Does anything matter now? Yes!
It’s hard to think straight some days about what matters, when we’ve lost so much in the past year of the pandemic. We’re at the 500,000 mark, in February; where is the sun, again? But in this context, your story matters more than ever.
It can be hard to think well about future, about goals, when getting through the day sometimes takes all we have– or as my friend and mentor Margaret Klawunn put it, while we’re “fluctuating between boredom and terror.” Colleges are trying to keep up with the new landscape, adjusting their admission requirements to accommodate student realities, the boring, the terrible and the indelibly altered. Your story, when you find it, is neither boring, or terrifying. It’s perfect, and your job is to unearth it.
Who am I? What do I care about? Where do I belong? These questions are the familiar soundtrack for adolescence. And even with the world shaken like a snow globe, teens are leaning in and doing cool things like they always have: smack-talking close-mindedness on Instagram, contemplating G/god, falling in love and in like with each other, coming up with outside the box solutions, building new wings with which to test the nest, supporting each other through tragedies big and small.
Consider what you’ll showcase
Your story matters more than ever for your college admissions process. Your essay will illuminate that. You don’t have to worry if you did not do something outstanding during the pandemic.
But you do need to pause, observe yourself, and consider: what do you want to highlight, showcase, now? Maybe you learned to cook the perfect egg. Maybe you tutored a younger sibling, or helped someone not loathe Zoom too much. Maybe you read a book or a post that blew you open. Maybe you developed a practice or routine that sustained you.
Your story starts with a single detail of your day/days
Excavate a detail, an action, and describe it. Start there. Write it down. Then ask yourself what comes next. Who else is involved? How does this fit with your personality, affinities, preferences? What is the next thing that happens? Who besides you does it impact? How far back can you connect the dots? Does this single detail overlap with other areas of interests or habits?
When you hit a wall, go back and choose another detail. Start again. Notice how you feel writing about it. Include that. Don’t be afraid to include everything at first. Nothing is off limits.
Clear the Clouds and See that Light!
When I had the opportunity to be out of Brooklyn and by the water this winter, I took note that the East, where the sun rose, seemed very, very far away. A lot of darkness got cleared before that sun was anywhere near up. The clouds moved around indecisively, the light seemed like it would show here, now there. But then the orange seemed to cohere, and this radiant, inarguable ball showed up above the horizon line, and day swooped in. I think our stories, and their relevance, can be just like this. It can take a little while to figuring out where the light is coming from, but once it shows, it shines on everything.
Some simples ways to find your story, and tell a story that matters:
- Make a list of the details of your average day, and the feelings that accompany them. What moments feel the best, or the worst? When do you feel most yourself? Why might that be?
- Scroll back through your social media history. What posts have you reacted to most strongly, and why might that be?
- Who do you live with, and which of their habits make you crazy? Or make you feel comfortable? Why? How do these compare with your own habits?
- What have you obsessed about in the pandemic, and why?
- Look around the physical spaces where you spend the most times. Which items in the space best represent you, and why? How do these connect to your interests, personality, loves?
The trick here is to never stop with the answer itself, but follow where your mind flows from it.
Feeling like nothing matters, and especially not your story?
We hear you. And this is why we need each other! We recommend dumping all your worst fears about irrelevance on the page or in a voice recording, to get them out of the way. Then, start the exercises again. Or call a best friend and say “Can I fear dump? I just want you to listen, but not say anything.” Try it, then write again. And finally, if that doesn’t get you over the hump, we love supporting students at the beginning stages, to clear the clouds and head toward the light. Contact us for support accepting that your story matters, and identifying which story you want to tell. In a life lived, there are really too many to pick from.
Sometimes as an antidote
To fear of death,
I eat the stars.