A human life is not a life until it is examined;
it is not a life until it is truly remembered and appropriated;
and such a remembrance is not something passive but active. . .
the creative construction of one’s life.
A friend of mine, Ted (all names changed), is in the throes of a job search. He’s interviewed at one company that seems interested as they asked him to take an Emotional Intelligence assessment. His answers were analyzed into a fifty-page report! He was pleasantly surprised by much of what the report outlined and disagreed with some aspects of the diagnosis.
I’m not a fan of personality assessments as I think they’re limited in how they can actually help a person. I don’t think the results allow for a person to “appropriate” who they are in all their nuance and complexity. Taking an assessment is not the same as examining one’s life.
This past week I was an instructor at a three-day college essay writing boot camp for seniors at a private high school. As you may know, part of the college application process requires at least one, sometimes two essays. The prompts are common to all schools. Check out some of the prompts that high schoolers across the U.S. are writing about:
Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.
Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you and explain that influence.
Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you and what did you learn from the experience?
Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
Imagine you were applying for a job and the director of H.R. handed you these prompts and asked you to select two and write a six-hundred and fifty-word essay on each. Could you do it?!
I worked with an impressive group of seniors and each of their approaches to selecting an essay moved me.
Jared loves molecular biology – it’s what makes him come alive.
Darren still wrestles with the death of his dad who taught him the importance of devoting ten thousand hours to whatever skill he wants to master.
Lacey is a nice Jewish girl who went away to summer school and had the shock of her life – she became friends with a Jordanian Muslim.
Ted has a diagnosed OCD condition that complicated his coming out gay to his family and friends because he needed to do it “perfectly.”
When Eddie began high school he went around saying, “I’m not just a freshman” and he’s been resisting labels ever since.
David used to play soccer until he climbed on a surf board, caught his first wave and found inner calm.
I was moved working with these kids as they agonized over what prompt to choose and what story to tell. I marveled at their excitement as they realized they did have a story to tell, that they are different today than when they began high school. I thrilled as each released his or her grip on fear and found their own individual voice.
The wonder of the boot camp was seeing each kid learn how to live a life worth examining and sharing. And they learned this greatest of skills by being willing to not worry if a particular story is what “they” (school admissions officers) want to hear but worry rather – does this story tell who I am?
What about you – what’s your story?
Are you the hero of your own life?
Do you want to break through the negative thinking that is preventing you
from being influential and heard?
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with enhanced confidence,
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