How to thrive as a little fish in a big pond

Meg Timbrell
Content & Social Media Manager
4 min read

Would you rather be a big fish in a little pond, or a little fish in a big pond?

You might have heard this question being asked in interviews, in an attempt to gain more of an understanding of the personality type of their potential employee. But is there a right answer? 

Recent studies have shown that people who feel the ‘little fish in a big pond’ effect will have less self-belief, when people who achieve equally as well in a ‘smaller pond’ tend to have more confidence. As the leader of the recent Stanford University study on this says:

“We have a tendency to compare ourselves to others in terms of our abilities and, because of that, we tend to feel better or worse about ourselves. It is fundamental to who we are.” 

— Prashant Loyalka, Assistant Professor, Stanford Graduate School of Education

Here's a bit more about the little fish big pond effect:

In this article we're going to cover the benefits of being in both, and prove that you can feel confidence and succeed no matter what the pond size. And of course there will be those days where you feel like a great white shark, and others a tiny clownfish, and this is okay. 

Whatever situation you have moved from and have now found yourself in:

  • Whether you’ve moved from a small school where you were at the top of your class, to a huge university campus where you feel like an average Joe…
  • Or being a big name on campus at university, and have found yourself being the youngest member of a big corporation (struggling with imposter syndrome too)...we've got you covered.

Benefits of being a big fish in a small pond:

Challenging the status quo:

Big fish tend to be more influential figures, having the power to make a real impact on those around them. With this influence can come real change if you’re willing to make it. 

More recognition for your successes:

Smaller achievements can feel like greater gains when you’re a big fish and you’re more noticeable. 

Being a big fish in a little pond can often help make you feel more validated and more confident, but it often prevents you from doing more with life...

Benefits of being a little fish in a big pond:

You’ll have a bigger network to engage with:

Being in a bigger pond will only expand your network, if you let it. You’ll have more individuals around you to inspire you and to learn from, increasing your contacts for you to potentially use in the future.

Room to improve and grow:

There is every opportunity for you to grow from a little fish into a big fish when placed into a big pond. Often there doesn’t feel like enough incentive when you’ve already reached the top of your game in a small pond, being a big fish already. But placed into this environment, the small fish can thrive, aspiring to bigger and better things (whether that’s higher marks in an exam, or a promotion at work).

These benefits will only be reaped if you embrace your little fish status, as undervaluing yourself or your work as a little fish will only lead you to try less or give up. Seeking advice and growth from bigger fish such as mentors or senior people will only help you flourish. Try to remember that most people want to help others.

This is easier said than done, so here are some tips to embrace being in a big pond when you're a little fish:

  • Look back at the small ponds that you've outgrown and the achievements that have got you into the big pond. Be proud of your past and how far you've come.
  • As hard as it is, try your best not to compare yourself to others, and focus on YOU and your successes so far.
  • When you're feeling full of self-doubt, be nice to yourself. Treat yourself how you would a friend who's feeling this way: buy yourself something new, take a bath, cook a delicious dinner or just binge some Netflix with some ice-cream.
  • Reach out to friends or family for re-assurance. There's nothing wrong with having others boost your self-esteem and let you know that they're proud of you.
  • If self-confidence is something you struggle with, try things out like journalling (jotting down what you're grateful for each day or acknowledging the parts of you that you're proud of)
  • Celebrate everyday successes, no matter how small. Be your own cheerleader.
  • Stick on a Spotify playlist that's going to make you have a little boogie and feel confident!

A quote from Brad Sugars, Business and Career Coach, explores the idea of continually trying to aspire to a bigger pond: “Sometimes you need to jump into a bigger pond… Big fish in a small pond is no challenge at all.” Think of the big pond as exciting and filled with endless possibilities.

It might feel overwhelming to jump into a big pond, but in the words of Dory from Finding Nemo, “just keep swimming!”

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