Saturday, August 26, 2006

What matters most to me?

Right now what matters most to me is completing a draft of the "What matters most to you and Why?" essay in the next 2 days. Why of course is obvious, I want to rewrite it a million times in September! :D

This essay has been a journey in itself :-)

I figured out 2 approaches to tackle this question and wondered which one is more sensible:
Write out all the interesting/significant events of my life and find a common thread between them.
Think of the theme and write out all the incidents keeping the theme in mind.

The first approach seemed too much like a trial and error method. Moreover although I might find a thread connecting the incidents of my life, it need not be what matters most to me. I feel the purpose of this question is for the reader to understand what single thing motivates one's actions and responses to the events of life, a single thing that has shaped one's life into what it is today. I cannot achieve this through the first approach. Moreover the moment I read this question I knew what my theme should be. There really is something that matters more to me than anything else :-). So I decided to go with the first approach.

Identifying the theme is only a tiny step of my journey. After all the essays I've written so far, I know very well what are the significant events of my life, I also know what personal characteristics and beliefs I need to highlight. Weaving all these things together under a single umbrella is a real challenge.

I've finished a third of my draft and have gained some insights which might help others caught in the same maze as me:

  • The key to the success of this essay lies in picking something you are really passionate about. Only then can you bring out the passion through 2000 words. Picking a theme for the sake of establishing a common link between things may not work very well. Moreover, from what I gleaned from their website, Stanford looks for passionate people.
  • I don't want to give the usual advice "Do not say what the adcom wants to hear". Honestly none of us will be willing to say that money, power, fame, luck, men/women etc. matter most to us. Even if we do choose one of these things we would wrap it in a nice package that does not make us look greedy or frivolous or unethical or immature. Of course you want the adcom to like you after they read your essay. So invest time to make an intelligent choice, pick a theme that will highlight your personality and values.
  • The essays of other schools are primarily factual, they want you talk in detail about experiences and incidents mainly. In that sense this essay is very different. The reader has to grasp why something matters to you. Of course facts/incidents will have to serve as examples. But your thought process needs to shine through. It's not enough to say you how you achieved something, it's more important to say why and how the achievement relates to what matters most to you (your theme). In other words, the reader should never lose hold of the theme throughout the essay. Coherence is a key factor.
  • There is a liberal word limit. Although my other essays are shorter and I can give more than 4 pages to this essay, I'm looking at a self-imposed 2000 words limit. I'm not taking the risk of going overboard and giving too much of unnecessary information.

That's it at the moment... And doesn't anyone like my delicious new template? :-(

Ok back to my essay.