In my last blog post I discussed some of the ways Dr. Pausch enlivens his lecture and engages the reader, but his presentation is not just a collection of spiffy techniques, it has profound content and substance. Let’s look at the substance, not in the context of his tragic circumstances — he has cancer of the liver — but in an admissions context.
On p.5 of the transcript Dr. Pausch describes a high school coach who was just all over him one day during practice. At the end of the day, the assistant coach came over to him and asked:
said, ‘when you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave
Dr. Pausch took those words to heart and concludes "When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care."
Have you participated in an extra-curricular activity and had someone critique your efforts from top to bottom, A-Z? Or perhaps you had a demanding, but fair boss… Did you respond by improving? What concrete steps did you take? In what ways did you improve? Did you learn from the experience? Can you also derive a lesson, as Dr. Pausch did above, that has more to do with who you are as a person than the actual task at hand?
This kind of approach can be very effective in responding to a question like Tuck’s #3 or any interview question that asks how you handle criticism. It can also allow you to highlight specific skills or interests.
Another element that repeatedly appears in Dr. Pausch’s lecture: "brick walls. Dr. Pausch describes rejection letters, obstacles, and setbacks of all kinds throughout his life. Many would call them his "failures," but he doesn’t bemoan them. He doesn’t even bemoan his prognosis. He describes these setbacks as brick walls and specifically in talking about rejection letters, or in his words "the damned nicest go-to-hell letters I have ever gotten" he says.:
"But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people."
What strength of spirit! He then goes on to describe how he got other jobs and eventually the job of his dreams from the company that sent him one of those nice letters. When have you traveled around, climbed over, or dug under a brick wall in your life? When have you failed, picked yourself up, dusted yourself off, and gone on to achieve more than you initially dreamed of doing?
Those occasions are the ones that you can use to illustrate your responses to failure, or brick walls, whether you are responding to Wharton’s #2, Fuqua’s 1c, Tepper’s C1 and a host of grad, MBA, college, and medical school essay questions.
When you look at the lessons and the anecdotes in Dr. Pausch’s life, can you find parallel incidents in your life that taught you hard-earned lessons? You can use Dr. Pausch’s techniques — combining anecdote with analysis, vivid description, and an incredible strength of spirit to write essays that are winners.