Is this within your control?

whyworryI recently spent a week at one of my happy places—Rancho La Puerta, a wellness resort in Baja, California, Mexico.

Early morning mountain hikes, healthy smoothies by the pool, challenging yoga practices, and talks on nurturing your emotional health.

We become stressed when we focus on situations where we have no control, like the weather. Or the number of students from your high school who are applying to the same colleges you are.

We manage our stress better when we focus on the things we can control or we have influence over. Like deciding to apply to a broader range of schools than your classmates. Like choosing to get to bed earlier, exercise smarter, or eat healthier.

Next time you find yourself getting stressed, ask yourself whether the situation is within your control or influence. If the answer is yes, then take action. If the answer is no, do your best to let it go.

As Śāntideva, an 8th century Indian Buddhist monk, wrote: “If the problem can be solved why worry? If the problem cannot be solved worrying will do you no good.”

Show the Real You

realyou“Sheila” bounded into our first meeting with a wide smile across her face, but that smile soon disappeared when I asked her about her essay. She’d been trying to write it for weeks but had gotten nowhere. “I don’t know what to write about!” she sighed.

We started to talk. About the subjects she enjoyed. About how she spent her time outside of school. She mentioned a summer job as a waitress, which had turned into a year-round gig. She’d been at it for four years. The restaurant had a funny name and the story of how she got the job was also funny. She mentioned once overhearing a customer talk about writing a Yelp review, and then how she started regularly reading Yelp and Trip Advisor, trying to guess which customers had written which reviews.

In that moment, I knew she had a topic for her essay. I didn’t know right away how she would structure the essay, but I knew this subject matter would show the real Sheila— go-getter, people person, hard worker, someone with a sense of humor.

“Can I really write about that?” she asked

I smiled. “Yes!”

Is that enough?

Yes, it would be enough. Rising seniors, you don’t have to cure cancer or develop a life-changing iPhone app. You just have to find a story that shows the real you in action, a story that demonstrates your strengths, your best qualities.

The real you is enough!

You can’t hide who you are

true character“Samantha” was one of my favorite clients last year. A hard worker with parents who had endured multiple layoffs, she wanted to write about what she had learned from her family’s experience.

There was great material here—she had stepped up to help take care of her younger brothers; her parents’ struggles had motivated her to work even harder; and she had written about a tender moment with her dad at the dining room when he was surrounded by job applications.

But the essay didn’t work—at least not at first.

It was a dull read. Too negative, too much about her family, not enough about her.

We worked together through multiple drafts and eventually came up with a creative way to present her story.  Great admissions results: Samantha was admitted to nearly every school she applied to.

But what stuck with me the most was Samantha’s attitude. The kind and thoughtful girl who showed up in her essays was the same girl in real life.

Her emails responding to my feedback were filled with gratitude for my help. She shared her acceptances with me as they arrived. She wrote me a thank you note when the process was over. This girl, so lovely on the page, was also so lovely as a person.

I’m guessing the college admissions officers felt the same way.