Back to Blog

The Value of What We Do


We’re looking forward to our summer work with students who will be writing out of their life experiences for their college applications. Springtime anticipation prompted me to write some words to the team, and after I sent them, I realized that they could also provide a look inside our coaching for those coming to Hillside for the first time, for those who are curious to know who we are, what we do, how we think, what we talk about.

Dear Hillsiders,

As we turn toward the summer, I have some thoughts to share with you about our coaching at Hillside.

The more I live and grow, and the more I learn to recognize the growth of others close to me, the more I see the value of what we do, what we’re so wonderfully capable of doing: teaching how to stop and notice experiences, how to observe past encounters and their contexts, in order to move toward fresh understandings of personal realities (inner and outer) and distinct individual truths.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about Time’s incessant march onward (see the gray hairs?), and of how much of a day or a week or a month we spend just trying to keep up. But then we writers find the space to look backward, not forward, and see — if we can bring the right writerly attention, an open curiosity — what a fortune there is in Experience. In what’s been lived through. It’s all there, waiting. Always.

We know how to do this, to move others from not-noticing to wondering to sensing a truth, and then to the articulation of that truth. It's an enduring personal education we create.

But it’s not only all there in the past. It’s also here, in the present.

The other day, in my reading, I came across this sentence by the composer Tina Davidson: “The past presses on the present with staggering consistency.” Right. I thought again of a core Hillside teaching — essentially, that the past is always visiting us. Every day. Can we notice it? (Enter our Ten Sentences Exercise!) My mind then leapt to something similar from Virginia Woolf that I have carried with me since graduate school:

The past only comes back when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding surface of a deep river. Then one sees through the surface to the depths. In those moments I find one of my greatest satisfactions, not that I am thinking of the past; but that it is then that I am living most fully in the present. For the present when backed by the past is a thousand times deeper than the present when it presses so close that you can feel nothing else, when the film on the camera reaches only the eye. But to feel the present sliding over the depths of the past, peace is necessary. 

In our practices and processes, with our relational talents and our patient awareness, we create this peace for that sliding over the depths. I write this morning to inspire your “re-cognition” of this as we move toward a new season of helping a lot of young humans navigate a sudden intersection of their pasts, presents, and futures.

We know how to do this, to move others from not-noticing to wondering to sensing a truth, and then to the articulation of that truth. It’s an enduring personal education we create.

Under “Authenticity and Insight” in our published values, we write: “We model close attention and honest self-reflection. As writers, we know these practices lead to insights that forever reshape our understanding of ourselves and our experiences. We share this transformative gift with our clients.”

It’s definitely a gift. What could be better than living most fully in the present?

Here ends your pep talk.

Happy May!

All best,

Allan is Hillside’s founder and a coach.


Related Posts

three students climbing stairs toward college building Friendly Advice from Admissions Officers About Those “Extra” Essays

Writing supplement essays can feel daunting, but these questions really are a great opportunity to share more of your story with admissions officers. In the spirit of sharing, here are some of our favorite resources.

Read More
Fall College-App Essay Support

Every fall, we hear from parents who tell us that — despite everyone’s best intentions — their senior didn't write a college-application essay during summer vacation. Or maybe they did, but ... it could use some work!

Read More
Following the Details Home

I asked her to draw a map. This is something I do sometimes when a student tells me they have nothing to write about. I have them draw their hometown or a place they know well. I have them sketch landmarks and points of interest. No detail is too small. At this early stage in the writing process, our work is to deal with self-doubt by gathering possibilities.

Read More