Big Fish in a Small Pond or Small Fish in a Big Pond?

3 minute read


Striving for greatness without putting yourself down

As a kid, my mom always told me that I could achieve anything. Often, the idea of being the “worst of the best” meant that I was pushing myself to grow and to become better. By working hard and learning to emulate the best of people in your pool, you could rise to the top and level up. This is a pretty common framework when it comes to schooling; you need to be the top of your high school class so you can go to a good university and so on. On the other hand, life is much more comfortable if you make it to the top and just sit there, reaping the benefits of being the big dog. What you sacrifice however, comes in the form of stagnation. My mother understood very well that stretching your comfort zone was the best way to better yourself, regardless of how appealing it is to rest on your laurels.

By some measures, I guess you could say I’ve been successful, but there comes a point, different for everyone, where you realize you can’t be the big fish in your pond. No matter how hard you try, you just won’t be better at insert skill here than the other top million people in your field. It feels like you’ve plateaued. Slowly, you realize that this ladder you’ve been climbing for so long never ends, and the pursuit of trying to get to the top can actually take a toll on your well-being. Given this eventuality of meeting your match, it may seem like having this goal of striving is futile. To some extent, this is true. By definition, the chances that you can become the best, smartest, fastest, most whatever-trait-you-desire, are slim to none. It’s really the story of Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill every day simply to have it roll back down.

In light of the Sisyphean task of becoming the best, there are many ways to react to the objective fact that only 1 person in the world can be the best (pst, it’s probably not me or you). The most natural question to me becomes, “What’s the point?” We are so innately drawn to comparison. It is part of our biological nature to survive. However, we must learn that at a certain point we are enough, that we must resist the urge to put ourselves down and enjoy the view every once in a while.

Personally, what I’ve taken away is that the goal was never really to become the best. As tempting and desirable as that may be, it is an ideal to strive for, but one that simply cannot be achieved. However, in the process, I’ve learned how to work hard, how to break down a skill into something that’s manageable. I’ve learned to push myself to grow, even if it’s not as quickly as the rare virtuosos and savants. Ultimately, I am my biggest competitor, and in striving to be the big fish, I can always better myself.