It’s so common. And we’re all guilty of it. I was guilty of it. I’m still guilty of it. We try to say the things we think will make the admissions folks go “Wow, he’s not in it for the money! He cares about people! Sign that kid up immmeeeeeeeejitly.”
Well, here’s why it doesn’t work. It’s always. Always. Always transparent.
Let me say it again for a little emphasis. It’s always transparent.
You’re sitting at a restaurant. You ask the waiter for some help. You can’t decide between the Chicken Parm and the Tuna Casserole. The waiter makes a face at the chicken, “To be perfectly frank, the Parm is only okay. Go with the Tuna.” If this waiter can pan a dish at his own restaurant, I don’t know about you, but I’m liable to go along with other opinions he might have. It goes against expectation. No one in a million years would ever expect for a waiter to say anything negative about the product he represents. But, and here’s the kicker: he just earned credibility.
As the author of application essays, it is crucial to earn credibility. After all, you want them to keep reading. Moreover, you want them to be compelled by what they’re reading. You can’t do that if you seem like the mouthpiece for Johnny Goody-Good. Why? Because it’s obvious. It’s predictable. Everyone wants to cure AIDS. Everyone wants to solve world hunger. Everyone really cares about “making a difference.”
Now, here’s the thing.
When you were saving the forest one summer, was there ever a time you doubted the impact of the whole thing? Was there ever a moment when you threw your hands up and said “Ugh, volunteer work kinda sucks.” Was there ever a moment when you thought “This is all great? But I would honestly much rather be in a hot tub somewhere watching American Idol.” Because if you did… and revealed that… and then went on to show how something clicked over time, then I’m going to trust whatever comes next because you were brave enough to admit something that goes against expectation.
When your stories are credible, they will mean something. At that point, the simplest experience or achievement can travel a long distance. Without it, the most noble experience can seem trite.