Deciding to be less competitive in college

Competitive people can’t help being competitive just like lazy people can’t help being lazy. It’s simply in the blood. But for obvious (and unfortunate) culturally American reasons, teachers, parents and honest friends will berate you for being lazy, but wont for being overly competitive. That’s because competitive people tend to excel: top percentile grades, multiple extracurricular activities and popularized class rank are among some of the achievements of those who win at school. But when you take down these signs of success, you’ll see that trying to be the best can be just as harmful as trying not to be above average.

You can lose friends (or potential friends) by being too competitive. You can stress yourself out, develop insecurities, and even inadvertently poison your own academic performance by being too competitive. Still, these things can fly under the radar while in high school, especially when you’ve got that 98% test grade that you were looking for. But while that 98% is super cool, bringing that level of One Student to Rule Them All attitude to a college campus is an infamously bad idea.

One of the first things you realize when you start classes is how many smart kids there are (and not just at your top schools and Ivy Leagues). Thinking that you need to outshine all these students, just like you outshined your high school classmates, might drive you a little mad. But it’s not just the competitive stress that’ll hurt ya—a big part of college is learning to be really good at working with people, not against them. Just take a look at the working world if you don’t believe me: Google works in teams, Bowing works in teams, the Government, of course, works in teams. And even if your type of career requires silouhed research or production, you’re still going to work under someone, with clients, and for a company.

But the key isn’t to just not care (not that you could). What it’s really about is learning to see your classmates as being beneficial, not a threat, to your own success.

Example one: Study groups. Study groups are much more popular (and necessary) in college, and you’d much rather work with another top student than an “I forgot my notes” student.

Example two: Group projects. A major part of your grades (for mostly every class) will be group work. And since in these situations you literally can’t get a better can’t than your teammates, you have no choice but to look to them for help.

Learning to switch off this desire to be the top student in a class will be tough. High school is boringly built around standardized tests and rankings—the irony here being that when you get into the working world, nothing can really be measured, and there are hundreds of ways to excel, hundreds of ways to fail and plenty of middle ground to fall into. If you can wrap this zen like understanding of “success” around your head, you’ll be able to stop thinking of being the best in college, and focus on just benefiting from college.

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