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Asking for pity?


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I am working on my social work grad. school applications. I have to write a breif essay describing an experience in which in exhibited leadership, responsibility, and/or judgment, and what i learned from it.

I am considering writing about my Mom's cancer. Describing how i have made frequent visits home, helped her recieve insurance coverage, talked with her doctors, helped with my little brothers, and gave moral support---all while maintaining a 4.0 GPA. I'd like to write about this, because i DO think i have been pretty responsible and basically a Leader in my family. But, the problem is, i dont want to look like i am looking for pity or a handout. There are many people who have had far far worse experiences. What do you guys think? Should i find something else to write about?

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I think taking leadership in many situations involves stress, discomfort, and hardship of one sort or another. Actually, the fact that a person must accept that kind of "burden", that kind of task is what distinguishes a leader.

So, your experience with your mom's cancer is a terrific example that can be explored and fleshed out for a great essay. I don't think pity will enter into it if you approach the essay from the leadership perspective.

Here are some leadership quotes to get your creative juices flowing. I often resorted to starting an essay with a quotation that kind of summed up my perspective and that made it easier to keep the piece coherent and on track. (And I got straight A's in essays!)

Henrik Ibsen:

A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm. (You can substitute "family" for "community" here.)

John Quincy Adams:

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.

Peter Drucker:

The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say "I." And that's not because they have trained themselves not to say "I." They don't think "I." They think "we"; they think "team." They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don't sidestep it, but "we" gets the credit…. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.

Rosabeth Moss Kantor:

Leaders are more powerful role models when they learn than when they teach.

Good luck!


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I think your paper will be excellent as well, and if you're worried about the 'pity' aspect of it, why not write in a disclaimer? Acknowledge that it could be read that way, but that that is not your goal. Specifically say you're not looking for pity, but that this is a trial that has helped form you into who you are as a leader and person.

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I think you should go ahead and write that paper about cancer. Isn't that what social work is about? I think it is easier to write a paper about something you have experience in. Don't worry about the pity thing...it will all be about how you write it. You could talk about the resources you gathered to help your mom. I think it is an excellent choice.

Good luck,


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Write the paper, it's not "pity" if you do something with it, it's called "empathy". Empathy is good, it says you can put yourself in someone else's shoes.

BUT, if it's possible you may have to read it to your class and you feel it's a bit personal for that, write about something else. I've had to read many "great" papers to my class over the years as a teacher's "good example", some I was not comfortable with sharing. If you don't want to be put on the spot, don't leave that opportunity open. You can always publish a book later, when you go for your Masters.

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I think this is a wonderful opportunity for you to write this experience in a paper for school. I always find that pity cannot come into the equation if you write about how the experience has impacted you in a positive way. It is stressful for sure. I am of the belief that it is with the hardships in life also comes the deepest and truest personal growth. We would all love not to "grow" in these painful ways, but it seems that life, living, growing, and loving abundantly comes with a price. Either we step up to the challenge, or refuse the opportunity for enhancing our lives, broadening our perspectives or staying stagnant.

You will do just fine.

By the way. I hope you do have a sound outlet for your grief and sadness. You deserve that. This is not easy. For anyone. You have a challenging and fulfilling life ahead of you, there, little missy. As long as the Steeler fans don't know where you live, you will be okay. :wink:

love, Cindi

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Baby, ya'll kicked-cancer's sorry *ss to the curb. Nobody otta mess with you.

Advocating for loved ones is ultimate leadership in my book.

Write your esay. The truth is the truth. The nmessage is loud and clear. just don't include trite little bits like what i have included in this message and you'll do fine.

I rarely made "A's" on essays. I am great at class participation and practicum/application.



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You go ahead and write that paper. It would make aware of this disease and the negative and postive parts.

It is always good to write down your feelings anyway as that is a way to help you cope and heal.

Good luck, you are a wonderful caring daughter. Your mom must be so proud of you. So glad you joined us here.

By the way, since you have been posting so much, what do we call you? :)

Maryanne :wink:

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Last summer I applied to a management program at work and I had to write and essay about my greatest accomplishment outside of work. I chose to write about what I learned through not only my Mom's journey but also my Mother-in-law's. I had many people read the essay because I wanted it to be perfect and I also had fears of getting pity but it proved to be the opposite - it was very catheric for me and it opened up some good discussion with some upper level management.

Good luck to you! I hope you get into the school of choice!

Much Love,

Amy P

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Hopefully you are far enough away from your mom’s diagnosis; you’re able to write your experience with a positive slant. As Addie pointed out, everyone eventually has cancer of some form touch their lives.

The day after my Dad was diagnosed, I could not stop crying. I was finishing up an internship and had to turn in my final report. I went to class, puffy faced and red eyed. The professor, who is a psychologist and head of the psych dept, asked if I was alright. I burst into tears and said no, I need to leave. She followed me into the hall and when I told her of my Dad’s diagnosis, she hugged me and told me I was “pre-grieving” :roll: . At the time, the only information I had was dismal. The fifteen percent chance of surviving 5 years was a far cry from the 20 years he’d been promising me for years.

I graduated with honors and was awarded the psych student of the year. Though I did carry a 4.0, I blew off the psych club and other activities that more deserving students participated in. I’ll never feel good about the award.

So I understand your concern, you don’t want to always be second guessing your admittance. Keep it positive, focus on the leadership qualities you exhibit and if written well, you’ll be applauded for your strength and not pitied for your circumstance.

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