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A Talent So Meaningful

“Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”

Confronted by such Common App questions meant to probe deep into my soul and reveal my innermost workings, I was more than a little overwhelmed. I struggled for weeks to come up with a topic: what exactly am I passionate about? And does the fact that I even have to ask this question mean that I don’t actually have any real passions to speak of?

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What are my passions?? (landlordnews.co)

Fortunately, with lots of brainstorming and a little bit of luck, I was able to come up with an essay that I was pretty proud of. However, this isn’t the time to go into details on how I arrived at my eventual essay topic. No, instead, I’d like to show how my recent reflections on the college essay-writing process from three years ago, and everything I’ve done since then, has helped me arrive at a deeply held belief of mine, which is this: passions aren’t happened upon- they’re cultivated.

Finding Myself

Of course, I don’t mean to make this a blanket statement; many a people have been struck by inspiration the moment they first picked up a guitar or stepped foot onto the soccer field. Passions are wonderfully, accidentally discovered all the time, and it can completely redefine how you see the world. However, I never experienced one of those “Eureka!” moments, and for the longest time, I believed that meant I didn’t have any passions, that I lacked something fundamental everyone else around me had.

So what made me realize that wasn’t true? It began as a series of thoughts about what I’ve done in college thus far, both in terms of extracurriculars and how I like to pass time to relax and unwind. From joining a cultural magazine on campus as a way to learn more about my heritage to journaling as a way to chronicle my college experiences, it dawned on me that a lot of what I’ve done tended to center around writing.

The more I thought about it, the more I started to see what a big part writing of all forms played in my life: I’ve written pieces for the research publication on campus to learn more about what upperclassmen are studying, I enjoy watching and reading slam poetry, even writing my own occasionally, and some of my favorite class assignments have been writing essays.

At the end of it all, I realized that writing is a big enough part of my life that it might not strike me as one of my “passions,” but for all intents and purposes, it basically is. This conclusion may strike you as anticlimactic, because “passions” are usually associated with enthusiasm, boldness, and generally powerful, colorful language.

I’d like to think, though, that my passion for writing is more of a slow burn, which makes it all the more meaningful because I built up to it. Having put so much time and effort into my endeavors over the years, I know that writing won’t be something that I let go of easily.

What really struck me was that this passion for writing didn’t hit all at once; it was bits and pieces, collected over months and years of work culminating in where I am today. I didn’t have to actively seek this passion out; rather, I naturally gravitated towards writing in all aspects of my life simply by by pursuing a number of different, unrelated interests, whether that be intellectual, cultural, or social.

And the thing is, once I fully “discovered” my passion, I began to see just how many ways I had already put it to use and all the potential still waiting for me. Being able to use that skill to contribute in a variety of ways gave me newfound confidence and a sense of purpose, which made me want to use the skill all the more. It’s an uplifting cycle, and all it took was a subtle shift in how I perceived my regular, day-to-day actions.

An “Accidental Passion”

I guess you could say I did “happen upon” this passion of mine, but in reality, it had always been there; I just needed to learn to expand my perspective. Learning to view my life holistically and connect the dots has been tremendously useful; something that is now so obvious to me was just out of reach for so many years because I never took the time to take a closer look at several seemingly unrelated instances and find the common thread between these things.

I wished I had learned all this sooner; it not only would have eased my struggles with the CommonApp essay prompts, but also would have rendered unnecessary the need I felt to convince myself that I am, indeed, an interesting person with something of worth to offer.

To me, “passions” don’t necessarily have to be things you’re obsessed with or gush about; if it plays a significant role in multiple aspects of your life, it’s probably worth more than you realize, and can help others learn a lot about you in the process.

You don’t always have to know exactly who you are, what you love, or what you want to do; but if you feel at a loss for things that define you, sometimes the answers are more obvious than you might expect.

June Xia

June is a junior at Cornell University studying biology. She attended public high school in the Philly suburbs, where she ate lots of water ice and hoagies. June enjoys watching TV, playing candy crush, and reading the New York Times. Writing poetry and knitting kept her sane during admissions season, plus a lot of chocolate and hugs; she made it out alive, and is all the more introspective and aware thanks to the experience.