He’s my best friend…

But if he does well, it feels like I’m losing! 

Our elder has some advice for a high achiever who feels guilty about ‘competing’ with their best friend.


Dear EWC

I’m a high school student. I have a best friend that I’m very close to. We’re both ‘top of the class’ type students. I feel horrible about it, but I can’t help but feel like I’m competing with him. When he asks for help, he’s my closest friend and I always do my very best but part of me doesn’t want to in case it gives him an edge in college admissions. He’s my closest friend and I don’t want to lose him, but every time I hear about his achievements or help him, I feel like I’m losing. It fills me with guilt to feel this way toward my best friend; he’s done so much for me in return as well. What should I do?


Folk replies

You have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. Feelings are not the same as actions. In your heart, you might not always have wanted to help your friend, but the important thing is that you did always help him. You didn’t allow your feelings to control you; you controlled them instead – and did the right thing. Good on you for that.

High achievers like yourself tend to be naturally competitive. You always want to do your best, and one way for you to measure your own success is by comparing yourself to other high achievers – like your best friend. You don’t like feeling like you want to get an edge on your friend in college admissions, but your brain is telling you that his success is your failure. This is simply not true, though. There is more than enough success to go around, and you and your friend can both succeed, especially if you help and support one another in achieving your individual goals.

Nobody likes people who only look out for themselves. Nobody looks at a one-upper and thinks, wow, good for them. They look at them and go, really? If you genuinely want to be there for your best friend, then you need to learn how to be happy for his success as well as your own. Learning to be happy for others doesn’t mean you stop wanting to compete with them. It just means that when something good happens to them, you don’t want to jealously take their success away.

It may help you to feel less like withholding your help from your friend if you realize that there is no connection between college admission and being first or second or fifth or sixth in your class. I know students who got into every prestigious institution they applied to with a less-than-perfect GPA/ SAT score, and I know students with 4.0/ near-2400 who didn’t. From the moment you cross the stage at graduation, no one will ever care what your class rank could have been, should have been, would have been, or actually was.

When you look back on high school, what do you want to remember? Being miserable because you allowed a pointless ranking system to govern your experience? Or do you want memories of laying the foundation for a lifelong friendship with someone you truly enjoy being around and whose support and help you can always count on?

If both you and your friend are going for the same prize, it may happen that your friend gets it and you don’t. Or the opposite may happen and you may achieve some honor or admission that your friend doesn’t achieve. If this happens, it’s important to remember to respect the process and support one another. Remember that neither you nor he was the person who chose the prize winner, so you shouldn’t get mad at one another.

Finally, whenever you start to get the feeling that you want to selfishly hold back from helping your friend, try taking a step back from whatever you’re doing and breathe. Remember that high school is simply four years of your life. When you recall high school, do you want to remember that you lost a really good friend because of your obsession with numbers? Trust me on this: if something like class rank governs your emotions now, you are in for a very unhappy future.

I hope this helps. I am always here if you’d like to talk more about this. Please try to write back to let me know how you are coping with your competitive nature. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with working hard to be at the top of anything. What’s wrong is stepping on our friends’ backs to get there.

Article #: 470531

Category: Friendship

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