In today’s culture, there is no greater sin than to be a phony. Â No offense to the lawyers out there, but Holden Caulfield said it well:
â€œLawyers are alright, I guess â€” but it doesn’t appeal to me”, I said. “I mean they’re alright if they go around saving innocent guys’ lives all the time, and like that, but you don’t do that kind of stuff if you’re a lawyer. All you do is make a lot of dough and play golf and play bridge and buy cars and drink Martinis and look like a hot-shot. And besides, even if you did go around saving guys’ lives and all, how would you know if you did it because you really wanted to save guys’ lives, or because you did it because what you really wanted to do was be a terrific lawyer, with everybody slapping you on the back and congratulating you in court when the goddam trial was over, the reporters and everybody, the way it is in the dirty movies? How would you know you weren’t being a phony? The trouble is you wouldn’t.â€ – Holden Caulfield, from The Catcher in the Rye
Perhaps the most difficult part of writing a personal statement is the beginning, that space in which you determine what you are going to write. I used to scoff at the idea of planning or pre-writing for personal statements. “It should be organic and authentic,” I would say to myself as I sat down in front of the blinking cursor, and I would proceed to type out anything that came to mind about career, life-goals, faith, aspirations, and ambition. It was terrible stuff and I inevitably found myself back at the blinking cursor on a blank page. For each personal statement, I must have found myself scrapping the entire thing at least six or seven times.
Certainly, good writing requires a lot of writing and re-writing; there is no shortcut to that. Â However, those applying to STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, math) who approach writing papers with a certain trepidation may feel especially handicapped. Â Even those who are grammatical and stylistic specialists find these aspects of the personal statement intimidating and may find themselves caught in a similarly frustrating cycle of edits that lack a sense of redeeming value.
What I found was that in wanting to sound authentic, I actually sounded like a phony. It seemed that the more honest and personal I strove to be, the more cliched and superficial my prose became. Â For whatever reason, it didn’t feel good enough to simply articulate what I wanted to become and why; I felt compelled to justify myself as well. In the many, many re-writes I did, I consistently noticed that my insecurities would bleed into my writing and that, though the expression of these was genuine and deeply personal to me, they sounded immensely superficial in retrospect (and to my external reviewers, editors, and admissions deans as well). The trouble was that, like Caulfield’s lawyer, the more I was concerned with not looking like a phony, the more trouble I had distinguishing myself from one. [Read more…] about Writing a Christian Personal Statement: Part 3