I am frequently asked how to deal with hardship, failure, or tragedy in essays. Tough subjects. An approach to these topics comes from an unlikely source: Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom.
In his essay "Remembering the Past to Build the Future," he invites the reader to " react to tragedy not as objects but as subjects, not as figures of fate but as masters of our destiny. We are not defined by what happens to us but by how we respond."
In your personal statements and application essays dealing with those tough times in your life, you need to provide some information about the difficulty, but only enough to give context and let the adcom understand your challenges. Focus on your response to those events. That focus will allow you to demonstrate strength, resilience, resourcefulness, and hopefully a host of other desirable traits. With the spotlight on your reaction, your story will evoke admiration as opposed to pity, an adcom response that bodes well for your admissions chances.
I would go even further and say that your response to success is highly revealing and perhaps defining. Did your team exceed goals and expectations? How did you react? Did you share the glory? Did you analyze the factors that contributed to your astounding success so that you could improve performance even more? Did you decide to apply those techniques to the NFP where you are volunteering? Did you learn from the experience?
The purpose of the essays is to introduce you to the adcom . Application readers want to know what makes you tick, what defines you. They will find that insight, that high definition, in your response to events, both the successes and the failures, the joys and the tragedies.