I can't remember getting much advice that helped before UChicago. Don't take Hum and Sosc at the same time—but I like reading, and each year has been easier since. Aim for eight hours of sleep each night—but my sleep schedule is erratic at best, so I don't always feel rested. This kind of advice was generally well-intentioned, but generic, and it usually came from people I didn't know well.
The advice I remember came from a good friend back home in Houston. I've known him for a few years. We usually talk about the same things when we see each other, he usually asks me the same questions, and he usually gives me the same pieces of advice. One of these is: “Be assertive.” The trouble was, when I first heard it, I didn't know how.
For a long time, I understood anxiety to be intrinsic to myself—in particular, the anxiety that prevents you from doing the things you really want to do: ask someone out, reach out to a friend, or explore the city. When I first started college, anxiety consumed me to a degree I hadn't felt in some time. Minor social interactions made my heart race. O-Week parties made me want to cry. Each time I returned to my room, even with my dear roommate, was laced with defeat. It felt as if others were speaking a language I didn't know. Meanwhile, whenever I met a situation in which saying what I wanted to say would risk hurting my feelings, I held back. I used sensitivity as an excuse to prevent self-growth.
Eventually this became maddening. Through trial and error, I learned the importance of communicating in a way that is clear, direct and kind. Of course, this comes with some qualifications. Go with your gut if you feel unsafe. Sometimes ghosting is the best option. And kind doesn't mean nice. You don’t need to listen to people who gaslight you. It is not disrespectful to be honest about what you want, or what you can and can't do. It is okay to ask for help.
I can trace back each instance in which I have hurt someone to this: I communicated in a way that was indirect and projected anxiety, or I made assumptions about what someone meant or what they could do for me. And in each instance in which I have asserted myself successfully, I have tried to understand the other person's perspective as generously as I can, and tried to be clear, direct, and kind when expressing how I feel.
I have found it far easier to manage challenges with this as my watchword. It feels so obvious to me now that to write this feels unhelpful, but I hope it helps.