My 6 Tips for Writing Your Personal Statement (this summer!)

Start by taking out your coaching workbook or binder; everything you need is in there.

  1. Perspective: Take a moment to revisit the Trademarked Perspectives you came up with. Is there one that you can use for the college search process? Maybe there is one that we already chose? Create a structure to remind yourself of this and maybe even share it with your friends or family. Anything spoken out loud to another person automatically builds accountability.
  2. Accountability!: Ask for accountability partners wherever you think you may need them.
  3. Values: We’ve likely done some important work examining what we call your life themes or values. These are those 3-5 topics that are unique to you and that you need to honor on a regular basis in order to really feel fulfillment. We’ve either strung some words together (ie: freedom/independence/choice) or described something you understand with a catchy name (ie: family adventure). Take a few minutes to re-examine those and see where you are currently honoring them or not;
  4. Process Values: Use the list you have created as examples as you write about the things you want to highlight to the admissions committee. If a core value is “family,” a process value might be “family adventure.” And maybe the structure you chose was a map. If you pull these together, you have great examples and/or metaphors to use in your essay that communicate how essential having family adventure is to who you are and how you show up in your life.
  5. Inner Critic: Be aware of your “buddy” identified in coaching who always keeps you safe, but sometimes too safe. Make sure you are keeping that little one in check. You might want to ask them to stay outside the door while you write. Saboteurs can really get in the way when we are trying to stand out; often times, our saboteurs want us to stay very small.
  6. The “Crappy First Draft” (thank you, Brene Brown): Remember that this is your first draft; it is simply a place to start. This draft will help you synthesize all that you’ve chosen to pull into the essay that makes you who you are. Once you have those bones, there are many options for the other 25%: How have these served you to overcome an obstacle? How will they serve you in your chosen major? How have they allowed you to persevere in the face of adversity? How will you use them to choose your next steps? Remember that the essay is about YOU; not about the obstacle, the major, the career, the sport, the adventure, or the club.

Choose what you want to use from our coaching or other important self-discovery you have done, tell your saboteur to get lost, and get writing. You have absolutely everything you need to write a personal statement that will communicate exactly who you are to the admissions committee!

Get Writing!

Your Stake in the World: Write a College Essay that Communicates What Matters to You.

When I was in school learning about the coaching paradigm and how different it was from my worldview as a clinical social worker, it changed my life in so many ways. By and large, I shifted from “you are broken and I am here to fix you,” to “you are perfect exactly where you are, and there is always room for growth; what do you want?” My agenda does not run the relationship; rather, the client’s curiosity does. My job is to ask questions that open neural pathways of possibility for clients and to support them to move into action between our sessions. I do this with employees, managers, parents, millennials, and teenagers. 

During my training, I found I had a longing to bring coaching to young people. How different could this world be if students had an opportunity to explore who they are and then learned to leverage those innate talents and strengths 

to shift how they show up in the world? How significant could it be, if, one student at a time, we went from “I have no idea what I want,” to “I know who I am and what will support me to create what I want (even if I don’t know what that looks like right now).” By using students’ real world experience in school, at home, on teams, with affiliations, or at work as the playground for learning, with coaching as the catalyst, we throw a pebble in a pond and watch the whole pond change.

I was working with a 9th grade student who, after some coaching, noticed that the classes where he had the highest grades, were also the classes where he could identify an ally.  He learned that he needed some level of comfort before he could be uncomfortable enough to be seen by the teacher. Learning requires some level of vulnerability. It requires risk. Not only did our work uncover that, once he discovered how it played out, he was motivated to get in the sandbox and play with it.  He came up with a system that started with how he unpacked his bag in class and made eye contact with the teacher. It involved lots of experimenting with putting up his hand in class, whether he wanted to, or not. He would return to our zoom calls every other week, engaging with me in a different way, as well. I could tell things were shifting, but more importantly, he could, too. His mother called me to ask what we were doing together because she had noticed a difference in their home. He started to feel success and he understood that he could actually have an impact, not just in school, but in other areas of his life, as well. What started with “my teacher hates me,” ended with, “I need an ally to feel comfortable, but I can influence who I see as my allies.”

In thinking about this young man in 9th grade, I know that he already has a moment to reflect on to write his college essay. What?? You don’t have to have a ginormous leadership project? You don’t have to be an Eagle Scout? You don’t have to form a non-profit or even be a candy striper at the hospital? The short answer is, “No.” I have spent the last several years picking the brains of high school counselors, college admissions counselors, and folks who are certified to guide students through the college process in the private sector. Guess what? Everyone gives the same advice: to highlight something that communicates who you are. Most would agree, too, that the focus is on the student, not the thing. When a student writes a great (not fancy, which is another blog post!) essay about who they are, they are far more likely to differentiate themselves from the crowd of other applicants.

My 9th grade student could write about how he took his notebook out of his backpack and made eye contact, and what those moments in time taught him about intentionally engaging with other people. He could even marvel at a world where people did this on a regular basis. The admissions committees would learn that he is curious about himself, is willing to take risks in service of his own growth, and that he cares about what connects people with one another. 

Essays are about communicating what a student’s stake is in this world. It is exciting work and when we let students guide the process and we support their agenda, they do a fantastic job at doing just that.

The Red Sweatshirt Strings

There was recently a Facebook post in our community about purchasing sweatshirts for a school trip for elementary students. This trip is a tradition in town, and families are invited to purchase red sweatshirts that both provide much needed warmth for all the outdoor fun and memorialize the event for years to come. Because I had kids in elementary school for what seems like forever and was a chaperone on the trip and a parent helper leading up to the trip, I am well aware of the concern over getting just the right sweatshirt. Here’s the thing: all the sweatshirts look exactly the same. Exactly. You can buy one with a hood or one without a hood. And you can buy youth or adult sizes. But wait. The youth sizes do. not. have. strings. in. the. hood. OMG (picture a car screeching to a halt).

With 100% good intentions – really and truly – when the sweatshirt sales start, parents are warned that they must. buy. the. right. sweatshirt. There must have been a year when a child had a meltdown over their sweatshirt not looking like someone else’s, because for years, parents have been warned that if they don’t buy the right sweatshirt, it would ruin their child’s trip or they’d end up having to buy a second sweatshirt when their child noticed theirs was different. The right sweatshirt was clearly not a youth size. and clearly not a crew neck.

Remember 4th grade? Remember how different kids are, physically? Some are babies and some are grown people? All different shapes and sizes. Some call for youth sizes and some call for adult sizes. But “Oh-holy-hell-I-don’t-want-to-risk-a-crappy time-for-my-kid-the-first-time-they-are-away-from-me-overnight-so-I-have-to-buy-the-right-sweatshirt-oh-crap-what-if-its-too-big-and-looks-like-a-dress-on-them-but-I-have-to-buy-the-one-with-strings-because-what-if-the-other-kids-make-fun-of-my-kid-and-I’m-not-there-to-help-and-oh-shit-what-do-I-do-I-need-to-have-strings-in-the-red-sweatshirt!!!” It is so clear to me that this manic worry about the right sweatshirt comes from an abundance of love and care; from the schools to the parents – no one has anything other than generous intentions. I’m actually so grateful for this dilemma, because it has allowed me to see something in myself that I did not necessarily want to see.

The implied message in the red sweatshirt string proposal is, “You Must Fit In.” What may be true for you, doesn’t really matter. Happiness is in doing it right. Show up with the right clothes. Avoid being an outlier at all costs. Whatever you do, don’t embarrass me.

But when we talk “about” raising kids, parenting kids, teaching kids, don’t we do just the opposite? Don’t we preach “you be you”? Don’t we talk about creativity and following your dream and “it doesn’t matter what they say!”? In our generosity of love and care, adults can confuse the crap out of things.

The red sweatshirt strings have become a metaphor for me. I use it. Not in judgment, but as a point of reflection and a way of asking myself, “What are my red sweatshirt strings?”. Even more profound in the metaphor, is the fact that all six (+) sweatshirts purchased for my family lost the sweatshirt strings as soon as they were put through the wash (yes, I bought the “right”sweatshirts for all of them!).

First, with my kids: Where do I send them mixed messages? I can tell you that I teach them about being kind and loving, but then I may try to connect with them by gossiping about someone. Or I might encourage them to do whatever makes them happy, but then hover over them to make sure that their “happy” fits into my expectations for them. I may even offer “you be you” but “you” better also be “me”.

And then, with myself: Where am I so afraid that if it doesn’t happen perfectly, I feel like my life might fall apart? Where am I holding the reigns so tightly that I don’t allow for an opening of experience or a surrender of results? What fears keep me trying to control every detail instead of relaxing and simply noticing what actually is as the process unfolds? And even more so, where do I engage in frenetic activity, instead of just sitting and noticing what I feel?

The red sweatshirt strings have offered me a checkpoint to pull me back and put space between the thought and what actually leaves my mouth. When I feel my body tighten, or my heart race, or my brain race, I know that the red sweatshirt strings are being activated. I know that I need to put them through the wash. Get rid of them by doing any number of things. I know I need to check in with myself. I know I need to return to the present and notice what is and choose how I want to respond. My wake-up call to the red sweatshirt strings is my awareness that I am trying to control the outcome of something that I have absolutely no control over. It’s that frantic speech pattern of worry and decision and control and “what if?”. And then I need to put the damn sweatshirt through the wash.

When I blog, I blog for me. Not for the reader. I guess that somewhere inside, I am worried about the outcome of something. Instead of yelling at my family, tuning out on social media, manically engaging in activity around my house, I’m going to sit. Notice. Breathe. And see what shows up. And I guess at that point, I’d better be ready to do some laundry.

Showing up for myself: A lesson in how knowing myself changes how I show up for what’s tough.

Trust. It’s such a tricky word. Nothing evokes fear in me like that word. And yet, when I can fully and wholly relax into trust….wait. Let’s face it, I’m not sure I can. But I know I have. So what was different between then and now?

As I write, I am aware that I like to think I trust in the Universe, trust in a higher power, trust in the goodness of the world to take care of me and my loves, I am also aware that I generally have a Plan B. If God doesn’t come through for me, I can always take the wheel. Even in the acknowledgement of this, my heart is racing, I feel edgy, and I really have no peace.

What is that all about? What influences my ability to trust in the Universe? Self care. When I am off the beam – not taking care of myself – all of these fears rise to the top. It is like carbonation bubbling up to the surface and disrupting my peaceful, smooth surface (if you know me, you know that there is very little on the outside that says “peace”, but really, I do feel it on the inside!). Self care looks different for all of us. It took me years to know what self care was for me. I remember thinking self care meant having a giant Snickers at 4:00 every day because “my body was telling me” I needed a Snickers and “we should trust in the wisdom of our bodies,” after all. Horseshit. Other things I played with were staying in my PJs all weekend (pre-kids), drinking, and “girl time”, which always seemed to translate into “gossip time” and I never, ever felt good afterwards. You want to see someone robbed of any chance at peace? Put them in Pj’s for a weekend (after their Friday afternoon Snickers – and not the little “fun” size and not even the grocery aisle size – these were GINORMOUS Snickers), give them lots of alcohol (and whatever other substance or food will help them to “know” they are responding to their body’s wisdom), and let them talk for hours with friends about other friends. Oh yes…and I was probably listening to some depressing music like The Cranberries or the soundtrack from Reality Bites. But I digress….

After lots of work and willingness to give up what I think I know for something I truly know (that word “trust” implied again), it is clear to me what it means to take care of myself. I don’t want the details to muck up the message, so I’ll share that for me, it involves exercise, some sort of spiritual practice, and the right food. It involves fully honoring values that I have discovered are important for me to honor in order for my insides to match my outsides. It involves living in resonance and relaxing into what “is” so that I can know how I feel and acknowledge those feelings (the hard ones are usually fear and embarrassment) in some way, shape or form. Things seem lighter and my attachment to them – my white-knuckled grip – begins to loosen.

So back to trust. I have recently had some “stuff” going on that requires me to rely heavily on the Universe because I am so incredibly powerless over the outcome, that I had to get into a place where I could trust that I, and those who are deep in these weeds with me, would be taken care of. I had to let go of my grip on controlling the outcome and find the trust so that I could surrender the results and trust that the right thing would happen. So what did I do? I took walks. I took care of my food. And my spiritual practice involved writing and a whole heck of a lot of “Lead me, guide me, show me the way.” To the outside world, the “stuff” in my life would have allowed me to say “not enough time”, “x, y, z needs to be taken care of,” and “don’t indulge yourself, you are too busy and need to fix this problem.” But I knew, in some very profound place, that I needed to continue to take care of my body and my soul or I would be useless to those relying on me. Was I afraid? Hells yes. Was it paralyzing? No. Not when I was taking care of myself.

Am I still afraid? Admittedly, yes, fear pops up. It’s here today but as I write (read: spiritual practice) it is subsiding. I’m not in the depths of it, necessarily, but I am still in it. And, ya’ know what? I haven’t been taking care of myself. I’ve been working a lot and making excuses for not getting outside or writing or having meaningful conversations with those I trust. Those are the things that feed me. And the carbonation is rising. It’s actually already risen. I can feel the bubbles disrupting the surface of my being. So I start with writing — here at least — and I make sure I get some exercise today. I have lots on my plate so I will ask for help so that I can do what I need to do to not feel that heart-racing, edgy (and let’s face it – irritable) feeling. And by tonight, my trust will return. My peace will be back. Everyone around me will benefit. And I’ll start all over again tomorrow.

What are you facing today, this week, this month that makes you call into question your ability to trust? Is it your high school senior choosing their next phase? A problem in a relationship that needs attention but your fear is keeping you from addressing it? A health concern of yours or someone you love?

Now ask yourself: “How am I taking care of myself?”

“How am I living in resonance today?”

“Does what I know to be true on my insides – my values, my soul-
speak, my core beliefs about who I am – match what I project on the
outside?”

If the answer is no, stop thinking. Just do it. Do the next right thing. Do whatever it is that you know of (and you do know), that points your attention to caring for yourself. See what happens to that situation that causes you to question your trust. Trust that you are being taken care of. Trust that the next right thing will be revealed to you. Trust in the process. And trust that you and your loves will be fundamentally well. As you do, I trust that your grip on it all will loosen and you will start to feel peace. As you do, maybe nothing other than you will change, but that’s the exact right place for it all to start. I’d love to hear how it goes.