Describe your experience during a challenging time in your life. Explain how you grew personally, either despite this challenge or because of it. [300 words]
Someone posed the following question to us:
“Hey guys, quick question about Essay #4 for Ross. Most analysis I see on it mention a huge event like a death, job loss, disease – whatever. I know the essay asks for a ‘challenging time in your life’ and the takeaway isn’t even the situation at all, but rather what you took away from it. Do you think talking about the first time I had to manage others on the job and realizing I couldnt do everything myself is a suitable story to go into for this one? Thanks a bunch.”
Step 1. Ignore whatever analysis encourages you to write about death, job loss, disease, etc. as a rule.
It’s obvious, predictable, and at its worst… transparent and calculating. Phew. [Doesn’t mean you CAN’T write about those things–rather, don’t feel like you’re starting at a disadvantage if you don’t have those things to write about. If you force it and try to appeal to our sympathy centers, you will inevitably encourage eye-rolling.]
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s pull this thing apart.
This question is testing you one simple thing: Change.
Have you ever experienced something that forced you ACTUALLY CHANGE? Let’s take a look at a few examples to tease out the difference between (a) boilerplate challenge and (b) the type of challenge that forced you to CHANGE somehow:
EXAMPLE 1 — I was at work and was tasked with brokering a deal between Agency A and Agency B and boy was it tough. We began at a stalemate, neither side was budging and I had to step in and figure out how to solve this apparently unsolvable problem! I researched both Agencies, assessed their needs, brought everyone to the negotiation table, clarified common goals, initiated a dialogue, and paved the way for a successful compromise. Boy what a challenge!
EXAMPLE 2 — I had to manage others on the job. I burst out of the cages with the swagger of an appropriately confident manager, but started to fail. Left and right. I fought the impulse that I was doing something wrong and kept forcing my bulletproof tactics onto the situation, supremely optimistic that something would give way and I would ultimately prevail. I didn’t, and it all unraveled in a terrifying moment of realization at 3am when I had flat-out run out of ideas. I realized–perhaps for the first time in my life–that I couldn’t do everything by myself.
Example 1 presents a challenge that may very well be just as challenging or “more challenging” in some respects than the one alluded to in Example 2. But Example 2 possesses a KEY quality that makes it a potentially ripe answer for this essay. A moment of personal reflection. A moment in time where the subject was forced to reassess, take stock, question, and CHANGE UP.
The guy before “the challenge” in Example 1 was the same guy afterwards.
The guy before “the challenge” in Example 2–on the other hand–was changed. Jackpot.
See the difference?
The “change” sometimes is conscious, sometimes unconscious. Whether you realize it at the time, or subsequent to the event looking back, doesn’t matter. The key is the personal growth aspect. In example 2, it would appear that the person learned something about himself. Emerged somehow evolved. Learned something about relying on others. Learned something about leadership. Learned something about limits, overcommitting, fault lines, etc.
THAT GUY is potentially dangerous (in the good sense) because in the face of future adversity, I trust that this guy is a thinker, and possesses the ability to assess, analyze, consider, and change up. I like that guy. I want that guy on my team.
The other guy, who succeeds in the face of a typical problem/challenge—-I don’t know how that guy is gonna do when life throws him a legitimate curveball whose answer doesn’t live in a playbook. Has that guy really been TESTED? I don’t know. I like him less, as far as the answer to this question is concerned.
So, how do you know if your “challenge” makes the grade?
Think about who you were BEFORE the incident, and who you were AFTER.
The example that yields the most significant change is a great place to start.
Generate a list of challenges that come to mind. As many as you can. Do it, disease, death, job-related struggles, relationship-woes… list em all.
Now ask yourself for which one did you emerge the most CHANGED.
Start there. Work backwards now and identify THE CHALLENGE from which that change was borne.
Keep going… walk us through the before. And then the after.
Good things will happen.