Straight Talk: Experiences necessary in self-definition

Stanford+Professor+Stephen+Murphy-Shigematsu+speaks+to+juniors+and+seniors+about+discovering+who+they+are.+After+months+of+contemplating+similar+questions+with+my+personal+statement%2C+I+couldn%27t+help+but+feel+a+little+disheartened+that+I+still+didn%27t+have+an+answer.%0A
Back to Article
Back to Article

Straight Talk: Experiences necessary in self-definition

Stanford Professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu speaks to juniors and seniors about discovering who they are. After months of contemplating similar questions with my personal statement, I couldn't help but feel a little disheartened that I still didn't have an answer.

Stanford Professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu speaks to juniors and seniors about discovering who they are. After months of contemplating similar questions with my personal statement, I couldn't help but feel a little disheartened that I still didn't have an answer.

Vivek Bhardwaj

Stanford Professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu speaks to juniors and seniors about discovering who they are. After months of contemplating similar questions with my personal statement, I couldn't help but feel a little disheartened that I still didn't have an answer.

Vivek Bhardwaj

Vivek Bhardwaj

Stanford Professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu speaks to juniors and seniors about discovering who they are. After months of contemplating similar questions with my personal statement, I couldn't help but feel a little disheartened that I still didn't have an answer.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






“Who are you? No, not ‘What do you do?’”

When Stanford professor Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu spoke to the Upper School two weeks ago, he spent the majority of his presentation encouraging students to consider their own identities—outside the context of our resumes.

After months of staring at a blank personal statement document, “Who are you?” felt all too familiar. Not because I now had an answer, but because everyone seemed to be asking it.

The personal statement in itself is intimidating, but realizing that the most “successful” pieces from past years have been by students who wrote about their challenges, their beliefs, their thought processes—not their activities—initially made it seem almost unfathomable.

I couldn’t, and still can’t, even begin to think about who I am without almost immediately jumping to my experiences. Maybe this is simply justification for leaving that personal statement document blank until a week and a half before my first college application deadlines, but I’d like to believe that we’re all, to some extent, the sum of our own experiences.

While we definitely shouldn’t reduce ourselves down to our accomplishments or our numbers, the fact that experience often leads to growth should validate including how we chose to spend our time in our attempts to expound identity.

Psychologists have spent centuries studying the nature versus nurture debate, but have concluded time and time again that we each reflect a balance between the two. As much as we rely on our genetics, our character will always be influenced by our experiences as well. Thus, scientifically speaking, isn’t it nearly impossible to talk about who we are without talking about what we’ve done, what we’ve learned, or at least what we’ve observed?

Especially as we’re growing up, we often learn the most from the results of our actions. As toddlers, if we touch a hot pan, we may get burned, but we won’t do it again. As high schoolers, we strengthen our core values when we do what we already know we love but we learn more and more about ourselves each time we step outside our comfort zones.

Just as our genes comprise our biological makeup, all of our experiences—whether trivial or monumental—are ultimately embedded in the fabrics we pull on to begin figuring out who we are.

While I’m sure I’ll eventually come to appreciate the personal statement for requiring thorough reflection during a time when I was otherwise trying to catalog my accomplishments, right now, I’ll continue learning from my experiences.