Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. (500 words)
Yale keeps doubling down on its brand: social responsibility. If you want to help people, if you want to save the world through business… Yale’s the place for you. The same way that Kellogg has (for better and for worse) become the school for marketing, Yale SOM is the social responsibility mecca. (Make no mistake: if you want to end up in finance or consulting or most other traditional B-School destinations, Yale, like Kellogg, and like every other elite school, is as good a choice as any.)
They, like many others, are asking one question. Let’s unpack this sucker. What does it mean to make a commitment? What makes one commitment cooler or more meaningful or more impressive or more important than another?
Let’s look at a few sample commitments:
- To my wife/husband, I commit to loving and protecting you unconditionally forever.
- To my child, I commit to loving and protecting you unconditionally forever.
- To Nonprofit Organization X, I commit $1M of my personal dollars toward your organization and cause.
The first two are kinda obvious, no? We’re not inclined to be impressed. “Wow, what a commitment! That person just committed to loving his child forever. Inspired!”
The last one seems pretty legit. Contributing $1M toward a cause? That’s unarguably a MAJOR commitment from anyone. (Right?)
What if, to that list, we added some… stuff:
- To my wife/husband, I commit to loving and protecting you unconditionally forever, even if YOU were to hurt or betray ME. Because my commitment to you and what that commitment is serves a greater purpose; to our children, to society, and is more important than my own emotions.
- To my child, I commit to loving and protecting you unconditionally forever, even if your sexual preferences fundamentally violate everything I believe, that our religion allows; even if your political views and your morality unravels sacrifices my parents made for me, and sacrifices I have made for you; because my commitment to you is more important than my own beliefs.
- To Nonprofit Organization X, I commit $1M of my personal dollars toward your organization and cause. My net worth is $3 billion.
How does that change things? A lot.
Now all of a sudden those first two carry a little more weight. And that third one, not so much. Yes, $1M is a giant number to most, but to put it in context, it’s .03% of $3B. To someone whose net worth is $500,000, .03% would amount to $166. When you put it in those terms, $1M feels… less… something, doesn’t it? On the one hand it is the exact same “dollar commitment” but in a different sense it feels like LESS of a “commitment.”
What then is commitment really all about?
True commitment seems to require some amount of self-sacrifice, or putting of oneself at risk in some capacity. Someone who pursues an action or takes up a cause or embraces a responsibility, despite its being inconvenient in some way, has made a real commitment (or more of a commitment) compared to when those inconveniences are fewer or far between. This is not an absolute. Commitment, to be sure, lies on a spectrum. But, the measure of commitment maintains an inverse relationship with what we’re calling convenience. The more convenient the commitment, the less impressive. And the opposite is true: the more INconvenient, the more impressive the commitment.
Phew. Back to Earth and back to the practical task at hand: The Yale SOM application essay for 2017-2018. First things first. Dig into your personal and professional history and generate a list of things you’ve committed to. Aim for five for the first attempt. Five commitments you’ve made. Don’t overthink this first pass, just list them as you can recall them. Try not to go back too far to your early childhood (although based on the openness of the prompt, everything seems to be on the table). Now that you have your initial list, go through each one and try to quantify somehow which ones put you at risk the most. Or those items where you stood to lose the most. The ones where the stakes were somehow highest. Rank that list most to least. Now look at it. The top item, or the second item will probably be your best candidates to explore…
Once you have it, let’s consider an outline to get you on the right track:
- Set up the commitment – Part 1. Bring us back to whatever the circumstances were PRIOR to the moment you made your commitment. And one of our favorite tricks to keep in mind, don’t write about it using the past tense (i.e., using your modern day brain). Instead, travel back in time and imagine how the world looked in real-time, and write in the present tense. Explain what was happening, and who needed what. (Roughly 100-125 words).
- Set up the commitment – Part 2. Establish the stakes (explain what you were putting at risk, what you stood to lose, why it wasn’t an easy commitment to make), and then reveal the commitment you made. (75-100 words).
- How was your commitment tested? – Part 3. Explain the ways in which your commitment was put to the test over time. Explain the times it was difficult to remain committed. Or whatever your version is that made it not EASY to remain committed and consistent. And walk us through your resolve throughout. Or, how your resolve wavered, or disintegrated, and how you regained it, whatever your version is. Remember, if your story doesn’t include this element, it’s probably not a great commitment for this (100-200 words, possibly two paragraphs).
- Why is this meaningful? – Part 4. What’s the relevance of this to your future as an MBA? Finally, draw a link between this story and your prospects for succeeding in business school or in the future, or better yet, both. What were the lessons learned that have strengthened you in ways that are applicable to your business goals? (Roughly 100 words).