Tell me about yourself.
Whether you hear these words as you introduce yourself to a new group of people or read them on an essay assignment, they can be intimidating.
In general, we’re taught not to brag, but how can you write about yourself without at least doing a little bit of bragging? And what exactly are you supposed to tell about yourself—your whole life story, your hobbies, your accomplishments, or something else?
Many students often find that personal essays are the most difficult to write because there’s no evidence to back up your claims as there are in analytical essays. And there’s no way to tell what the person reading your essay is looking for.
But stick with me. I’m here to show you how to take the stress out of the situation, so you can write an essay about yourself that you can feel proud of.
How to Choose a Topic for an Essay About Yourself
In a general sense, you are the topic for this particular essay. But writing about yourself shouldn’t be just a list of all the information you have about yourself—it should be much more narrative.
In The Story Is True: The Art and Meaning of Telling Stories, author Bruce Jackson really drives this point home in the following passage:
The stories people tell about themselves and their lives always occur after the fact. Life itself has no narrative. It is serial and multiple: a million things happening at once, and then another million things happening at once, forever and ever. Narrative is one of the ways we apply order to that unimaginable overabundance of information. The process begins with exclusion of almost everything. In that regard, stories are like photographs. A decision about what a photograph will be is simultaneously a decision about what a photograph will not be; stories, which tell about and describe a finite number of things, simultaneously do not tell or describe everything else.
So the question is, what do you choose to include and exclude from your personal essay?
If you’re having trouble deciding, you probably fall into one of two camps. You either have so many experiences or accomplishments that you can’t choose just one, or you think you have lived such a boring life that you can’t think of anything at all.
Let’s tackle these issues one at a time.
When you have too many ideas
Most personal narrative essay prompts will include something beyond “write about yourself.”
Typically, a prompt will relate to interests, accomplishments, relationships, or experiences that have impacted your life in a major way. This helps narrow the field of topics down a little bit, but you still may have a hard time just choosing one.
So start by brainstorming and writing down all your ideas. Then, go through and eliminate the ones that don’t fit the topic well, as well as ones where you would struggle to meet the word count.
Here comes the hard part. Start eliminating topics that you’re not passionate about. Do that over and over until you’re left with just one. Passion pushes your personality to the forefront of your writing.
And because the essay is about you, you definitely want your personality to show.
When you don’t have any ideas
This was always my problem when I was writing about myself. I live a pretty mundane and monotonous life. This was even more the case when I was in school. So I get it.
But just because your life feels boring doesn’t mean that it is boring.
So think about what makes you tick. What do you do for fun? Who are your favorite people to hang out with? What makes you who you are?
For me, I might write about my love of jazz and how that alienated me when I was younger, but how I found inspiration through it—and a pretty awesome social group.
The hardest topics to write about if you’re in this category are probably those relating to your accomplishments. If you aren’t involved in sports or haven’t made the honor roll, it doesn’t mean you haven’t accomplished anything.
In fact, even if you are involved in sports or on the honor roll, I would still encourage you to take this advice: think about the most difficult time in your life and write about what you did to overcome it.
Personal achievements still count even if you didn’t get a trophy. They make for a better essay.
Hardships and relationships are what give people their character. Use that. Write about it.
Figuring out what to write about is only half the battle, though. The other half is figuring out how to write about it.
Structuring and Writing an Essay About Yourself
Personal narrative essays are a lot different than pretty much any other essay out there.
Not only do you have to rely on your own anecdotes instead of contextual evidence from literature or articles, but you also have much more freedom in the structure and flow of things.
That freedom can be intimidating to some. It makes figuring out the structure pretty difficult. But like with any essay, an outline can help. Here’s one using the jazz example from above:
- Music is my inspiration, and jazz shattered the rules of any music I had heard before.
- Most sixth graders didn’t understand. Got picked on, and other kids broke my CDs. (Yes, this was before iPods and smartphones.)
- Solace in music
- Love of jazz didn’t waver; it strengthened.
- Found my passion in playing jazz piano and pursuing a career teaching others about jazz history.
- Social group
- Adults appreciate jazz a lot more. In college, I found tons of people interested in the genre.
- Could have conversations about the merits of different subgenres. Heightened my creativity.
- Lesson: What makes you an outsider at a young age could end up being what brings you closer to people as an adult.
I included three body sections in my outline, but you can go for more or fewer depending on your topic.
Notice I wrote “thesis” in quotations in the introduction section. That’s because a thesis statement for an essay about yourself is quite different than a thesis statement on a literary topic.
For a personal essay, you don’t want to give too much away at first. You’re not giving the reader a preview—you’re setting up the narrative.
Your introduction should be captivating, drawing the reader in. There are several ways to do this, but the thing to remember is that you should be descriptive. The phrase show, don’t tell rings true here.
Saying, “I’ve loved jazz since I was in the sixth grade and continue to love it to this day,” is telling.
On the other hand, starting off like this would be showing:
The moment I heard Louis’s trumpet, I was hooked. It broke all the rules I had ever known about music. It was liberating. Thrilling. And I could not get enough of it. Jazz became the only music I listened to from 11 to 15 years old. Other kids may not have understood, but jazz spoke to something in my soul, something inextinguishable.
The key is to create a good hook to draw readers into your narrative right away.
Once you get into the body paragraphs, keep the momentum going. Describe the feelings you had, the sights, smells, and sounds of your experience.
Like the introduction to an essay about yourself, the conclusion can take many forms. Sometimes, like in my example, it will be a lesson you learned from your experience. Other times, it will just be what feels like the natural end to the story.
If you’re writing about something you’re still dealing with today, you can write about how it will affect you in the future.
For example, if your essay is about how you were bullied, you can end by saying that you now know how to spot bullying behavior and will stick up for people in the same situation.
Tying up your essay with a lesson is a personal preference of mine because it allows you to make your essay more relevant. Lessons don’t just apply to you—many people can learn from them.
Still Not Totally Confident?
That’s okay. No one is always 100% confident about their writing.
But that’s what Kibin’s team of editors is here for. Once you have the first draft of your essay done, a Kibin editor will take a look and make suggestions about everything from grammar and spelling to tone and flow.
Writing an essay about yourself can be difficult. But if it’s a difficult topic or one you’re passionate about, it can also be incredibly rewarding. Here are a few examples you can use for inspiration:
Want a deeper look at a few narrative essays? Read 2 Narrative Essay Examples That Tell Fascinating Stories.
Good luck with your essay!
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