Stopping the Toxic Competitive Culture We Have with Our College Friends

Let’s make 2018 the year of supporting each other!

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Friends giving the peace sign

So your friends are competitive. That’s good, right? They’re pushing you to be a better you! But when is the competitive nature of your group crossing the line?

During my junior year of college, the unofficial “I have to be the best!” mantra of my group became extremely tiring. It felt like we were competing on grades, fitness, relationships, work, and everything else under the sun.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good healthy rivalry. I’m the one on the intramural volleyball court who’s red-faced, hot-tempered, and flipping out when the other team scores on us while the rest of my team brushes it off nonchalantly with words of encouragement: “That was a good serve Melanie! We’ll get them next time!” Since I grew up playing sports all my life, losing can make my blood boil.

But that’s volleyball. Your life (especially with your friends) shouldn’t be about keeping score.

With the new year upon us, now is a good time to make a goal to change the behavior of your group from one that’s competitive to one that’s supportive. Isn’t that what friends are supposed to be for?

{RELATED POST: How to Deal with Friendship Changes in College}

Here is a three-step plan to deal with competitive friends and stop the competitive culture in your friend group:

Begin with Improving Yourself

Don’t be so quick to blame your friends for the intense dynamic of the group. Ask yourself: Are you contributing to this culture?

Maybe instead of congratulating your best friend on the scholarship she received, you pointed out how she wouldn’t have got it without your help. Or maybe you made a snide remark when the couple in your group brought up their relationship.

These are your peers and it’s only human nature to compare yourself with others you perceive are similar to you. However, it’s important that you notice when you’re not being a supportive friend and letting competitiveness shine through in your interactions.

I’ve had my fair share of friends telling me about an internship or a high grade they received and my initial reaction could have been more supportive… had my mind not been too busy raging with jealousy. Oh, the internal conflict!

Eventually, you need to learn to turn off the unofficial Game of Life playing inside your head. Make a conscious effort to improve how you treat others, and change can spread from there.

Be Honest and Open

In the second episode of the show Friends from College, Jordan-Micheal Key’s character, Ethan, lies about his novel being accepted in order to impress his Ivy League colleagues.

Although lying about your life may seem tempting, especially when your friends are achievers, it’s never a good idea. It’s not a matter of if your friends find out but when they find out. Do you really want to risk your integrity and trust on something so petty?

Also, consider becoming more vulnerable with your group. We typically want to show off how great our lives are all the time, when what we really need is support and friendship for all the phases of our life (good and bad). This tendency to share only the good can be especially true on Instagram and Facebook.

So take a chance and share your failures as well as your wins. Chances are your friends are hoping for the opportunity to do the same.

Set a Rule to Stop “One-Upping” Each Other

There’s a reason Kristen Wiig’s recurring SNL character, Penelope, is so funny and relatable. Penelope is a character who compulsively one-ups everyone with claims that become increasingly crazy. We can all think of situations where we or our friends have been guilty of “being a Penelope.”

So if Penelope-ism runs rampant in your group, it’s time to get serious. Set a rule within your group to stop one-upping each other. This can be done by agreeing to become more aware of what you’re saying and catch yourself before the act.

If a “One-Up” instance does slip out in your friend group, politely point it out — and maybe even laugh about it. The more conscious people are of the act, the less it will happen.

Instead, when a friend talks about an incredible accomplishment or something that makes them truly happy, celebrate with them! Before you know it, it will be your turn for a celebration of your own.

What do you Think?

Do you have any experience with intense competition amongst your friends? And if you do, what are your methods for changing this for the better? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

1 thought on “Stopping the Toxic Competitive Culture We Have with Our College Friends”

  1. Thanks for bringing this up Haley!! At my small liberal arts college I experienced something called “the stress Olympics”. It starts with an innocent complaint about something like two tests on the same day and people consecutively chime in until it ends with whoever has the most stress, like two tests, an interview *and* a ten page paper!

    In my experience, the only way to win is to avoid playing all together, particularly in large groups. Past one or two friends there’s just too much comparison and not enough empathy.

    PS I’m surprised you talk about grades at all!! At my school people only mentioned grades if they were bad. Although I did have a good friend I shared my highest grades/accomplishments with privately-we were each other’s brag buddies ❤️


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