Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Selling Myself

If I never write another statement of purpose (aka "personal statement" or "statement of intent") it will be too soon. Unfortunately, I still have three SoPs left, and that's assuming this is the only time I'll be applying to graduate school.

A statement of purpose is a 500-word summary of where you've been, where you are, how you got there, and where you're planning to go. It is also a summary of who you are, what you've achieved, why you matter, and how you plan to affect change in the world. I've had to sell myself before in job interviews and on cover letters and scholarship applications. I've never been very good at it. I attribute it to my Lutheran background. Something about confessing every Sunday that I am a poor miserable sinner who deserves only death and punishment makes me doubt that I really have the ability to change anything, much less the world. For years Luther has been telling me that there is no worthiness or merit in me and that any good that comes from me is a sheer miracle of God, a miracle for which I take no credit.

To counter my guilt and shame, I have been reading other people's SoPs, feeding my pride, and convincing myself that "Hey, I could do that." I don't know how "Christian" this is of me, but I've yet to see the fallout. In fact, I think God might be rather proud of me for claiming the gifts that I've  been developing and discovering since I was four years old. He may even be disappointed in me for not being more diligent in pursuing them.

Eight years ago I was a senior in high school. I was a good student, a fair speaker, a decent writer, and a "super Christian." I wasn't more holy, sanctified, or redeemed than anyone else. I wasn't particularly positive, kind, or happy, but I read Christian books, wore Christian shirts, listened to Christian music, and led Christian study groups. I chose a Christian college to which I received a Christian leadership scholarship. During a campus visit, I had met with one of the English faculty. He taught literature courses and we discussed Willa Cather and Nebraska authors and I was utterly enthralled with the thought of reading and studying books for the next four years. But I was a slow reader, with little knowledge of the literary canon. I feared falling behing my peers, and decided instead to enter the Christian education program and pursue a degree in counseling. I learned that counseling required seven years of grad school and switched to youth ministry. I wasn't particularly engaging. I didn't have a passion for kids or spiritual formation or recreational activities. I found it all interesting, but, well, I don't play dodgeball.

Meanwhile, I also entertained this idea of being a writer. I engrossed myself in books and words and  went to poetry readings and plays. I paired youth ministry with a writing major, reasoning that I could write Bible studies or work at Brio magazine (which was discontinued in 2009, but was similar to Susie). I was as if I had to "Christianize" my vocation, as if a sense of vocation (a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially : a divine call) wasn't enough. 

I was in the second half of my junior year before I realized what I had been doing, how I had been trying to prove myself and live up to my own ideas of what it meant to be called by God. Ironically, it was when I left the church that I began to discover my real interests and develop my natural gifts. 

By that time it was too late to switch majors and too soon for me to commit to a graduate program. I hadn't spent enough time pursuing my literary enthusiasm. I tried writing a statement of purpose--describing my writing background, my passions, my inspirations, my plans for the future--but I couldn't, because I didn't have any. I didn't know why I wanted to be a writer or what I wanted to do with a writing degree. I just knew that I wanted it. Essentially, I wanted to get a Master's in English because I'd spent most of my college career pursuing a Bachelor's in "Christianity."

But going to school because you "like to learn" doesn't really cut it with acceptance committees. So I graduated, and left college, and worked odd jobs and started blogging and writing and traveling and writing and then looking for any job that would give me experience as a writer. But the economy tanked and I moved to a new place and the only job I was really qualified for was in youth ministry. So I did that for two years. And here I am, trying to sell myself as a writer once again. But this time it feels different. I haven't read scads of books or acquired remarkable skills, but I have started to pay attention to myself, to the things that excite me and move me and affect me, the things that I've always loved, even when I didn't realize it.

I think of what God would say if he were to read through my statement of purpose, and for the most part I think he would smile (which is something I don't often say about God). I think God would be glad to see me finally doing the things that he made me to do, know that I've gotten the "parent-pleasing" out of my system. He might be disappointed by the little white lies I tell regarding the excellence of the university's faculty and my enthusiasm to work with professors whose bios I found online and whose works I've barely skimmed, but for the most part I think God would be okay.

It is difficult to get someone else to believe in you when you don't really believe in yourself. And it is difficult to believe in yourself when you are constantly being told that you don't measure up. The words I need to hear are not "You need Jesus," but "You are enough. You are gifted and talented and you are free to pursue those desires. You and your talents can meet the world's needs in a way no one else can." It's a bit lofty, I know, but it's a truth I need to claim if I am ever to write with conviction. What good is a statement of purpose if you don't believe it yourself?


  1. If you created a summary of this post you could title it "Selling Myself Short".

    Maybe that's not helpful.

  2. ^ Oh Adam. I like Adam.

    This is a wonderfully honest post Amanda. It's interesting thinking about what motivated us to be/do/act in certain ways.

    You are enough.

    And God smiles at you all the time.