CRAFTING YOUR EXTRAORDINARY STORY FROM YOUR ‘MUNDANE’ LIFE
“I don’t know what to write for my personal essay; my life is so mundane.”
If this thought crosses your mind as you stare at a blank document page, hoping inspiration will strike so that you can impress the college of your dreams, you’re in the right place. First, take a deep breath. Your life is not as mundane as you believe. How do I know this? Easy. Because there is no other you on this planet, and life is never boring. It’s just familiar, but familiarity to you can be intriguing to the college admissions officer that picks up your essay. All you need to do is step outside of yourself, assess your life, and write about the compelling story that is you. I’m here to show you just how to do that. Now, you don’t need to have gone through an extraordinary experience to write a unique essay. Instead, you just need to know how to present your story. Let’s take a look at what I mean. Below is an example of something mundane yet fantastic that happened when I was six.
I was six when my life was forever changed. Up until that fateful day, I was ignorant of the existence of other worlds, having been content to explore the reality around me. I hadn’t yet discovered portals to other lands that were bound by the seemingly fragile covers that held them together. I wasn’t yet introduced to the magic captured by ink, or lured in by its soft whispers for adventure and intrigue. It was on that day, however, when my ignorant yet perceptive six-year-old self caught a glimpse of something bright orange in a sea of muted colors on the library’s bookshelf. Like a sailor lured by a siren’s voice, I found myself holding a somewhat intimidating-looking novel with a dragon on the cover, its eyes boring into mine, clearly asking, “Don’t you want to know what’s inside?” It was titled The Hobbit, a word that was foreign on my tongue, but one that seemed to hold a promise. Of what, I wasn’t sure, but I knew I needed to find out. So I convinced my mom to read it with me, sitting for long periods of time, spelling out the words that were too difficult, and …. Incredibly, in doing so, I learned the language of spells and magic. It was a small book, but one that forever impacted my life.
I didn’t know at the time that some stories were more than just tales, but I soon found out that the power of the written word is both the true guardian of history and the innovator of tomorrow. I had the briefest taste of this knowledge and I wanted more. My hunger was insatiable, and so I read on, and as I devoured books, my mind expanded. The written word became my teacher, and as I got older, I slowly transitioned from stories that spoke of fantastical lands and supernatural beings to history, science fiction and everything in between. I became friends with past leaders of our world, understood the difficulties they faced, and the challenges they overcame. And I heard their call. Words weren’t meant to just tell stories. They were meant to change the world. If I could learn to wield that power, then I, too, could help make some changes happen.
The above is an example of something that at first appears very banal, but that had a profound impact on me. This example conveys two important facts. The first is that your personal essay does not have to be about how you marathoned from New York to California (I mean…if you did do that, by all means, write about it). Secondly, the essence of it should showcase the long-lasting impact it had on you. The next question you may have is how do I showcase that? How do I translate that on to paper? One easy way is to go through the event and write about it from the perspective of your senses. If you have four of the five senses, you’ll be able to paint your story in an intriguing manner. Let’s use my example above to look at what I mean by this:
What did you see? Something bright orange in a sea of muted colors on the library’s bookshelf. What did you touch? I found myself holding a somewhat intimidating-looking novel.
What did you hear? a dragon…clearly asking, “Don’t you want to know what’s inside?”
What did you taste? I had the briefest taste of this knowledge…my hunger was insatiable.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you have the freedom to describe objects or sounds as subjectively as you would like. This allows you to describe words as spells, a mountain as an ‘a mound of all my problems with freedom lying just on the other side’. Don’t discount your emotions in this essay, instead, wield them!
Now, it doesn’t have to be a book, it can be an experience–anything from a birthday party to a museum tour. The key isn’t to find the one thing that you’ve done or been through that no one else has. For most of us, that’s impossible. It isn’t so much what you’re writing about as it is why you’re writing about it. Dig deep; what emotion did that novel, experience, or conversation invoke in you? Describe that, but don’t stop there. Explain how that experience changed you. This speaks of your character, grit, and perseverance. By highlighting your personal traits, your essay will stand out.