Writing about yourself is not just hard; it’s really hard.
When people ask me advice for writing a good personal statement I always tell them “be sincere.” In my experience, the essays I connect to the most are ones that have that element of sincerity in common. I have to confess that lately when asked that question I cringe. Not because it’s not a good question to ask, or I don’t want to help, the issue is that I am struggling with the same things you are.
For the past few months I’ve been taking standardized tests, ordering transcripts, asking for letters of recommendation, listing all the things I do in my “spare time”, and trying to write a good personal statement for graduate school. I’m proud of the work I do and things I have achieved and yet I still have that same fear of rejection and anxious feeling that what I have done is not enough. I contact admissions offices to ask questions I already know the answers to but can’t help but ask anyway (the 500 word limit is flexible, there are no “cut-offs”, the community service hours you’ve banked will only marginally help). In short, I am you. And paradoxically, I can’t get out of the head of the person that is going to read my essays.
Working in admissions is helpful because it keeps the application process in context, yet my work experience makes applying so much more challenging because I feel like the quality of whatever I put in my application has to be so good before it can even begin to be bad. My applications are done and for the most part submitted. While there are little pieces I am not 100% confident about, I know I have to trust the process. I did my best to follow my own advice but it was a really hard thing to do.
The root of our anxiety is that we feel like we can’t control what happens and that our fates are decided in some sort of black box. And yes, sometimes this uncertainty keeps me up at night, but I take comfort in knowing that this time next year we will have this process behind us. We will be in a new place making new friends. Things will be okay. Trust me.