The values brainstorm

At the beginning of the school year, I have my seniors do a values exercise. This is designed to have them think about what gets them up, gets them moving, what they’d fight for, what illuminates their world. I have them go to a list like this one, and choose five. Then from that list of five I have them choose three. From that three, one.

Try it: from a list of 50 choose five, then three, then one. Don’t worry if it doesn’t feel like your forever-and-always-number-one value. Just choose one that feels like you right now.

Then, value in mind, start thinking of moments in your life related to a challenge you faced, a difficulty, a heartache. They don’t have to be the life altering, earth-shaking moments. Maybe it was how you decided to spend a day off. Perhaps it’s reflected in your hobby or the kinds of people you get along with. The goal of this exercise is to connect your values to your challenges, and how you’ve responded to your difficulties. 

I know one of my values is balance. This was reflected in my choice to surf, and specifically to surf longboards instead of shortboards. Both require balance, but I like the game of balance offered by the longboard more. The question I would then ask is, why? Why did I value balance? What needs were being fulfilled by balance? And most importantly, what powers was I developing through balance and practicing balance? These powers were probably related to the other three or five values I would choose. Our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are generally generated by our network of values.

Chances are these preferences and little choices get at the essence of what you’re about. Try writing a story based on this value and decide if this could be the basis for your personal statement. See if you can connect your values to the way you’ve met your challenges. Chances are your thoughts, feelings, actions, and desires are related to your values, too. 

This is a great way to see how the things we do are influenced by what we value, and how the things we value are interconnected. I know I surfed because I had difficulty focusing in school, and that the desire for balance was related to my value of spirituality, and that surfing was a means of connecting to something bigger than myself. When I begin to see this web, a personal statement begins to emerge, that fits somewhere on this spectrum:


Our challenges make us aware of our needs, and we get our needs fulfilled in ways that correspond with our values. Consider the how the classes you take, your extracurriculars or your hobbies correspond with your values. This web could be the theme of your essay, or the soul of your essay.

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