Thank you for all of your emails about my recent article “Keep it casual” (Oct. 30). I didn’t expect the content to resonate with so many people, and when it did it made me stop and think about what Stanford would look like without the pressure to keep everything casual, and what we could do to make it more like that. The truth is, I don’t know, but here is my best shot. I hope you can take what is useful to you and leave the rest.
1. Stop comparing yourself to others. The root of the casual epidemic is feeling average in a pool of exceptional individuals. It is useless to feel down because you think you don’t have as many friends as so and so, or because you don’t feel as attractive as what’s her face. Learn to measure your self-worth based on intrinsic qualities. Feel confident in your school work because you are curious and you apply yourself, not because your TA likes your essays. Know that you are sexy because you rock that dress, not because Douchey McDouchebag wants to take it off.
2. Invest yourself in people. This takes time. It’s easy to fall into the trap of overzealously investing yourself in the first people you meet in your freshman dorm, only to realize that you don’t have much in common after all. On the other hand, it’s also easy to spend loads of time with the same people without investing yourself substantively. Proximity only engenders intimacy when paired with curiosity and effort. Get curious about your friends, even the ones you know the best, and try to know someone, truly.
3. Open up. When you tell people exactly how you are feeling, up or down, you give them a gift. You show them that you won’t judge them if they exhibit some human tendencies and have good days and bad days like everyone else. Don’t confuse optimism and denial. Please, do try to see silver linings, but don’t force them onto emotional laundry loads that need to be washed. Sometimes you need to process even the overwhelming things that you would rather not. Don’t feel like you’re burdening someone by opening up to them. Even Jay-Z has 99 problems.
4. Honor the world your friend lives in. Your own priorities may be very different from your best friend’s, but that doesn’t make his any less valid. Even if it is a mystery to you why he spends three days on a problem set, honor his choice to do so. It is dangerous to walk through the world insisting that everyone’s priorities align with your own, and it can be useful to understand what matters to other people.
5. Listen. Listen honestly, wholeheartedly, and patiently, to as many people as you can. When you bump into an acquaintance and back out of the conversation with “we should get coffee sometime,” consider actually getting coffee sometime.
6. Be clear with your peers. Take the time to figure out what you want, and make sure you convey that to other people. Don’t mess with peoples’ emotions, whether you know them platonically, romantically or professionally. Be gentle breaking the news to someone if it turns out you want different things, but do break the news before they feel humiliated.
7. Take responsibility for your choices. Some choices may have less favorable consequences than others – say cheating on your boyfriend versus deciding to eat spaghetti. Own them equally, and don’t try to lay responsibility on the social climate at school, or your peers’ decisions or your mood. If you take responsibility for every choice you make, it’s harder to casually wreak havoc on others without suffering the corresponding consequences.
Above all, be respectful and follow that cheesy rule to treat people the way you want to be treated. I’m still puzzled on this one, so I welcome your advice on the casual conundrum. In the meantime, keep it real.
Renée really appreciated your emails – send her one anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.