Big Fish in a Little Pond

In one of my college psychology classes, we learned about the concept of the Big Fish in a Little Pond. From studies, researchers found that kids who lived in small towns and attended small high schools—and were active in extracurricular activities at those small high schools—were more likely to be successful in their adult years. This was because they were considered a big fish in their little pond. Subsequently, when they left their small town and went to a big city, or to a big university, they still assumed that they were a big fish, and continued acting like a big fish. So they continued to be successful.

Contrast that to the kids who grow up in big cities or in communities with big high schools (several thousand students). In these big high schools, competition is steep. Usually there is always someone who is prettier, smarter, and more talented than you are. These kids feel like a little fish in a big pond. Subsequently, when they leave high school and go elsewhere, they continue the persona of a little fish in the big pond. They continue to limit themselves.

As mentioned before, I have been scanning scrapbooks and other paraphernalia from my father and his siblings when they were teenagers. This is what I see: Big Fish in a Little Pond. They grew up in a very small town and attended a very small high school. They were in all the school plays, they were on the yearbook staff, they played sports, they were student body officers (president included), they sang in the choirs, they played in bands, they wrote award-winning essays. They were in the thick of high school. When my uncle attended college in a bigger town at a bigger college, he continued auditioning for the plays, and he was on the yearbook and newspaper staff. He continued to flourish in extracurricular activities. My father played football at that college and eventually attended medical school at a large university in a city. I’m sure that if my uncle had not died in WW II, he would have continued his excellence after the war.

Then I think about my teenage years. I grew up in that same city where my father attended medical school and then started his medical practice. I went to a high school with several thousand students. I was a little fish in a very competitive big pond. And it shows. I do not grace multiple pages in my high school yearbooks. I’m not part of any clubs; I didn’t sing in any choirs; I didn’t participate in any school plays; I wasn’t a cheerleader—or on the drill team—I didn’t play any sports. Did I try? Actually, I did. But I was never good enough. After a few times of not being good enough, you stop trying. When I went to college, I didn’t even consider trying out for activities or sports. If I couldn’t compete in high school, there is no way I could compete on the college level.

So I wonder about my life, and I wonder if it would have been different if I had been a big fish in a little pond. Good question.

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