• Aaron Blumenthal

The “I Realized” Trap: Common Mistakes Part 1

Is your personal essay missing the most important section?

You’ve written your personal essay as an exciting story with yourself as the main character. But it still might be missing the most important part! Let’s imagine you just wrote a great essay about the role that golf played in your life. About 75% of the way through the essay, you have this:

My coach told me I needed to fix my swing or I’d never make varsity. After weeks and weeks of hard work, I realized that there is no such thing as a “correct” swing, and that the most important lesson is to believe in myself and be true to who I am.

What’s missing?

A lot of students write essays like this. It might seem like nothing is missing, but we actually skipped the most important part: the process of overcoming the main problem. If you think about it, “After weeks and weeks of hard word, I realized” should actually be the main story!


Harry Potter Example

Here’s a familiar example to help you see what I mean. Imagine the whole Harry Potter series was just two sentences:

Harry found out he was a wizard. After years of hard work, he defeated the wizard who killed his parents.

You can tell that something's missing, right?


How can I fix it?

If your essay has an “I realized” or “I learned,” you need to describe how you realized or learned this main lesson (as well as how you felt during and after the process).


Fixed Version (adding in the process)

My coach told me I needed to fix my swing or I’d never make varsity. At first, I spent hours watching famous golfers like Tiger Woods so I could copy them. But that process was frustrating; it never felt right to just do it the way someone else did, and it wasn’t exactly getting me results, either. After what must have been my hundredth bunker shot, I took my bogeys as a sign that something wasn’t working. I sat myself down and asked some tough questions: Why isn’t my swing working? What kind of swing do I want to have? Why do I even golf? Some of those questions were easier to answer than others. I golf because I love the feeling of being out there on the fairway, staring out at the green at the other end of the hole. It’s such a simple, powerful objective: get the ball from here to there the best way you can, in the least strokes. The course doesn’t care Tiger would’ve done it; all that matters is how I choose to do it. I realized that there is no such thing as one universally “correct” swing, and that the most important lesson is to be true to who I am and use that knowledge to pursue my own goals the best way I can.

Let us know!

Do you have an “I realized” in your personal essay? Did you cover the process of getting to that realization? Let us know in the comments!


-Aaron

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