I'm writing a scholarship essay on the meaning of life.
I believe that the meaning of life is to make your own meaning, but I just don't know how to make this a "winning" essay.
Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Apparently the question you have been asked to respond to is not "What is the meaning of your life?" but "What is the meaning of all life?" If you take it too personally you have to end up with some existential platitudes which in themselves sound pretty meaningless. Richard Dawkins in his great book The Selfish Gene tries to give a scientific explanation of life, beginning with the earliest chemical reaction in the "primeval soup" which produced a molecule that could replicate itself. Dawkins is a Darwinian and believes that all life evolved from a chance combination of chemicals. He asserts that life has no "meaning." It just does what it does by a blind mechanical process, and it gets more and more complicated because of the struggle for existence. You might also refer to Charles Darwin and Thomas Malthus--but you don't have to read them cover to cover because you obviously don't have time. Just check them out online. Life isn't even necessarily going anywhere. Mankind is not necessarily progressing but only adapting to changing conditions via mutations. I think you might start with a view like that and then segue into your personal feelings about your own brief existence. Life may not have any meaning at all, but you are here--so what should you do about it while you are? Most of us have to grow, find a niche in which to survive, reproduce, raise a new generation, and then die. If you just try to write about your own life in your essay, it may seem stale, commonplace, naive, and superficial. You seem to suspect that to be the case already. I suggest that you read a little about Richard Dawkins and The Selfish Gene. You don't have to read the whole book. Check the link below. There is plenty of information about Dawkins on the internet. Start with the big picture and then zero in on the little picture (i.e. you).
This is a great question. Any essay that has a chance of winning must have a strong thesis statement, which I believe you have. Your thesis is "you must make your own meaning." This idea fits in nicely with our postmodern/pluralistic age, where there are many thoughts, dreams, and passions.
In light of this, be more specific. What is your definition of meaning? What is your passion? In other words, what do you want to do to create meaning? The sharper the focus, the better your essay will be.
Any winning essay also must have good examples. Ask, therefore, who are some of your heroes who created meaning for their lives. For many people, it is someone like Steve Jobs. He had a dream of making lives better though technology, and he was passionate to the end. He was a pioneer. Most of all he succeeded.
Finally, I would add the word "excellence." Whatever you do with excellence to the end, you will create something beautiful, which is meaningful. So, you might want to give a few examples of the power of excellence.
There's a lot of existentialism inherent in this question; "existence precedes essence." We assign "meaning" to life, ours or anyone's, by generating a taxonomy of causes and effects toward a goal. As Goethe says, after aking what the project was supposed to achieve, you ask if you succeeded, and then you ask if the project was worth pursuing. In this case, the "project" is "the project of the will." If you wish to assign the project to a religious aim, like "going to heaven," that's fine. But your essay might want to address the more perplexing question of "How do I give life meaning, if I have the task of actually assigning meaning to it"? True, an essay should have a thesis statement and support it, but your thesis could be "Life has no 'meaning' except insofar as I assign meaning to (my life) through the choices I make, and by then accepting of the consequences of those choices."
Though to state my opinion, man is in reality defined and created by a thing other than himself, and it is that other thing which truly has any authority to state what man's meaning is.
On the concept of the meaning of life being "what you make it", the "man must achieve his purpose willingly" section of this essay on the meaning of life below may be useful :
To make your essay stand out it can only help to make sure your opinions expressed are logically sound, and the concepts covered show the degree of thoroughness required, without being difficult to follow or understand. It depends on the audience the essay is for but generally a simple while still elegant and convincing flow has impact.