Is it better to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in a big pond? While many might choose the former, that situation may not be as desirable as most might think.

In his 2013 book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants”, Malcolm Gladwell wondered if being a top student at a mediocre school was better than being only a “good” student at an elite school. He provided a case study of a young woman who, after getting straight A’s in high school, elected to attend a top university and was shattered when she got a “B” in her chemistry class. The reality of being “average” when compared to a school full of academically excellent students crushed her confidence and led to her dropping her pursuit of becoming a scientist and switching fields of study.

What was lost on the young lady was the fact that, if she had continued to pursue her passion, being an “average” student at her first university would have still led her to be in the top 95% of ALL science graduates, nationwide. But when surrounded by those of greater ability (at least at the time), she chose an easier path that she knew she could excel at. This is not uncommon for people.

Going from being a “Big Fish” (straight As, great comparative ability, etc) in a little pond (surrounded by those of less capacity/capability) to a “Little Fish” in a big pond (surrounded by those with greater capability/capacity) can be an initial shock. But one always has to realize that, just by being in the big pond, your chances of growing and improving are substantially greater.

If you excel at something and it is comfortable, you are no longer challenging yourself and change slows or stops altogether. We’ve seen the quote. It is at the borders of our comfort zone where change happens. True words.
Now let’s draw the parallel to a new prospect walking into a CrossFit box (or really, starting any new group exercise program). Rarely will that person be at the top of the class right from the start. There is a transition and progression period. It will likely be confusing (What’s a clean?), challenging (You want me to do HOW many air squats?) and frustrating (I can’t do as much as almost anyone in here). If they had stuck to what they were good at (running, weightlifting, biking, etc) it would be comfortable, for sure. To stay in the little pond as a big fish is very tempting, safe and secure. And therein lies the danger of it.

The borders of your ability only change through attempting new things. Without attempts, there are never failures and, even more importantly, there can be no successes. It is even through an attempt at something that a person encounters their boundaries and then begins the process of removing them.

In the CrossFit community, there are certain to be countless others who experienced the same thing when they first entered the box. This is part of the bond of CrossFit. There are countless others who know what it felt llike to be the little fish, and haven’t forgotten. They will understand, they will motivate you and they will help you grow. If you’re an owner or coach, introduce them to your prospect and let them tell their stories of how far they’ve progressed, just by sticking with the program. First-person testimonies of this type are invaluable to someone new to CrossFit.

If you’re an athlete, remember that, just by jumping into the Big Pond, and staying there, you are instantly making a choice to change and improve.  It may not be easy but through persistence and patience, you, the Little Fish, will HAVE to grow. Then, after a while, maybe you’re not so little. Just keep swimming!movies-finding-nemo-3d-poster-gallery-3About the Author: Don Moss is the Owner and Head Coach of CrossFit Apogee in Gibsonton, Florida. A 23-year veteran of the Air Force, Don found CrossFit in Iraq in 2010 and it has been his passion ever since to spread the joy and benefits of CrossFit to as many people as possible. He is married to his kickass wife Tracy and is proud papa to Michael, Amanda and Avery. Check out their story at

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