Let's Talk About Competitive Suffering

Living on a college campus, I am constantly surrounded by some of the busiest humans in America— college students. There is no denying that going to school, working, and maintaining a social life is a lot to handle. Some students have multiple majors, pick up minors, or work several part-time jobs in addition to going to school full time.

With midterms upon us this week, it is a particularly busy time for college students as they prepare to head home for spring break. I have noticed that busy times are often accompanied by an increase in complaining and lamenting about tests and assignments. In a society where comparing yourself to others is normal, college students fall into a pattern of something called competitive suffering.

Competitive suffering is exactly what it sounds like— a competition of who is suffering more, whether it be who has more assignments, who is the busiest, or who has the most financial worries. And of course, there is no actual competition or tangible reward for the person who suffers the most, maybe just sympathy.

For college students, competitive suffering has become normalized in day-to-day conversations. As soon as one student complains about having 3 tests and 2 papers due tomorrow, another chimes in that they have 4 tests and 3 papers due tomorrow. As a college student myself, I completely understand feeling overwhelmed and love to complain sometimes. However, I don’t think that chronic competitive sufferers realize the impact they have on their own mental health. Competitive suffering takes away any positive feelings toward tasks at hand and turns them into a (metaphorical) dark cloud hanging over their head. Not only does it affect their own personal mental health, but it can also make people around them feel upset and sorry for them.

Sometimes, I think people just complain to hear themselves complain. Other times, they are looking for sympathy. Whatever the case may be, I do not see complaining (especially about school work) as a productive way of living out your college years.

I am absolutely not condoning keeping your feelings to yourself (within reason)— if you are struggling, talk to someone about it! If you find yourself in an environment where competitive suffering is prevalent, however, try to contribute something positive to the conversation rather than adding on to the pile of complaints on the (metaphorical) table. Competitive suffering is no joke and should not be taken lightly anymore, especially on college campuses.