Live Your Story

This week we welcome Assistant Director of International Recruitment, Sara Riggs, to the blog. Welcome, Sara!

The long-awaited fourth season of the 2004 cult classic Veronica Mars finally made its debut on Hulu this past summer.  If you haven’t watched it (or seasons 1-3, along with the Kickstarter-funded VM movie, for that matter) what are you waiting for?  Ten of ten would recommend.

Veronica MarsSpoilers Ahead! But I’m not here to just talk about TV.  All you need to know is season four ends tragically. I found out about the terrible, horrible, no good, very sad ending the same day season four debuted because I did exactly what I’m going to tell you NOT to do—I looked it up.  I put all my marbles in the “how does this end” basket.

(Don’t) Begin with the End in Mind

The thing is, I LoVe to know an ending.  There is a certain immediate, anxiety-reducing thrill when I find out what happens before the storyteller means for me to know what happens. But the other thing, the more important thing, I’ve learned is jumping ahead is always a mistake.  If I’m honest with myself, and with you, every single time I fast forward or (100% of the time) Google it, I begin to feel regret descend after the initial glow.  The even worse consequence is that neither the ending nor the actual story are as sweet because I already know what’s around the corner.

In reality, a good story is about more than an ending.  Though I’ve never watched a single episode of Game of Thrones, I know exactly who died (basically everyone), when (the moment you least expected), and how (in bloody, gruesome torture-death). But any true GOT fan will rightfully shame me for how much of the rich character development, dramatic plot twisting, and overall unparalleled viewing experience I missed out on, even if though they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about the final seasons. I know Khaleesi’s ending without any real emotional understanding of why she was cool for raising dragons in the first place.

A really good story holds magical powers.  It draws you in, lifts you up, devastates you, and brings you joy. The beautiful details are found in the mundane. No matter how it ends, the journey of a good story changes you.  In fact, the good story of a journey *is* your life.

Where YOUR Story is Found

What in the world does this have to do with applying to college?  Everything!  Your story is found in the application process and the waiting to learn a decision.  If you’re going through admission the right way, it’s not about where you end up; it’s about how you get there and what you learn about yourself along the way.

I’m here to tell you: DON’T read the last page first! Instead, try as hard as you can to shift your question from “where will I get in?” and “where will I go?” to “what will I learn about myself along the way?” and “how am I growing through this process?”

Bad things can happen when your primary focus is the ending, especially in your own story.  You run the risk of becoming someone you might not actually like or presenting an inauthentic version of yourself, not only to the colleges reading your applications and the circle of people who support you, but even to yourself.

Instead, take time through this process to focus and reflect. Grab some popcorn and play back your highlight reel. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who am I in this moment?
  • Where am I at this point in my story?
  • How did I get here?
  • Who or what has helped shape me?
  • Where do I want to take my story next?
  • Who do I hope to become, and why?

Don’t try to create your story based on the ending you think you want. Instead, embrace the process of finding your voice and learning to tell your own story.

Maybe your story is dramatic, or maybe it’s entirely unexciting.  Maybe it’s brilliant or tragic or a grand epic of redemption.  It’s possible that you don’t know exactly what you want your story to be yet.  Maybe you’re a natural-born storyteller, and maybe you aren’t.  No matter what, it’s your story, and one of the most valuable elements you can gain from the college application process is learning to tell it.  This is an opportunity not only to find the right university home but also to refine your ability to “know thyself” and begin articulating who you are (a valuable skill which pays dividends in all stages of life). Consider reaching out to some of the people who have been part of your story and thanking them.  Make productive use of the process and try to enjoy the benefits (aside from “getting in”) as much as you can.

If you’re still working on your application, make sure you’re having these conversations with yourself and anyone walking through this journey with you.  If you’ve applied and are waiting to hear back, keep having these conversations.  Ultimately, you’ll get to decide the ending of this story’s chapter, and you’ll choose the best beginning for your next chapter if you’ve taken time to understand your story as much as possible.Everything will be okay int he end. If it's not okay, it's not the end.

Will you get the Disney ending you expected?  Will you end up at your “dream” college?  Maybe.  But just as likely, maybe not.  If you spend time pondering your story rather than your ending, perhaps your ideal ending will be different than you anticipated when the process began.  Even if you don’t immediately like the outcome, give your story a chance to tell itself.

Take it from John Lennon (whether or not he was the first to say it), “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”

Sara Riggs has been with Georgia Tech since 2015. Prior to her time at Tech, she began her career in admission at a small, liberal arts college. She works primarily with international students and appreciates the truly global impact of a Georgia Tech education.  

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