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 how painful the loss of that dream felt when it first happened.
Over the last 11 weeks, I’ve had the interesting experience of getting a taste of the path not taken. I’m not doing medicine, per se, but I’m doing the kind of dietetic work that’s as clinical as it gets. Much of what I love about it—problem solving, the detective work of exploring a patient’s history, the intellectual challenge of establishing a problem and then finding my way to a suitable intervention—aligns with what I think I’d have loved about medicine.
The lifestyle, though, isn’t a fit. Maybe I’m saying this because it’s the first weekend since the DI started in which I feel genuinely and completely burnt out, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. Oftentimes when I’m at work I feel interested, or even exhilarated, by what I’m doing. Yet it always feels as though I’m living somebody else’s life, doing someone else’s job, and I don’t think that has anything to do with my status as an intern. I think it’s because a part of me is strongly lit up, but too many other parts are dormant.
I miss creative work. I miss cooking with intellectual and artistic engagement, rather than trying to rush through my meal prep over the weekends simply for the sake of being fed. I miss having a little fun with food photography, which at the moment feels more formulaic and dutiful than enjoyable. I miss reading cookbooks and food blogs and recipes for inspiration; I miss writing about food from my heart and soul, rather than recapping what I’ve recently made and eaten.
I miss having a little unstructured time built into my days. Much as it’s been good for me to have a set schedule and structure in my life (so much that I’m already pondering how to have more of it next year), I’m not a person who’s capable of go-go-going. I’m too sensitive, too prone to burnout and overwhelm.
For a long time I accepted this while also wishing that I were more of a doer. The more time I spend in the DI, the less I idealize being able to work/do/accomplish nonstop. This, actually, is a huge gift: for the first time in my life I’m craving stillness not because I’ve tired myself out or gotten overly anxious, but because I’d very honestly rather have less to do than more.
Each weekend, I tell myself it’ll be easy to catch up on blogging and writing, along with errands and my DI class and other responsibilities. It isn’t—of course it isn’t. Blogging is my job. Thinking about and creating food isn’t just how I love to spend my time: it’s what I do professionally. For so many years I’ve had a hard time owning food/nutrition writing as my career; I’m constantly disclaiming that I’m also in grad school, also making my way into healthcare, also a former editor. The fact that it’s been so difficult for me to embrace a creative life has everything to do with my own insecurities and fears about charting an unmapped course for myself, rather than hewing to a clearly defined path.
As I noted a few weeks ago, the DI is teaching me a lot about how to trust in my own judgment. It’s also helping me to clarify some of my priorities as a person and a professional. I’m settling into the clinical work more ably than I expected to, which has been affirming. How surprised I’ve been, though, to realize that excelling in the ways I always hoped I could doesn’t entirely feed me.
Life never stops taking me by surprise, nor does it ever stop encouraging me to explore my hungers and the things that satisfy them. I’m writing this post from my sofa, draped in a blanket and feeling let down by all of the stuff I though I’d have energy to do this weekend and didn’t. But I’m clearer than I have been in a long time about what makes me tick. This is a gift, even if I won’t be able to act on it until after the DI is behind me.
Wishing you a week that makes you tick, even in the smallest of ways. Happy Sunday, and here are some recipes and reads.
Thanksgiving may be over, but that’s not gonna stop me from making Cadry’s adorable vegan stuffing muffins!
Ditto for Tamsin’s creamy mashed potatoes…
…and I’ll top it all with some of Marly’s vegan gravy!
Switching away from Thanksgiving fare, I’m loving Jess’ recipe for vegan stuffed pepper soup.
Finally, it’s been a while since I made homemade falafel, and Steven’s baked jalapeno falafel would be a perfect recipe to try.
1. I’m late to the party on this post, but so glad I found it, via Cup of Jo: 10 wise comments on breakups.
2. These tips on navigating Thanksgiving while in recovery could easily apply to the entire holiday season.
3. Kathryn Schulz’s terrifying, nuanced reporting on an earthquake that is supposed to hit the Northwest—though we’re not sure when.
4. Speaking of stillness/free time—and because the article title along is worth sharing—the profound pleasure of puttering.
5. This article, via the New York Times, echoes a lot of my own feelings about probiotics: helpful in particular instances (such as a bad bout of traveler’s diarrhea), but until we know more about how they work, there’s not a strong case for routine supplementation.
OK, friends. This sleepy DI student is off to take care of what needs doing before week 12 begins. Sending love.
Happy Sunday, all. This week seems to have flown by, but I did manage to catch a couple of show-stopping recipe links and interesting reads along the way. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have. Let’s start with a flash of color! These mashed purple yams with sesame brown butter from The Endless Meal couldn’t possibly be prettier–or more appetizing. (Follow Kristen’s instructions to veganize the recipe.) I can’t wait to try them as a dinner side. Katie of Produce…
I’m publishing this post as a blizzard shrouds New York City in wind and snow. There’s already plenty of accumulation outside, and more to come. We have frozen soup a-plenty and are ready for a long day indoors–and I’m ready to get some of my coursework done, along with some meal plans for my January clients and a bit of batch cooking for next week. It’s already clear that this semester will be more work-intensive and challenging than last, so I’m trying to use these early…
Last weekend, I mentioned that I have a tendency to try to fix or manage difficulties as soon as they arise. This can be a good thing, at least when it comes to concrete problems that demand ready solutions. It can also be a handicap, especially when the issue at hand defies easy troubleshooting. In trying to “fix” something that’s inherently complex, I sometimes create difficulty, rather than alleviating it. When this happens it’s often because I appeased my aversion to discomfort–I wanted the problem to go away quickly, so…
Just yesterday afternoon, I stumbled on this piece of photojournalism. It describes what refugee families in the Diffa region of Niger are eating with the few food staples they can obtain. Buzzfeed reports, Nearly one in five people are victims of food insecurity in landlocked Niger, one of the poorest in the world. The reasons are both man-made and natural. The vast, largely agrarian country experiences a rainy season for only two months each year — and, with climate change causing havoc in…
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I’m always impressed by your openness, candor, and commitment to self evaluation and growth. You really listen to yourself, and you’re open to changing your mind. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and life experiences. Thank you also for sharing my stuffing muffins. I hope you get some more couch & blanket time, friend. That’s an essential part of downtime too.
thank you for all of these, yes as a title “puttering” is definitely interesting (think you have a typo “along” vs “alone”?), a lost word AND verb that should not be forgotten, I love to putter! and just starting to delve into probiotics so a timely article on those
Dear Gena, this post articulates a monumental insight, perhaps one of the most important in your life, from my perspective, because it opens the door out of “winning” something, whatever it is, and leads to a vast meadow of possibility about what genuinely inspires and engages you outside of the approval of tight measurable praameters. And also from my perspective it deepens your time striving to get into med school from a newly evolved awareness. So very very much here that is important to communicate about the beginnings of self trust, the tap root of it really. I am honored to witness it in your writing. Food all looks yummy. Really liked the break up article. About that scenario from the New Yorker: I read it when it came out in 2015, and it raises some sobering potentials and realities, but hey, we are still here, we have our evacuation and survival plans, and as climate change deepens, it’ll be pretty hard to find any one place that’s immune to harsh or catastrophic events. In the meantime I have humble respect for the powerful ocean I live near, I build the earth on my land, and I enjoy breathing in some of the cleanest air in the world. Much love to you xoxo