A couple of weeks ago, I heard a dean of admissions from the University of Virginia speak on the
dreaded subject of the college essay.
The gist of his speech? Be the best YOU.
He said, every year he reads countless essays from prospective applicants trying to be who they think UVA wants them to be.
Thomas Jefferson is my role model.
The Louisiana Purchase and me.
Why I Believe the Declaration of Independence Rocks!
And countless other themes that manage to mention the lawn, the academical village, or the rotunda.
The lawn at the University of Virginia.
These essays are not endearing to the admissions staff.
Because Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia, and writing about him is a warning that student X is trying to push his or her unique, but angular self into the UVA circle.
And losing an opportunity to be themselves.
It got me thinking how this applies to so many things. How many times are you filling something out and you see:
Tell us a little something about yourself.
Or what about those bio fields in social media? Or if you’re a writer, what about the author blurb, or About Me page?
Like the college essay, these descriptions could be your one shot to sum up YOU.
Maybe you’re thinking they’ll eventually see who you are, but what if that first impression is your only opportunity to go from person X, to the eXtra special, unique you?
For instance, UVA gets twenty-nine thousand applicants a year. Pinterest currently has forty million users. Twitter even more. And hundreds of thousands of books are published in the U.S. every year.
There’s bound to be A LOT of circles. And when you’ve seen one circle, well…they all blur into one massive blob. They become like white noise.
If you’re trying to make an impact, looking for connections, or just trying to be seen, then you don’t want to be the white noise.
If you want to be found, then you kind of have to let your INNER WALDO shine.
Not that it’s easy. I struggle with filling out those short bios. Here’s the latest author bio I’ve written.
Coleen Patrick grew up in New Jersey, Virginia, Michigan, Louisiana, and Indiana. Always being the new kid, she learned that books and friends are precious—and dessert. She never met a dessert she didn’t like (except for flan).
When she’s not writing, reading (or avoiding flan), she enjoys TV, arts and crafts, quoting movies, and trying to take cool photos.
She lives in Virginia with her husband and two kids.
Now this is short, but it seemed to take me forever. Because I wanted to be me (well me, in a few sentences), but at the same time it was cringing to be real.
It’s not easy to allow a part of yourself to be vulnerable. In this particular case, I was afraid to be a little funny. Except funny is important to me.
So how can you get started telling a little about yourself?
It might help to ask yourself some questions:
What do I like best about myself? What are my talents, interests? What do I believe in? What would my perfect day look like? What would I do if I had unlimited time or energy?
Find a way to be true to yourself.
Because somewhere out there, whether it’s a university, an employer, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, a bookshelf…someone is looking for YOU.
Why not make it easy for them to see you?
Do you have any advice on how to sum up you? What would you do if you had unlimited energy?
Have a spectacular week!
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49 thoughts on “Be Yourself: Let Life Tap Its Toes to Your Beat”
GREAT post, Coleen! I struggle terribly with those bios – I’m not good at being brief, and the things I write meaning to be fun always end up sounding so dumb to me! Yours is terrific! As for UVA, I heard some of those same words from the woman who spoke to us when I visited with my son in July. We are currently awaiting the admissions decision, which he is not expecting to go in his favor, but fingers crossed it will 🙂 I also have a sample college essay that was written by a man for my husband’s school – for a speech or something – and it is so flat out hysterical that I have to figure out a way to show it to you! 🙂
Oh I want to read it Susanna!
And I feel for you on the waiting. My daughter is still waiting to hear from the places she wants to go. So nerve wracking. And I get to do the application process all over again with my son this fall. 🙂
For her college essays, my daughter wrote about traveling to Germany and China, and how that affected her world view. Yes, stuff she figured would look vood, but also true to who she is. She got acceptances from all she applied to so she must’ve done something right.:) As for me, I am at work right now – time to take a break and see if I can find some little green men…
Yay for your daughter Jennette–and you, that must be a relief! I think it can be so hard to sum up (or know) the part of yourself that will show your unique self.
Love your bio!
I didn’t know we were to put them in the third person.
I think the reason these can be hard is there is the real me, the me that I am when around certain people and the me I want to project. Talk about multiple personalities! I think my blog projects my personality pretty well, but I am not so sure about my bio. That’s why I eliminated “my coffee cup is always half full.” It seemed a little like I was sitting around typing all day while drinking coffee instead of being outside experiencing adventures. Maybe if I wrote “Red Bull!”
Great article which gives me great pause. Okay, that is not how I talk at all!
Well, this bio is the one I wrote for my book. Most of the bios I’ve read in the backs of books seem to be in third person. But if it makes sense for your personality, I’d say do whatever works! And I know what you mean by multiple personalities–ack! I feel it even more writing and blogging under my maiden name–which is completely different from my married name. 🙂
I really feel like I get your adventurous, wild ride personality from you blog posts, Susie. And Red Bull could work too!
That bio is awesome, Coleen. Your personality shines through your flan-nel lol 😉
What a neat idea to personalise it like that. I had to do a bio for March Madness poetry tournament and he said strictly don’t try and be clever, so mine is dull as ditch water. I actually wish I’d have written dull as ditch water lol.
Thanks Catherine! Dull as ditch water–you should use it. It’s so funny, and poetic too!
Hmmm, I think I need to go back and take another look at my bio and do some revision on it now … thanks for the inspiration! 🙂
Your welcome Julie! Good luck! 🙂
Don’t like writing bios. I tend to be short and brief. I did give some thought to my blog bio. And, it’s longer than I like. Wish I knew how to do funny. Loved your brief bio. It made me smile. As for college essays, I think Jennette’s daughter’s approach was spot on. Colleges want to know about you and your life experiences. Very appropriate for out blog bios. Always enjoy your discussions.
Oh my, I just scrolled up and saw you gave a shout out for my blog. Thank you so much Coleen! I somehow missed it the first time.
Thank you Patricia! I’m always in awe at your reviews. That’s something I really struggle with!
I can’t imagine reading 29,000 essays on Thomas Jefferson! Then again I can’t imagine having to read 29,000 essays on any topic (except maybe One Direction, haha just joking) I hate having to right bios about myself, it seems like an easy enough task but it really is hard. I love your author bio, I’m glad you decided to add a touch of funny =)
Thank you Amanda! Speaking of One Direction, the one time I went on Wattpad, I saw SO much fan fiction for them! 🙂 Kind of like 29K essays, only WAY more.
What is it with flan? Ugh. The weird thing is, I love Crème brûlée, but not flan. Huh. Aren’t they kind of the same thing?
Your author bio rocks. They are like writing a pitch ~ if I could put my life in four sentences, then I wouldn’t have lived so much!
I’m going to have to remember this post when it’s time for my son to write his admissions essay. He definitely doesn’t want to be like the other 29,000 Jefferson clones out there. I’m a little surprised that they would think that works, but oh well. Poor saps.
I like creme brulee too. I think c.b. is creamier, right?. Something between a pudding and whipped cream. If I remember, flan is more like a custard-y Jello. It wiggles. 😦
And pitch writing, equally brain draining. Often I feel it’s easier to write the whole book rather than the pitch. lol
What a fantastic post Coleen! This is so true both how difficult bios are and how we try to write what we think we’re supposed to. I think I’m going to work on re-writing mine this week. Thanks for the inspiration. 😉
Good luck, Stacy! 🙂
Colleen, this is a super post, and as it happens I wrote a new bio this morning for a guest post. I confess I have a slightly different bio for blog/twitter/FBauthor page etc. Do you think that’s a bad thing?
I have different bios too. I kind of tweak them depending on the media. In my opinion that’s okay, especially if you have a consistent photo or something that can easily identify you across the internet. 🙂 Thanks Joanna!
Well, I think you summed yourself up very nicely. I’m still working on revising my bio. Something to do with performing arts and other random stuff.
And, yeah, stay away from flan. It’s yucky.
w/a Jansen Schmidt
Thank you Patricia! 🙂 And good luck on your bio!
Have you ever seen the movie, Spanglish? I immediately thought of it while reading your post. If you have the choice between being different or being like everyone else, you gotta root for different.
I’ve seen it, but it’s been awhile. Gotta root for different–love that! Thanks, Amy. 🙂
I think your bio rocks! I love finding ones with a bit of fun in them. One line I remember from Mike Mullins’ back cover of Ashfall was something like “he lives in Indianapolis with his wife and her three cats.” Her cats, not his? Cracked me up. Kudos to you on yours.
Thank you Jennifer! That line makes me smile too. Anything that gets my mind to stop and say, he wait, what? 🙂
Oh, Coleen, I think you hit the proverbial nail. When writing an essay or a bio you have to find the story that is your story. I find writing about myself to be the absolute hardest thing to write. My advice to those UVA applicants: If you are really excited about Thomas Jefferson and see parallels between his life and yours – go for it. But don’t be false. Don’t make it up.
I am pretty pleased with my new bio because it incorporates bits of things I like and a bit of playfulness. You can find it here, http://lynettemburrows.com/about/ if you’re interested.
Lynette, just read your about me page. Love it!! Especially the nod to Oz with aliens, androids and clones-oh my—AND enjoying the crack of a 9mm. Super clever. 🙂
Thanks, Coleen! 🙂 🙂
I love your new bio (especially the part about not liking flan). “Be your authentic self” is something I’m always telling people in my Twitter class when we talk about bios. They have to have something personal that lets people get to know them and connect with them.
But it can be scary to let our real selves out to play on social media.
Oh I’m with you there Marcy. Very scary. Being an introvert, I’m wondering if it’s less scary for an extrovert…
I really like your bio, and I think they’re hard to write. It’s so easy to sound self-critical or self-conscious or boring! I’m sure that I have unique qualities, but to me they’re average because I live with them on a daily basis. It might be helpful to have a really good, trusted, honest, kind friend help out with a bio, as they would be able to highlight all the good, YOU stuff without coming across as stale or lame.
I’m not a flan of fan either. Or is that “not a fan of flan.” 😉
So true. Especially hard if you’re used to deflecting questions and asking people about themselves (guilty). But having people you who know you really well help out is a great idea. Thanks Kate!
I just love your bio Coleen! Thank you so much for sharing your authentic you! It’s so hard putting yourself out there and you do such a great job of it. 🙂
Thank you Karen!! Yes, not easy to push myself out there, but it does get a tad easier the more I do it. 🙂
Now I’m tempted to write an essay on eco-friendly, non-chemical lawn care.
Your bio’s good and very you, Coleen. Meanwhile, I returned from a trip to NJ to find good, better, best news: your book, COME BACK TO ME, is on Amazon. I bought it for my Kindle. Congratulations!
Yes, that’s a very green lawn isn’t it?
And thank you SO much, your support means so much. No more breadcrumbs, right?
I love your bio, Coleen! I know what you mean. We sweat bullets trying to capture who we are in a few sentences. It ain’t easy!
Isn’t that the truth! The bio, the blurb…it seems easier to write a whole book! Thanks, Kassandra. 🙂
Excellent post Coleen! Author bios are so hard to write. To be you in just a few lines. It’s scary and exhilarating. Love yours. 🙂
The dreaded bio! You are absolutely right… It’s the hardest thing in the world to write, and I would say, book copy a close second. Probably something that is covered in Marketing 101, but I must have missed that class! Having said that, Kristen Lamb’s advice really helped me – something along the lines of ‘fake it til you make it’ and, if you’re an unpublished creative writer, then don’t be scared to be creative. You’ve got it all covered, here, anyway! (BTW, I notice your book is up! Is there to be a launch? Please let me know if I can help…)
Yes, Kristen’s class and books helped me BIG time with figuring out me in the blogging world.
And thanks so much for the offer of help, I will email you. 🙂
Great post! It’s always a bit uneasy to describe oneself. Normally, the bio becomes too wordy and cumbersome, then it seems to really not be “just right”. Even when I wrote one for my blog I was unsure, and constantly thinking of changing it. Yeah, not a big flan fan either.
Damn, now you made me want to go back and re-write it!
Maybe being unsure is a sign it’s the right one? I don’t know! It’s so hard. I even consider mine to be right, but just for now. 🙂
Great post, Coleen.
Hmm, the bio thing is something that changes as we evolve. And Kristen’s class was awesome. I still like mine because it’s authentically me. ‘An author of contemporary romance. A wonderful wife and mother of three. I don’t cook but will do dishes, love wine and chocolate.’
Yes, evolving. I so agree! Although I imagine you will always love chocolate, right? 🙂
Great post! I agree with your statements so very much. Do be yourself!!! You are unique and special.
I stopped over from Susie’s.
Thanks, Scott! Be yourself seems like such an easy thing, but I guess as with anything that’s really important, there’s struggle. 🙂