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The “I Realized” Trap

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

Is your personal essay missing the most important section?

A thought experiment

Let's pretend you just wrote an essay about the role golf played in your life. About 75% of the way through, 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. We skipped the most important part: the process of overcoming the main problem. “After weeks and weeks of hard word, I realized” should be the main story!

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.

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

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 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. It’s a simple, powerful objective: get the ball from here to there the best way you can, in the least strokes. I realized that there's no such thing as one “correct” swing. The course doesn’t care how Tiger would’ve done it; all that matters is how I choose to do it.

This version uses the Mulan 3-Part Growth to explain the process of coming to a key realization.

– Aaron

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