What’s the greatest obstacle you’ve overcome?

Rusty_fenceI’ve gotten my two early deadlines (Yale SOM and Stanford GSB) out of the way, and now I’m in the height of my personal application cycle for round 1. Haas and Kellogg are due in a little less than a week, and Anderson is due shortly after that.

I can easily say that Stanford’s “What matters to you most and why?” essay question was my favorite so far. My answer was pretty obvious to me from the moment I first read the question; it was just a matter of getting it on the page in the most coherent way possible (and while staying within the word limit). All my general essay outlines are settled by now, and I’m mostly adapting what I’ve already written for previous apps for my remaining ones. But I do have one new essay question I need to answer: The “What was the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome and what did you learn from it?” question.

The most difficult essay questions for me to answer are ones that I don’t have immediate and authentic answers to. When I do have a clear and honest answer, the words just flow out, and I worry much less about how they will be perceived since they are simply true and I 100% believe in them. And if the admissions committees don’t like who I really am, well, I can’t do much about that! But when I don’t have that immediate clear answer, I start playing that admissions game in my mind: Which answer will sound better to the admissions committee? What will get me in? And that, my friend, is a dangerous game to play.

I have a lot of frustrations with the “obstacle” essay question. Any of the personal obstacles I’ve overcome are simply too personal to share in written words, and would probably invite judgment from an outside reader. Any professional obstacles I can think of sound too unimportant and superficial. And I’ve lived a fine life. I didn’t have a childhood filled with struggles or anything like that. So even my personal obstacles seem somewhat lame even in my own mind. And I know that adcoms would say it doesn’t really matter what the obstacle was, but what you learned from it is most important…but it’s always more compelling to have a dramatic story accompany your lesson, right?

So I end up narrowing myself down to a few topics to write about, and none of them jump out to me. Then I start wondering which will be better for the adcoms to read, and I really hate doing that. I am simply not good at putting on a show, and I never have been. And that is probably the biggest aspect of myself I need to work on while in business school, even though I don’t really believe that I *should* have to put on shows. I feel a big sigh coming on…



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