Please critique.

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )

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Joined: Sat Jul 10, 2010 3:30 pm

Please critique.

Postby ninjasrule » Mon Oct 11, 2010 3:45 pm

This is a rough draft... helpful comments are appreciated.


Taekwondo and I:
Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying, Stop Competing, and Love the Art

“It's not fair!” I sobbed, “It's not fair!”

I had just watched a black belt test, but it wasn't mine.

“No one understands that my parents thought Taekwondo was a waste of time. If I had started earlier, that would be ME up there. ME GETTING THAT BLACK BELT. NOT THEM!!!” I spit out these words bitterly and angrily.

No matter how much David, my boyfriend, tried to console me, I was inconsolable. “You'll have your day,” he said. “I know it.” Yet by that time, I was already too upset, convinced that I had been a victim of a horrible injustice.

I used to view my life as one giant competition. If I wasn’t the best, then I was the worst. I grew up motivated by the thought of beating someone. In high school, winning meant obtaining the highest grades and admission into top colleges. What was your GPA? How many extracurricular activities? How many hours of work? My competitive drive was a burning lump in the back of my throat that pushed me to succeed.

Not surprisingly, when I first joined Taekwondo in college, I harbored this same sense of competition. As a beginner, though, I didn’t dare to compete with other students. After all, I had no knowledge of Taekwondo. Instead, I spent many weeks in the back of the class practicing basics. Mostly, I looked down at my feet to check my front stance, rather than notice the other students practicing other techniques.

However, as I promoted to higher ranks, I looked up more and saw what others were doing around me. I moved up to the front row. I started doing double kicks, then spinning kicks, and then jumping spinning kicks. At first, I retained the “beginner” mindset: observe what the higher ranking students do, and then copy their movements exactly. Yet the more I watched them, the more I noticed their technical flaws. The way their heels didn't line up correctly when they stepped in back stance. The way they didn't keep their hands up on front kick. The way they forgot to “kihap” in a form.

These observations impacted me, but in an insidious way. Since I practiced for hours every chance I had and thought about being “perfect” all the time, I improved quickly in my technical skills. So rapidly in fact, that my progress led me to think that the higher ranks making mistakes didn't “deserve” their ranks. I always found myself looking at them, thinking, “How can you be so sloppy?! Do you even care? Do you even practice?!” They had no idea, I thought, of how HARD I worked in each class. They had no idea that I trained until my muscles and bones ached. They had no idea of how much I longed for the day I could show everyone just how good I was!

“I can do all of those things, David,” I ranted. “I can do all of these things, and better!!”

By now, my insatiable drive to mow down everyone around me was taking its toll. I even thought about quitting Taekwondo because I didn't want to be “kept in my place” while people “less-deserving” enjoyed a higher rank. I started leaving each class embittered with anecdotes about how so-and-so didn't do well on a certain technique. Suffocated in my arrogance, blinded by rage, and anxious to prove myself, I couldn’t even think straight. I could only think about beating them. Being the best. Being Number One.

Then, other obligations in my life beckoned to me, and reluctantly, I returned home to heed their calls. For one, I needed to put aside my Taekwondo training and prepare for the LSAT. As I sat in the LSAT classroom, I looked around and judged people. He looks smart, I said to myself. Well, I'm going to beat him. Her brother got a perfect score? Well, I'll show her! Those same competitive feelings were rising up again.

These competitive feelings didn't get me far. As I began working on difficult test problems, I felt the motivation drain out of me. I started to question myself. Why am I doing this? Is this even worth my time? Then, the more I thought about my feelings, the more I realized that I had been motivated for the wrong reasons: I simply wanted to show other people that I was smart. To say to someone, “Ha! I told you so!” Yet when it really came down to it, I didn't want to spend endless hours working towards a goal that only amounted to gloating at best. Law school was going to be a giant commitment, one that would cost me time, money, and most importantly, a good deal of my social life. For this test, I needed to work hard to prepare not because I wanted to beat someone else. No, I needed to work hard because studying law was a passion in my life—a passion that would make me happy.

This paradigm shift helped me see Taekwondo in a different light. Here, too, my competitiveness allowed me to advance forward, but for the wrong reasons. I often asked myself, “Why do I want to get a black belt? Why do I train?” Before, my answer was: so I can show everyone how it's supposed to be done. Now my answer is different: because this is what I love. It doesn’t matter that others who worked less than I did possessed higher ranks—that is a fact of life in general. A fact of life I can't control, or fight against. Being at Taekwondo is the best thing that happened to me because it made me realize the destructive way of thinking that I had done my whole life. Taekwondo was a safe place for me to see my mistake. I am lucky that I joined and realized this fact now, instead of waking up one day to see my self-worth merely in relation to others.

Furthermore, I realized why my school required many ranks in Taekwondo before black belt. They were not there to “keep me in my place” but to teach me what really matters in the grand scheme of things: life is not about how fast you progress but about how you get there. Sure, I might have learned all my new forms within a week of testing, but that didn't automatically mean that I should be moving to the next rank so quickly. Taekwondo taught me that my identity could not, was not, and should not be based solely on the notion of surpassing other people, through attaining the “next level.”

As a college senior, I have been thinking plenty about the future. When I think about the future, I realize this truth: one year from now, it will not matter if someone failed to “kihap” in a form. Five years from now, it will not matter if I did perfectly my jumping spinning crescent kick on my black belt test. Ten years from now, it will not matter that another student didn't bother coming to practice. What will matter in the end? In the end, what will matter is how Taekwondo taught me to be my best for the most important audience of all—myself.

Our school subscribes to the notion that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In pondering this quote, I have always assumed that this journey began with a step forward. However, I now see this idea in a new light. For me, my journey has begun not with a step forward, but with a step back. Taking a step back has let me discover the bigger picture on how I should live my life: valuing not the material gains of rank, but instead the relationships formed and perspectives gained. David was right when he said, “You'll have your day.” Yes, everyone has their day eventually. The day we all return to dust—this moment is our destiny, our “day.” Until the end comes, I am happy to report, that I will continue to live my life with Taekwondo and cherish the beginning of more great lessons to come.

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Re: Please critique.

Postby chaosnoodlesoup » Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:25 pm

Sorry if this seems harsh, but you should reflect on the criticism provided as a bouncing board for advancing the idea behind your PS, because I think it's in need of some revision:

1. I know where you're headed about 15 seconds into reading your PS.
2. Unfortunately, that also means I know I'm about to be spoon-fed cliches. Super competitive for the wrong reasons + some type of humbling failure= _________________, which is the only place where you could offer some originality with this piece. But, unfortunately, you end your PS with this:

David was right when he said, “You'll have your day.” Yes, everyone has their day eventually. The day we all return to dust—this moment is our destiny, our “day.” Until the end comes, I am happy to report, that I will continue to live my life with Taekwondo and cherish the beginning of more great lessons to come.

This quote seems a bit, umm, crazy. Not that you're wrong or anything, but that its totally irrelevant to anything you've talked about before in the PS and it could leave that bad "our destiny is in Revelation/death/eschatology" taste in your mouth.

Throughout the resolution to your PS, you say that you've changed your worldview so that your identity is no longer based solely on surpassing others. That's great, really, because people that live their lives that ways make themselves and everyone else feel terrible. But now I'm looking for what you've replaced it with, and I get this:

...not the material gains of rank, but instead the relationships formed and perspectives gained...what will matter is how Taekwondo taught me to be my best for the most important audience of all—myself

Okay, I understand that you're now on par with what's expected of well-adjusted human beings. You've overcome some internal limitations on your self-perception. How does this separate you from anyone else? I see this as making you merely normal, which is better than your starting point, but nothing profound.

Your writing, besides a few points of poor word choice [see: "tried to console me, I was inconsolable"], is decent and will stand with editing. The idea for your PS is what needs some revision, because I'm at a loss to see how you stand out as a candidate from what you've told me.

I wish you the best of luck, Cheers.

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Re: Please critique.

Postby plenipotentiary » Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:29 pm

Your PS probably shouldn't have a title, especially one that sums up the entire thing in one sentence (talk about blowing your wad). I would also cut the dialogue and all references to your boyfriend.

More generally, I think the problem with this PS is that it focuses on your flaws, and it's fairly unflattering.

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Re: Please critique.

Postby Veyron » Mon Oct 11, 2010 4:32 pm

I would be terrified to admit someone with your personality to my school even though I am highly competitive myself. Your first paragraph makes you seem whiny. Don't talk about your bf, if you must bring him into the pic, call him your friend - though this really should be about you.

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