Although we are no longer accepting new essays on our website, we thought we would share these essay writing suggestions in case you wished to write an essay for your own benefit. Writing your own statement of personal belief can be a powerful tool for self-reflection. It can also be a wonderful thing to share with family, friends, and colleagues. To guide you through this process, we offer these suggestions:
Tell a story about you: Be specific. Take your belief out of the ether and ground it in the events that have shaped your core values. Consider moments when belief was formed or tested or changed. Think of your own experience, work, and family, and tell of the things you know that no one else does. Your story need not be heart-warming or gut-wrenching—it can even be funny—but it should be real. Make sure your story ties to the essence of your daily life philosophy and the shaping of your beliefs.
Be brief: Your statement should be between 500 and 600 words. That’s about three minutes when read aloud at your natural pace.
Name your belief: If you can’t name it in a sentence or two, your essay might not be about belief. Also, rather than writing a list, consider focusing on one core belief.
Be positive: Write about what you do believe, not what you don’t believe. Avoid statements of religious dogma, preaching, or editorializing.
Be personal: Make your essay about you; speak in the first person. Avoid speaking in the editorial “we.” Tell a story from your own life; this is not an opinion piece about social ideals. Write in words and phrases that are comfortable for you to speak. We recommend you read your essay aloud to yourself several times, and each time edit it and simplify it until you find the words, tone, and story that truly echo your belief and the way you speak.
For this project, we are also guided by the original This I Believe series and the producers’ invitation to those who wrote essays in the 1950s. Their advice holds up well. Please consider it carefully in writing your piece.
In introducing the original series, host Edward R. Murrow said, “Never has the need for personal philosophies of this kind been so urgent.” We would argue that the need is as great now as it was 65 years ago.
I work at a company where there are about a gazillion employees. I can’t say that I know them all by name, but I know my fair share of them. I think that almost all of them know me. I’d say that’s the reason I’ve been able to go wherever it is I’ve made it to in this world. It’s all based on one simple principle: I believe that every single person deserves to be acknowledged, however small or simple the greeting.
When I was about ten years old, I was walking down the street with my mother. She stopped to speak to Mr. Lee. I was busy trying to bull’s-eye the O on the stop sign with a rock. I knew I could see Mr. Lee any old time around the neighborhood, so I didn’t pay any attention to him. After we passed Mr. Lee, my mother stopped me and said something that has stuck with me from that day until now. She said, “You let that be the last time you ever walk by somebody and not open up your mouth to speak, because even a dog can wag its tail when it passes you on the street.” That phrase sounds simple, but it’s been a guidepost for me and the foundation of who I am.
When you write an essay like this, you look in the mirror and see who you are and what makes up your character. I realized mine was cemented that day when I was ten years old. Even then, I started to see that when I spoke to someone, they spoke back. And that felt good.
It’s not just something I believe in; it’s become a way of life. I believe that every person deserves to feel someone acknowledge their presence, no matter how humble they may be or even how important.
At work, I always used to say hello to the founder of the company and ask him how our business was doing. But I also spoke to the people in the café and the people who cleaned the buildings and asked how their children were doing. After a few years of passing by the founder, I had the courage to ask him for a meeting. We had a great talk. At a certain point I asked him how far he thought I could go in his company. He said, “If you want to, you can get all the way to this seat.”
I’ve become vice president, but that hasn’t changed the way I approach people. I still follow my mother’s advice. I speak to everyone I see, no matter where I am. I’ve learned that speaking to people creates a pathway into their world, and it lets them come into mine, too.
The day you speak to someone who has their head down but lifts it up and smiles, you realize how powerful it is just to open your mouth and say, “Hello.”
Former University of Maryland point guard Howard White is vice president of Jordan Brand at Nike. He founded Believe to Achieve, Nike’s motivational program for youth, and he wrote a book by the same name. Mr. White lives with his wife, Donna, and daughter, Mandy White, in Lake Oswego, Oregon. He is proud to note that his daughter is a two-time All American at the University of Oregon.
Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.
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