It is difficult to begin. This is almost always the case: in writing an essay or choosing a seat on the first day of the first class of freshman year. Or starting a new project, like this one. One of my favorite quotes is by great Civil Rights activist and educator Myles Horton, who said“We make the road by walking.”
In other words, the only way to find a path is to begin.
In that light, here is another interesting quote…this one written in the fall of 2005 when I was seventeen years old. It is the opening line of my application to the University of Oregon.
“I have never liked being painted inside a box. I want to become larger than I am expected to be.”
I found my application while searching for an inspiration for the first post on my new blog. I am now twenty-five, and have seven years of college life behind me, in the form of an undergraduate and two master’s degrees. And I cannot believe that those words I wrote eight years ago still apply to this day.
The reason I think this is a good start to an application essay is that it conveys something that’s different about me: a creative impulse and a drive to do exciting, important things. I imagine it might have indicated to the Admissions Office that I was someone who would make a difference on their campus.
Maybe someday I’ll write a post about application strategies, or even about opening lines. For now, let me just say that I forgot those words completely as soon as I received my acceptance letter. They flew right out of my head in all the flurry and excitement of preparing to leave for college and start my new life. And there’s no way I could have know then, at seventeen, how much I would live up to that opening line. It was the introduction to the new chapter of my life.
When I left high school, I thought I wanted to be an English teacher. When I left college, I thought I wanted to be a sociology professor. When I finished my first master’s, I thought I wanted to be a geography professor. Now, at the end of three higher degrees, I no longer know exactly what I want to do with my life. I have a very clear view of who I want to be, and many details of what I would like to do and how I want to live. But the specifics of a career are a bit murky now. Murkier than they’ve ever been, really. While that probably reads like a problem, the reality is that I am fabulously confident and inspired. There are a dozen good paths I can imagine, and lots of short-term exploration that can lead me closer to many goals simultaneously. My experience of young adulthood has been one of expanding opportunity, and a joyful understanding of what there is in the world, and how much I could become.
But now, more than ever, I dislike being painted inside a box. When people ask me what I do, I always have to think to myself “which version should I share?” I believe this is true of most people out there: we pick a certain narrative of our lives and try to get by telling half-truths and sticking with the crowd. Here’s the beauty of college life, and something I already miss deeply: that “I’m a college student” is actually a really good answer to that “what do you do?” question. It communicates an honest version of seeking and adventuring and growing up. It is not expected to mean the same thing to every person.
At seventeen I wrote that I wanted to become larger than I was expected to be. That’s a broad goal. I’ve underachieved in many fields, from mathematics to sports to comfort in filling out forms or riding bicycles (two of my greatest and most irrational fears). But in the ways that have mattered most to me, I have fulfilled my goals. And, college behind me, I plan to keep moving in that direction.
I hope that my words here will offer some help to your journey as well.
Please leave a comment for me here. And if anyone is willing to share an excerpt from their applications, I would love to see them!