Writing essays may be akin to navel-gazing. You need to understand who you are and where you’ve come from. One of the most difficult parts of writing many essays is coming up with the “lessons learned” out of a story. Schools like Tuck and Kellogg specifically ask you what you learned from an experience. It’s hard enough to figure out what story to write about, but then you have to figure out what you learned from it?
This 10-minute example at the end of this university lecture on Positive Psychology by Harvard Prof Tal Ben-Shahar may prove useful if you’re struggling with this task:
If you draw a timeline of your life, there will inevitably be incidents where you failed or were set back and did not achieve your hopes and dreams. What can you say about the changes that those events forced on you? When you struggled, what did you internalize? Where did you grow into a new person — and how did that new person become better equipped to manage the success that came after?
This positive perspective thing is not about spinning or whitewashing your stories. It’s about looking for evidence of maturation and the inevitable life lessons that we are served up — that hopefully everyone is willingly accepting! (If you don’t, you’re bound to be blessed with the same-exact struggle or setback repeatedly until you do.)
Even if you were successful in what you were attempting, there still should be evidence of growth, adaptation and change.
These types of insights are more powerful contributors to the adcom’s understanding of who you are than the events themselves. This is where you can set yourself apart from the crowd. Demonstrating your insights shows the maturity that you bring, and the unique perspective that only you can offer.
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