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At school, my friend (let's call him Ivan) is quite intelligent. He's in enrichment classes, gets A to A+ grades and is very conscientious.

At the risk of sounding narcissistic, I am objectively one of the best performing students at my school/country (through national test results, etc.) and as a result often find my day-school subjects easy, but monotonous. Before I continue, it might be important that my classes are held on a periodic basis. With a number of periods in a day, each period of my timetable refers to a specific class in a specific classroom. However, some of the classes (usually due to teachers, not content) are overwhelmingly viewed as wastes of time. I won't name these but as an example, such a class might consist of us discussing unrelated topics and not covering content up to an appropriate curriculum standard.

As a result, I often haphazardly approach schoolwork and classroom behavior. When I feel that a certain class is wasting my time (e.g. other students refuse to listen to the teacher -> stern talks, we have an incompetent substitute teacher) I usually dedicate that time to other things. As of recently, I've been dedicating that time to olympiad mathematics, and studying things like inequalities and functional equations seems more relevant to my overall learning then spending 50 minutes in a class not learning anything.

I'm certain that the class is a waste of time / counterproductive. I'm not sure whether dedicating time to 'being efficient' / actually learning useful information is the right course of action, but that's another question.


In one particular class I'm in with Ivan (literature), I find the coursework and discussion relatively shallow. However, I enjoy the class, but because I find it so easy I usually do not put as much effort into, say, essay-writing and note-taking as someone like Ivan. Despite this, I always get better grades than him. Again, please understand that this isn't me trying to show-off - I just want to adequately contextualize the problem.

Ivan's noticed this and recently confronted (no negative connotation) me about this. He told me that it often annoyed him that he would put so much effort into rewriting and perfecting his literary analyses/etc. yet it seems like I write them half-heartedly and still manage to write excellent essays regardless. I fully sympathize with him - since there are still people above me and I once felt the same way about a particular person. But in my case, this just pushed me to try harder - and while I never reached the level I desired, it satisfied me that I had turned some sort of jealousy into a productive mindset. However, I'm not sure how to react to Ivan's confession. We share other classes as well, such as mathematics.

One thing I could do is to artifically degrade the quality of my work. This doesn't seem reasonable.

Another thing I could do is to encourage Ivan to act the same way I did - to manifest his jealously for my standards as a motivation for him. But to me, this comes across as pretentious - and given Ivan's already trying extremely hard, I'm not sure how well received this could be.

The third option is to stop being so easy-going about the course. I find the course easy (but enjoyable), but I wouldn't want to (superficially?) work harder than I need to. While I could write even better essays and be more proud of my work, I choose to dedicate that time to studying Olympiad mathematics instead, which I believe is more satisfying for me.

The fourth option (and the final one I can think of) is to ignore the situation - I shouldn't care what he thinks of my performance, right? The problem is, I'm relatively good friends with him and I want to, at the very least, maintain that friendship.

So my question is: what is a feasible solution that addresses Ivan's confession without compromising our friendship?

closed as off-topic by Ælis, A J Sep 11 '18 at 7:29

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Asking "What should I do?" is off topic. - Questions should ask for help achieving a specific goal. Your question is asking for personal advice on "what to do" without defining a goal; this is too subjective. Edit your question to explain what you hope to achieve and how you would like to interact with the others involved." – Ælis, A J
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    Welcome to Interpersonal skills, it seems to me that your question is more a "What should I do?" question and thus, is off-topic (see here for on-topic questions: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic). I suggest that you edit your post to ask a specific, interpersonal question. Maybe something like: How to express to my friend that being good without working doesn't make me a better person than him. – Ælis Sep 11 '18 at 7:10
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He told me that it often annoyed him that he would put so much effort into rewriting and perfecting his literary analyses/etc. yet it seems like I write them half-heartedly and still manage to write excellent essays regardless.

Your friend is clearly jealous of your academic abilities, and that your abilities can make him feel inferior by comparison. I would talk to him about this, specifically trying to highlight what he's better than you at e.g. sport.

This should make him feel better about himself and his talents, even if they are not academic in nature. Additionally, if he is struggling you could offer to help him out in subjects he is finding difficult like literature to help him improve, although make sure you avoid making this sound patronising.

Your ideas:

  1. Do worse on purpose:

    This is a waste of your time and effort, and he will likely see through your attempts, which will not help the situation.

  2. Encourage him to be as good as you:

    This is probably downright unhelpful, as he is just not as good as you, which is why he's upset.

  3. Put in more effort:

    Either this provides diminishing returns, so not worth the effort, or your essays get much better, which will likely make Ivan feel worse.

  4. Ignore him:

    This should be the thing that you try, when you decide that your friendship with him is not worth it.

TL;DR

Talk to him positively and emphasize his own talents, reminding him that academic talent is not a necessity in life.

  • Don't go listing the things that he's better at. That turns it back into a competition of "who is better at more things", which he will likely lose. Just try and direct conversations toward the topics where he is more comfortable than you are. – Arcanist Lupus Sep 11 '18 at 3:50
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Hmm, looks like I have to answer this one.

I enjoy the class, but because I find it so easy I usually do not put as much effort into, say, essay-writing and note-taking as someone like Ivan. Despite this, I always get better grades than him.

Sounds just like me back in the day! LOL. You seem to have discovered that the stastistical distribution of IQ is indeed a bell curve. C'est la vie.

Anyway. You're in school, so you're there to learn. Might as well learn something useful.

Therefore, whatever the topic is, this is not what you're supposed to learn. You can just read the book at home and ace the test, that's not a problem. There's no reason to shove it in people's faces either, as there is no pride in doing something easy.

You need to reframe the problem and realize you are in school to learn how to interact with other people. This will be a very useful skill during the rest of your life. If you pick a career where you have to lead people (like management) then it is an essential skill.

I would recommend you pick a group of a few students and coach them. Make sure you don't pick only the ones at the top of the class. Someone like Ivan, who is jealous of you, would be more difficult. You should try anyway, but make sure you also pick students with different skill levels. If all your buddies are nerds, that's an occasion to make more buddies. You can exploit this strategy to soothe Ivan's jealousy, by starting a study group which you will both lead. If he enjoys the "prestige" then all's good. If he's really the envious type though, maybe he will explode in flight. Another learning experience for you.

Now you have a challenge. I think you'll like it. Explaining something that you think you understand to someone is an excellent way to realize that you don't actually understand it as well as you thought. Helping people is a good way to make friends. Also you will need to understand them in order to explain it to them in a way that suits them. The students you coach will catch you off-guard with questions, and you will look like an idiot, which is a good thing since this will prevent them from being too envious. Of course you will research the questions and learn new stuff, but if you are wise you will make them research the questions too.

You will probably encounter some failures, which is pretty much required if you want to learn anyway, so that's also a plus. And you will also save a few academic careers, I hope.

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TL; DR

Just tell them to focus on enjoying the subject rather than worry about who they're beating.

Longer Answer:

I'll tell you what. I've been on both sides of this spectrum.

Until 10th grade, there was a girl that scored the best grades with minimal work, as if she wasn't even trying. Back then, I tried to constantly work harder and got frustrated when she would always beat me and still be able to do all her extracurriculars, and even ace those.

Now, in grade 11-12, there are many students (including that girl) who I'd always been beating. Then, they got frustrated.

Having been in their position before, I told them to stop trying so hard to beat me (or anyone, for that matter) and start trying to perfect their knowledge instead. Improve their skills for their own benefit rather than for getting better than any person X.

While my friends took this seriously, they're still on good terms with me. The result was that they actually managed to beat me a couple of times.

What you can do is:

Tell him that while it may look like you're not actually working hard on your course, you're able to do well because you enjoy it. (I'm not sure if this is true, but your enjoying the subject definitely has something to do with you doing well at it.)

A side note:

While other answers have mentioned that Ivan is jealous of you, I think he's more unhappy for himself not doing well than he is unhappy that you are doing better than him. That makes a huge difference in your approach towards him. However, be cautious all the same.

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I know exactly where you are coming from. As a fellow math olympiadian and ARML (American Regional Mathematics League) starter, Mensa (member of Mensa)... I get a lot of that jealousy and hatred that you are feeling. So at the risk of being socially excluded, I learned to... Pretend.

I convinced myself that if there's merit in pretending to be like just like them, why not? I would attend study groups, but spend the majority of my time doing some other problems (I like to minimax video games) while others studied. My actual "learning" would be done when people ask me questions (lol). I literally learn on the spot when I need to help someone solve a problem and I had to go read through the relevant chapters. I find that usually reading through the text once and understanding it fully is sufficient to solve any problem that can result from it. I treated studying not as an end-goal but rather just a tool, I get to enjoy the social interaction of studying with people without feeling I am wasting my time.

What I mean by treating studying (and by extension, academics) as a tool and not an end goal is that... I didn't extract all my joy from academic superiority anymore. I CHANGE that goal to maximize your personal success, which would include how to get to people to like me more by being more normal. It takes some practice, but you will get the hang of it. Sometimes it feels like I am lying to people but that's the only way to stay humble.

For example:

"How did you find that exam? Wasn't it hard?"

Instead of the truth, which will sound arrogant no matter how true it is,

"No, I didn't even study, I could code when I was 11."

Say something a normal person would say, and bite your tongue.

"Yeah, it was, it was... I just hope I did well."

You make a lot more friends that way and it's overall more beneficial than simply being yourself and get everyone all jealousy and hateful.

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