Five or so years ago, I sat in my apartment in DC one late winter evening with my friend Reed. We were surrounded by dirty mugs (we’d actually taken pictures at the number of coffee cups in my dishwasher as a joke, to document how hyper-caffeinated we were), index cards, papers. It was a chaotic scene, and I was adding to the chaos with something resembling a meltdown over not being able to figure out a complicated genetics problem.
We were approaching the second exam in our genetics class. The first exam had taken us all by surprise: at that point I was used to getting Cs on post-bacc tests, but most of my peers weren’t, and a hush had fallen over the class when that test was handed back. Few had done well, and some of us had done worse than others.
For me, it wasn’t the single grade so much as the prolonged discouragement of feeling as though I couldn’t catch a break in the program. And I hated the thought of spending yet another semester with the heavy burden of having to redeem myself on the next test, or else end up with a grade on my transcript that I wouldn’t be able to recover from.
Reed and I had been doing our best to prepare ourselves for the test. He was as calm and organized as ever; he’d shown up at my place with an action plan and a stack of neat, detailed flash cards. It was no surprise: Reed was a supernaturally talented student, and in fact, seemed supernaturally talented at everything. He ran weekend marathons and practiced jiu-jitsu at the blackbelt level while achieving near-perfect grades in our program and continuing to work in finance nearly full time. It wasn’t even possible to resent all of the talent and ability, because on top of everything he was a really nice person—and an unusually patient study buddy.
Me? I wasn’t handling our study session so well. After my fourth or fifth crack at a tricky problem, I was begging Reed to simply give me the answer. “Just tell me how to do it,” I moaned. “Once I know, I’ll get to the answer and I’ll show you.”
Reed shook his head firmly. “You have to struggle a little so that you can get to the answer,” he said. “You won’t figure it out until you do.”
I kept trying to convince him that I wasn’t game for this struggle, and he kept refusing to buy it. “I’m going to stay here until you work your way through it,” he said. (It was past midnight).
I was tired and irritated to be getting this kind of a push from a friend, but Reed’s insistence worked. An hour later, I’d solved the problem and explained it to him in my own language. It wasn’t a test or a tutoring session, but it was probably the first real learning breakthrough of my post-bacc, and there were more that followed.
I think about Reed’s words each time I’m feeling spectacularly ill-equipped to do something. I think about how sure he was that, if I spent enough time with it, I’d figure the problem out. The greatest challenge of my post-bacc wasn’t the difficulty of the classes, or the workload, or even the sleep deprivation. It was my belief, which seemed to get affirmed with every poor grade, that I just didn’t have the brain for science. Reed believed otherwise, and his faith softened my own lack of confidence.
This week, I began my second clinical rotation. It’s at a large hospital, and I’m working in acute care. It’s a much faster pace and a more stressful environment than my first rotation. I’ve learned how to apply clinical judgment in the last seven weeks, but now I’m facing cases that are a lot more medically complex than most of the ones I’ve seen. It’s daunting, and while I haven’t completed an assessment on my own yet, I’m wondering if I have the critical thinking skills to do it.
I’m glancing back to that night with Reed and reminding myself that discouragement and self-doubt can be much bigger obstacles than lack of knowledge or practice. I’m keeping in mind that every single dietitian goes through this experience; my current preceptors did it, too. I have to imagine that no one feels prepared, or able, at the start. Interns do their best, and preceptors are there to guide, support and teach them along the way.
At my last rotation, one of my preceptors noted that I was still hesitant to address labs in my assessments. She was right: I still had the feeling that I wasn’t ready for the more medical parts of dietetic practice, interpreting bloodwork included. “Take a crack at it,” she said. She wasn’t being flip; she went on to explain that she’d correct me and explain my mistakes if necessary. But she wanted me to try.
She wanted this, I know, because it was her job to help me become more confident. And confidence, at least in these types of settings, isn’t a have or a have not. It’s acquired through practice, through trying and sometimes failing and then trying some more. My preceptor gave me the same push that Reed gave me five years ago.
Today, at the start of week 2, I’m giving myself that push. I don’t expect to wield perfect clinical judgment this week, but I’ll challenge myself to keep trying. That same, excellent preceptor at my last rotation said to me at the beginning, “what we’re really looking for is growth.” Growth I can handle; growth I can do.
Wishing you all a great Sunday, and a good start to the week. I’ve got a cozy new soup recipe headed your way in a couple days. For now, here are some links I’ve been enjoying.
I cook with cashew cream all the time, but walnut cream? What a great idea (and great looking risotto) from my friend Erin!
Has anyone else started collecting Thanksgiving recipes yet? This vegan pot pie is going on my list!
I love the idea of a mole pasta, and this particular one looks so cozy and filling. Bonus points for plant protein from black beans.
Can’t wait to try this wintery cauliflower, black lentil and carrot salad with some of my tofu feta.
Finally, a stunning dessert: vegan black sesame chocolate cake with matcha cream cheese frosting. I’m not a huge matcha person, but this would be a welcome way to enjoy it 😉
1. I enjoyed this touching essay by a pediatrician, published in the New York Times, about wearing a hijab around family to help mask the side effects of chemotherapy.
2. An interesting new study, conducted by a doctoral candidate in the UK, associates vegan diet with improved mental and physical health for Type 2 Diabetes patients.
3. I’m sort of fascinated by flow states, and this article touches upon their relationship with the perception of time.
4. Amanda Mull’s hard-hitting, insightful perspective on the language and branding of new health/nutrition apps, home testing kits, and other technologies. Her take, which I think is compelling, is that the emphasis that these technologies place on “optimization” echoes and potentially reinforces the perfectionism and rule-bound thinking seen in eating disorders.
5. I’m not a mother, but having had my own brushes with mental illness, I’m really grateful to Alissa Ambrose for this essay on post-partum depression.
It’s interesting, what gets unearthed during stressful times. It was a long week, in spite of the July 4th holiday, thanks to my internship wrapping up and my mom’s knee replacement surgery. She’s doing really well, but these moments are fraught and trying for everyone. I haven’t exactly been a picture of equanimity or grace over the last seven days. What I have been, though—and it’s been interesting to notice this—is honest. I’ve honestly expressed my needs (which included asking for help last…
I nearly broke into clapping (at home, alone) earlier this week when I read Amanda Cohen’s Women’s Health article on women and appetite. In her essay, Cohen describes a scenario I think most women can relate to: Over the years, I’ve watched hundreds of dinners from the pass, and I have a terrible confession to make: When I see two women sit down, my heart sinks a little, because of what I see happen so often. First, one of them says, “I’m starving,…
I’m writing this post as I make my way home from a faraway place. I’ll be sharing more about the trip next weekend. For now, I’ll say that this experience has made me grateful on two fronts: grateful for the opportunity to leave home and explore a different part of the world, and grateful to be coming back. It’s the gratitude for home I want to focus on today. Last week, I wrote about my exercise in journaling about things that make me…
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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Hi Gena! Thank you for sharing my recipe in your post! I have been following your blog for years and have SO appreciated you sharing your journey with us. Thank you for your thoughtful writings. 🙂
Hello Gena, like Sarah who commented above, I want to thank you for this post. I know I comment fairly frequently on your blog. Your thoughts, and the way you express them, often resonate with me. A fortnight ago I found out that the Press I work for as an in-house editor is closing its doors at the end of this year, and so I’ll be jobless from January 2019. I want to try freelance editing but, despite my experiences on the job, I lack the required postgraduate qualifications. I’m utterly terrified at the thought of putting myself out there, networking, finding clients, costing quotes, making a living, looking professional. Basically, I’m terrified that I’m not good enough. It has always boiled down to this for me, pre-anorexia, during anorexia and in all the years post-anorexia: doubting myself, feeling that I’m not good enough. I know that I will find a way through this, but in the moment, it’s hard to see that way through, or to be patient with myself as I navigate it. I found your thoughtful words and the courage with which you spoke of giving yourself a push next week very helpful. Thank you! And I hope your week goes well for you. xo
I thought about your post over the weekend. It’s always amazing to see ourselves through someone else’s eyes: the fact that the other person believes in us and has faith that we can do something even when we doubt our own ability. No man is an island and it’s tough to remember that when you are in the throes of a difficult situation. Everyone made fun of Hillary Clinton when she said that “it takes a village” but truer words were never spoken!
I read the two articles, the one on technology and weight loss, etc. and the one on the doctor going through chemo and wearing her hijab. One article that was incredibly frightening on many levels and one that made me sniffle a bit! Thank you for both.
I bet you are going to have a good week, one way or another! Take care and thanks for the great post.
Thank you so much for sharing my recipe post on your blog! Means a lot to me 🙂 And it was very interesting to read about your studies, brought back a lot of memories (didn’t study the same subject but the learning and confidence struggle was similar). Wishing you a wonderful new week!
I wish I knew how to say this more elegantly and less bluntly, but also hope you know I say it with the best thoughts and hopes for you: if you felt fully prepared at this stage, it would be because you were embarking on a career that was too easy, and you would be bored soon. I know you can take this leap this week!,
yes baby steps are hard and painful but that is the way all journeys need to start is it not? growth is possible – you can do this. You are strong and courageous as you have shown through your struggle with food and your willingness to share your story with others. Hold that truth about your self and remember to breathe. Sending grounding light and thoughts
Thank you so much for this post today. Reading about your struggles is so helpful. I am back to school again and feeling like the biggest idiot because I just don’t get things as fast as others. I often find myself doubting that I have a brain for science – or anythig at all! So thank you so much for these words today. They couldn’t have come at a more perfect time!
One of my preceptors told me to make mistakes in my internship because that’s the place to learn. I was so thankful for that advice. (I promptly took her up on it by recommending bolus tube feeds for a patient that had a phos of 1. I’ve never missed someone who was refeeding again!). Lovely insight, as always; thank you for sharing.