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  • Writer's pictureaeraustol

Values-Hunting: The Essence of You

Here I go again, preaching about college essays and how to approach them. Here I go again, trying to convince a teenager it's fun and cathartic to write. No matter what, it's challenging to develop a topic, even if you love to write. Pressure is high, and it's something we do little in our lives - write raving essays about ourselves unless you keep a journal, but even then, I'm sure you would only want to share it with yourself. If you are like me, my Journal is not typically a place where I highlight my strengths, values, and growth potential...They are more like talking to my best friend, who loves me no matter what crazy thing I say. Like my rendition of Ground Hog Day, I'm typically self-deprecating and expressing my life's struggles.

It's more like this:

Dear Journal,

I laughed at an appropriate time in class again today. I think I might have a laughing disorder. As usual, Mr. Cool was just telling a story about his life—something about his dog—and I literally couldn't stop laughing. I had to pretend like I wasn't laughing, which was torture. It's like trying to hold in my pee. I am such a loser.

One of my methods for helping students come up with a topic is to start small. Well, values aren't small, but their evidence can be found in life's small, everyday stuff. Spend some time pondering this list of values. If you have others that you would add, that is perfectly fine! Write down your top five values.

If this is a difficult task, think about what you do daily. How do you spend your time? Do you eat standing up over the sink, or do you like to sit and take your time for a meal? If your friend called to tell you something sad or has just won an athletic game and wanted to meet for a coffee, would you finish what you are doing first or immediately? Do you get mad when you see someone being made fun of? Do you like a quiet evening at home, or do you like being around people? Is trust important in a friendship, or is doing something adventurous with a friend more important?

Values guide decisions and activities, especially those we are committed to. Here is a great article about commitment versus involvement.

Values List:

Compassion           Creativity  Time                                                     

Honesty                  Innovation Connection

Integrity                 Gratitude

Authenticity           Adaptability/Flexibility

Loyalty                    Beauty

Communication     Achievement

Adventure              Balance

Freedom                 Peace

Courage                  Fairness/Justice

Community            Equality

Accountability       Wisdom

Boldness                 Respect                      

Commitment Efficiency


Now, pick one value from your top five and write about a time when you embodied that value. You don’t have to use complete sentences! You can also turn it into a mini-story! It doesn't matter how you tell the story; as long as you can capture the gist of what happened and make sense of what reveals your values and, thus, your character.

Why must I do this???

Well, first, you don't have to. Second, you don't have to do it all at once. That's why I keep saying:

Slow and steady wins the race.

Start with picking your top five values and then return to the rest of the activity another day. That, my friends, is part of the beauty of starting this whole process early.

These stories of our lives make up who we are, and that is exactly what the personal statement should be about. But right now, you don't have to worry about how these value-revealing moments will turn into your essay.

One Step at a Time.

Make sure to save everything you do into a College Prep folder so that when you write for real, you'll have it all in one place. You'll have all kinds of material to draw from rather than starting from scratch.

Ain't nobody got time to start from scratch.

Cheers and happy value-hunting.

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