When Friends are Your Competition

Posted April 2014

Getting into medical (or any variation) school is hard. That’s no big secret.

But do you know what’s harder? Having your friends, your support, be your competition.

Those of us who are pre-med tend to have a lot of other pre-meds in our circle of friends. It just makes sense that we do, since we spend much of our time in class, studying or doing medically (as minimal as it might be) related things. No matter how close we get, we always have that lingering thought in the back of our head “This person is competition”.

So how can we accept that from here on out, everyone is fighting against us and how can we be sane through it all?

Competition does not mean enemy

I come from a world of competition; one where to not be the best means getting you get the shit beat out of you. That’s martial arts for you. But there are times when you have to fight against friends and that’s much harder than fighting a stranger. You know their weakness, but you also know their strengths, just like they know yours. Only one person can win.

Luckily, medicine isn’t the same as martial arts competitions. There is no one winner, and a lot of opportunities to be successful. But something I learned from getting my ass kicked (on more occasions than I would like to admit) is that even when you are fighting, you are still friends. They don’t become an enemy just because we are head-to-head.  And that should carry over to your pre-med and pre-health friends. Your competition with each other makes you better, makes you face the real world with that much more experience and determination. The best thing about competing with friends is that even if you don’t win, part of you wins with them the same thing if you win.

Finding your gold

You’re going to go through a lot of friends in college. Most of the time, universities and colleges support way many more people than high school does, and you will have a chance to meet people who you are really meant to be friends with. I’m not saying your high school experiences in friendship were duds (it’s probably the opposite), but you will find a lot more people of similar mindset in upper level education. But to do that, you have to dig through dirt to find gold.

You will figure out pretty quickly if the people you hang out with don’t have your best intentions in mind (or if you don’t). There are certain red flags like hiding information about a class, unwilling to share helpful resources or trying to psych you out before exams. You don’t need to drop them like a hot potato, but studying or taking classes with them is probably a no-go.

As a pre-med or pre-health, you need to figure out what friends actually want the best for you, and what friends you want the best for. You shouldn’t find yourself feeling uncomfortable sharing good news or feeling weird when they talk about theirs. You want friends who know the competition is there but doesn’t let that get in the way of being there for you and vice versa.

Zen in success

I heard something the other day that I found really true; we are happy for the success of others, as long as it does not surpass our own. Ouch, doesn’t that make us sound like terrible people? It’s something I’m sure everyone has thought at one point or another and it’s natural to want to be better than other people. I’m pretty sure that’s our primordial survival of the fittest thing happen.

I don’t think it’s that we want our competition to screw up or not achieve success. It’s actually the opposite. But there is a sense of relief knowing you were able to do well, really do better, than someone you are competing with. It’s doesn’t make us bad people, but at the same time we want people to be happy for our accomplishments too. We want people to celebrate us so we need to be able to do the same, for better or worse. I know I for sure have had to overcome feeling this way when someone I know does better than me. You need to find a place where you feel good about that you did, and then you can feel good about other people too. It’s a practice in self-control. Don’t let yourself feel any pangs of jealousy or doubt because you didn’t score as high, have as many application points or whatever. And don’t let yourself get an air of superiority over the people you surpassed. We were all in the same boat once.

Focus on you

It’s easy to compare yourself to those you are competing against. It’s also really easy to panic about how much you think you aren’t doing and how much better everyone else has it.

Stop that.

Once you get to med school trying to compare yourself to everyone will do nothing but make it that much harder on you to succeed. Focus on your strengths, rectify your weaknesses and give it 100%. Your goal is to be the best whatever doctor you will be and to do that you need to know what your best is, not compared to your classmates, not compared to your friends and family and not compared to the best people in the world. The one person is truly your competition is you, so beat your previous best and excel. You never know, maybe that’s all you need.

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