifting–and evidence that the benefits of meditation extend to any age group.
2. There are so many incredible vegan food brands and companies these days that it’s hard to keep track of them all; each week, it seems as though I hear about an innovative, new plant-based product. Still, I always like to pause and give thanks for all of the brands that have been pioneering and supplying vegan products for years, and Follow Your Heart is at the very top of this list. It was the first vegan cheese I ever bought, and Veganaise was my first vegan mayo.
This week, Andy Bellatti shares a short history of how this brand–led by a few committed individuals–helped pave the way for all of the exciting developments we’re seeing in the vegan food market.
3. I loved this interview with Meredith Osborn, a medical illustrator who specializes in molecular biology. I knew very little about medical illustration before I read it, but it seems to be a fascinating field, perched right at the intersection of art and science. Osborn makes the point that, because there’s so much we still don’t know in the sciences, illustrators must often use their imaginations to map out unexplored territory. In other words, they’re often called upon to be pioneers.
Osborn also has some interesting things to say about our reverence of science and why it may be problematic:
This certainly resonates with me. It’s not that science isn’t worthy of respect or awe–I think it is–but rather that we tend to take scientific findings at face value, forgetting that the field is always unfolding and shifting to accommodate new discoveries. Anyone who studies the sciences is, I think, trying to pursue understanding of how our world works, and perhaps to unearth new truths, but part of what makes the field so interesting is that it’s full of mystery.
4. There are lots of great resources out there for helping new and longtime plant-based eaters to eat well and pleasurably on a budget. But this article, written by vegan lifestyle coach Vicki Brett-Gach, is truly one of the most comprehensive and practical guides I’ve seen. Even if you know your way around your own grocery budget, it’s worth reading to pick up some new tips — I definitely felt inspired by it.
5. One of my readers shared this article about high-functioning anxiety with me in last week’s weekend reading post; she said it reminded her of some of my recent musings on my own anxiety. I’m so grateful that she thought to share. Yes, I saw a lot of myself in what the author described, but more importantly, the article is so honest and so real, and I think it’s worth sharing for that reason.
In trying to capture what her anxiety feels like, Sarah Schuster writes,
That last graf in particular resonates poignantly right now.
Recently I was asked to describe my own anxiety, and I described it as a fog or a mist–something that clouds my vision and gets into my lungs when I try to breathe. The thing I dislike most about being anxious is that, when I feel it, I can’t feel much of anything else. And so, in the interest of getting my life back, all I can think about is shutting the anxiety down.
The problem with this is that it creates a cycle in which fear of anxiety and quelling anxiety become your primary motivators. And the things we need to do in order to keep anxiety at bay are often not the same things that enable us to be creative, brave, or open-hearted. When I live with the primary intention of being not-anxious, I can’t help but also become meek, defensive, and uncommunicative. Perhaps I manage to stave off a bout of anxiety, but I lose a part of myself in the process. I think I’m writing about anxiety so often these days because I’m trying to fight against that mode–to stay open and truthful, even though my instinct is to retreat.
Speaking of courage, Schuster’s piece has a courageous ending. Living with anxiety, she concludes, means
I agree. Thanks to my reader who thought to bookmark the article for me. There’s always comfort in an honest dialog.
Alright, friends. I hope you’re having a nice Sunday — it’s cold and dreary here in New York, which I’m taking as an excuse to defrost leftover soup and bake something sweet. I’ll see you soon.
Shortly after the new year began, Elizabeth Gilbert tweeted something that stuck with me: “There are only 2 two ways to have a peaceful conscience: Never do anything wrong or learn self-forgiveness (Pro tip: first way’s impossible)” I love the this quote because it exposes perfectionism for what it really is: an exercise in futility. Of course none of us never does anything wrong. To avoid mistakes is impossible, and yet so many of us would rather try than take the path of self-forgiveness….
In the last few days, New York has transitioned from hot, muggy weather to a cool, dry, and breezy climate that hints at September and October to come. Everywhere I go, people are talking about it. I think we all feel grateful for the tiny glimpse of fall, even if no one is ready for the hustle of back-to-school season. So much of life, at least here in the Northeast, revolves around the rhythms and patterns of the seasons. They organize our experiences…
Now that my post-bacc is years behind me (I’m realizing as I write this that I began it in 2010, which is nuts), it’s very easy to tell an elegant story of adversity being channeled into growth, or about the benefits of experiencing rejection. I’ve been aware for a long time that I was probably spared a life that wouldn’t have been right for me when I didn’t get into medical school, but the passage of time has made it easy to forget…
Happy Sunday. It was a cold, then a rainy, weekend here in DC, but I managed to spend some quality time with friends, scribble some holiday cards, work, and sip hot cocoa nearly nonstop. For the last few years, I spent the month of December huddled in the library in a pair of grungy sweatpants, nervously studying for finals and waiting for the verdict of my end of semester grades. I couldn’t give much thought to the holidays, which made me sad, because…