I got a lot of good advice while I was a post-bacc student. Some of it took a while to settle in, either because I needed to overcome some initial resistance in order to see its truth, or because I couldn’t grasp what had been offered without hindsight to help me. Some if it hit me immediately and changed how I saw things.
An example of the latter is something my friend Erin said to me one day over coffee. I’d just wrapped up an exam for a class, and I was excitedly telling her about how I intended to use the little break I had before my next big test: scrambling to get ahead in my classes, memorizing and studying as far ahead of the next exam as possible.
Erin, who by then had completed her first year of medical school, paused.
“That’s all great,” she said. “But the thing I’ve learned in med school is that it’s really important to savor whatever free time you get. There will always be another test, another obstacle, another thing to cram for. When you can rest, rest. Cook, see movies, see your friends, have a date night with your significant other, whatever. You won’t always be able to do those things, so you learn to do them when you can.”
Erin’s words hit home. For two years, I’d been trapped in a pattern of thinking I had to use every lull in my coursework to get ahead. It was, I realized, a lose-lose scenario: trying to study that far in advance of a test wasn’t particularly effective, since I tend not to retain information I’ve memorized weeks before an exam. And doing so cost me the few, precious pockets of free time I had in those days.
My post-bacc made me feel helpless: it was the first time in my life when effort and discipline seemed to get me nowhere. Instead of accepting that I could only do and accomplish so much—the rest was going to be a matter of letting the chips fall where they may—I fought desperately to obtain a sense of mastery.
Listening to Erin, I realized that my need to use every spare moment as an opportunity to fight against inevitable academic struggle was keeping me prisoner. At the time, I was still planning to go to medical school, and it dawned on me that if I kept up with this pattern of behavior it might well be a decade before I allowed myself to feel free—a grim prospect.
I can’t say that I changed my tune overnight, but I did loosen up after that conversation. I stopped trying to get ahead frantically, and it was a turning point in my life as a pre-med. It’s the moment when I started cultivating friendships with my peers in earnest, began exploring and getting to know Washington, D.C., and when I accepted, however begrudgingly, the fact that I could only do my best. Needless to say, my academic performance didn’t suffer because I was recharging between tests. If anything, I found my (wobbly) sea legs as a student.
On August 1st, just a few days ago, I started encircling myself with rules and regulations about how I’ll spend these last four weeks before my DI starts. I’d devote a certain number of hours per day getting ahead on study guides, tighten my schedule in various ways to prepare myself for more rigid working hours, and start reviewing various reference manuals in order to be primed for clinical environments.
None of these efforts would be impractical. But they’re more than a little reminiscent of my time as a tense, worried post-bacc student who awarded far too much power to self-discipline.
Instead of winnowing away my pleasure and spare time, I’m using Erin’s advice to guide me. I don’t need to drain the sweetness out of August in order to ready myself for a different kind of hard work; the work will challenge me whether I deprive myself needlessly now or not. I’ll make time and space for the preparations I need to do, while also continuing to savor summer in New York, as I have been. I’ll take care of my study guides and see friends; review some of my old medical nutrition therapy notes and take ambling afternoon walks; get my paperwork together and indulge in a couple of committed TV binges.
There may come a time when I have to sacrifice most of my personal time for the DI, but that time isn’t now. Even once it starts, I hope I can treat the internship the way I ultimately learned to treat my post-bacc: doing the best I can and letting go of the rest. Allowing things to be easy when they can be and drawing on whatever inner resources I’ve got when they can’t be. Not wasting moments of rest because I’m primed for the next struggle; not tensing up against the experience more than I need to.
Wishing you all a full experience of this last official month of that summer—whatever that means to you. Here are the recipes and reads I’ve been peeking at this week.
A light, beautiful breakfast: blueberry chia pudding with salted seed brittle.
Calling all comfort food lovers! I’m drooling over Alissa’s barbecue chickpea cauliflower pizza.
A perfect, vegan summer side: coconut milk corn.
I love an untraditional pasta, and this vegan cajun pasta looks so flavorful.
I made a batch of crumble yesterday and immediately regretted turning the oven on. Lindsay’s espresso dark chocolate sorbet is a much better option for this coming week.
1. An interesting perspective on how doctors may be taking too lax an approach to bone health and osteoporosis screening.
2. Screening is available for teen depression, but securing quality treatment and care may be much more complex. An important article from the Washington Post takes a closer look at the impact of limited psychological care options on teens and their families.
3. As a dietetics student, I spent plenty of time learning the signs, symptoms, and screening tools for malnutrition and wasting. Still, malnourishment often slips through the cracks in clinical settings, and it’s contributing to mortality and extended hospital stays.
4. I like Maryam Zaringhalam’s perspective on being a woman in the sciences. She acknowledges the challenges women can face, but she questions media coverage that may gloss over the work that women are doing to create a more equitable field:
But despite best intentions, that same flavor of media coverage piles up to paint a picture of what it’s like to be a woman in science that is both jarring and, in my experience, does not really reflect the complete reality. That’s because these pieces frequently ignore the change-makers working to fix a broken system. They perpetuate a narrative that paints women as passive victims, rather than people who are wise to science’s systemic inequities and advocate for change from a well of evidence and lived experience. Spotlighting injustice while ignoring the solutions we put forward erases our agency.
5. In the face of climate change, an environmental scientist examines what will happen to the world’s largest penguin colony. The article gave me faith in the penguins’ resilience.
Tomorrow I’m sharing one of my favorite summer breakfasts from Power Plates (spoiler alert: it’s almost dessert-worthy!). Till soon, take good care.
Happy weekend to you all, and to those of you who are celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, I wish you a wonderful holiday! I spent last night and this morning with my mother and Steven, and I’ll be gathering with a small group of family friends later today. I haven’t done much cooking–I’m still climbing back from some post-cookbook burnout–but I do have my lentil and sweet potato loaf ready for sharing. I’ve had mixed feelings about the holiday season this year, for reasons…
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the tug-of-war between knowing when to persist with something and when to let go. Years ago, I wrote a post about not getting into med school. When I was writing it, I thought that I was telling a story of failure, of things not going the way that I had wanted them to go. As is so often the case, readers pointed me to a different, underlying meaning in the post. It wasn’t about failing…
Happy weekend, friends. I hope that you’re enjoying some restful time. After a week of totally unseasonal mid-70s weather here in NYC, it’s finally cooling off today, and it feels like fall again. I’ve set this aside as being a quiet weekend, as I have my next round of exams starting on Tuesday. I haven’t had quite as much time to prepare as I did for the first batch of mid-terms, so I’m a bit anxious about getting down to work, but hopefully…
Here we are, in the final days of 2014. It has been quite a year, and I look forward to sharing some reflections with you all later this week. For now, some weekend reading, brought to you while Steven and I dance into the wee hours at my friend Gabi’s wedding. Enjoy! Christmas is over, but this green and red zucchini pasta dish is still calling my name! This cauliflower and avocado salad with pomegranate seeds is so gorgeously simple, yet colorful, and…