Your authentic voice? answer with an anecdote!
The student in my college essay revising workshop tipped dangerously far back in his chair. Even the chair was nervous.
“Can you look at my essay?” He called. No matter that I was in the middle of a sent–
He handed me an essay draft with tight lips. It was all about how he went from careless to caring about his school work over a few challenging years.
“I don’t like it.” He said. “It’s boring.”
He wasn’t fishing for praise. He didn’t like it.
“Well, if you are bored by it, it’s probably boring,” I agreed.
I skimmed it. Yup.
“When did you realize you could just do no work and get by?” I asked. I sat on the desk.
He waved his hands over his shoulders as if to indicate it was when the dinosaurs were still breeding.
“Your first memory?” I pressed.
“2nd grade,” he said.
“And? That was a while ago…”
“My asthma got so bad I got pulled out of school. I missed a lot of school.”
(His peer sitting beside him was writing about crippling childhood asthma too. Maybe the vulnerability was contagious?)
“How much school?”
“I am not sure there are even ten months in a year,” I said. “So you missed a lot.”
“Yup, I was in and out of the hospital all that time. But at the end of the year, I passed my classes anyway.”
“AH. So you realized you could miss school and still pass at the last minute with trying too hard?”
“Yup” He pointed at me like I’d just earned a MacArthur Genius Award. I always wanted one of those.
“So then, why bother, right?” I pushed.
He looked excited– “Yeah, if I could just do it at the last minute and get by, what was the point? Why should I work hard when I could just chill?”
“That asthma must have sucked,” I added. “Do you have memories of the hospital?”
“Lots,” he said, with widening serious eyes. “It totally sucked.” (“suck” is the vocabulary word that can get the most authenticity mileage).
“Start there,” I advised. “Start as that scared kid in the hospital whose lungs are all gunked up and who can’t breathe and who dashes off his math homework without looking while he’s getting a nebulizer treatment…” (OK, sometimes I riff).
He let his chair legs hit the floor (relief), took his paper back, flipped it over, and began. With a pencil.
With a scene, a real scene. Of his real self. A scared, gasping kid.
Authentic– that’s what I mean.
What it takes to be authentic is your willingness to step beyond the acceptable, easy version of your story. The neat and clean version.
Instead? The real details, the real feelings, the real sharp learning curve.
Not sure about your authentic story? Or authentic feelings? Or where and how to begin writing so you are not bored and your reader isn’t either?
Contact us to talk it through. Because sometimes an authentic conversation is all it takes to get you started.
PS. The student starring in the above anecdote? That young man is a current fellow in The Fellowship Initiative, a JP Morgan Chase philanthropy incubator to help groom and open doors for big-dreaming young men of color. And I have the good luck to be their college essay guide.