Today let's talk about courage. Guts. Intestinal fortitude. What does this have to with college essays? Everything.
Summoning the courage to do something difficult, like writing about a vulnerable moment, is anything but easy. But in essay writing, as in life, it is vitally important.
If you want to write a really special personal statement, you're going to have to get out of your comfort zone. Take a risk. Reach so far that you might fall on your face.
Avoid the impulse to scan your list of achievements and pick the topic that shines the most saintly light on you.
That road leads to cliches; things like the tenth grade mission trip, or heartfelt lessons at grandma's knee, or maybe that heroic effort to overcome a torn ACL and take the field again.
Nobody doubts that those were truly meaningful, life-changing events for you. Please don't think that I'm making fun of them. I'm not. But someone probably will.
Who? The people who have read those essays a million times before. The people you don't want to bore with cliches. Admissions officers.
There is tremendous pressure not to mess up your personal statement. It's one of the most important parts of your college application. But caution is the enemy of creativity.
Caution can hold you back from greatness.
Take a deep breath, close your eyes and decide what you truly care about. What drives you? What ideals would you fight for?
What great work are you on this earth to do? How will college serve that?
Take ownership of your goals and the process of achieving them, even if they aren't perfectly clear right now. Don't accept the easy answer or the safe essay topic.
Write about something so close to your heart that it makes you uncomfortable. Be brave enough to put yourself out there. Be vulnerable. Be honest.
Some of the greatest essays I've read were about awkward or even embarrassing things. But they were human. They showed that person's real self. Unvarnished, alive.
Have the strength to be sincere, to take a creative risk, to be unique. As Herman Melville said, "It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation."
It just takes a little courage.