Resizing the Pond

On SlashDot, a snarky response about people being idiots was posted, and somone responded with what I thought was a fairly interesting expression about how people define their specialties as the most important thing… He called it “Resizing the Pond”.I thought it was kind of an “well, duh” obvious point, but nicely expressed. So here it goes (originally posted by macsox):

I have a theory. Kids start out life talking about how they want to be astronauts, or the president, or Teddy Bruschi. They see a vast world of limitless possibility and imagine themselves filling up an enormous space within it. As people age, they start to realize that they most likely won’t be a Michael Jordan or a Bill Gates, and their response is not to be content being a small fish in a big pond — it’s to reduce the size of the pond that is ‘important’. So, I, for example, work in politics. It’s easy for me to see the political world I inhabit as the most important thing locally, or even in the world, and to feel very self-important as a result. Many users on slashdot see the world of tech as the pond. Or their own I.T. departments. People reduce the scope of the important world, until they are a big fish. I call this, uncleverly, ‘resizing the pond’.

2 Responses to “Resizing the Pond”

Thinking about it more, I wonder if ego is also a factor. It seems like some people resize the pond much more or much more selectively than others. For some people maybe it also ties in with self esteem to some degree?

Then some people seem to just have a much better sense of perspective than others. Does this sometimes
involve having ponds within ponds? Having a small pond knowing that you are one of the world’s top specialists on slug reproduction, but also recognizing a much larger pond that tells you you’re nothing? Or for that matter one might even have perhaps a dozen or more layered and separate ponds for different aspects of your life that are important to you, some larger and some smaller.

And maybe that’s where the ego thing comes back in… I identify as an extremely small fish in ballet in general and a small fish in my category (non-major ballet) and I’m perfectly content to leave those as my ponds. I don’t even size myself up with the people in my class, which I would identify with as a necessary part of creating a shrunken pond in which I could be a big fish. And I think all this ties in with not having a big ballet ego to feed.

One final distinction I see is that of primary versus secondary pursuits. It does seem that professional scholars and scientists have to have some pond in which they are big fish, or else they won’t be funded or published and they will likely seek to be professional scholars and scientists. But this small-pond-for-your-work mentality does not necessarily extend to all professions—I don’t see all jobs as so linked to such a mindset. I might submit that most people in most jobs are satisfied with being average or just above average, and would rather get home to their families than go the extra mile beyond what is perfectly adequate. Still, these people may have some other non-work area in which they have a small pond, whether being good parents or good at poker.

Laura - November 1st, 2005 at 12:08 pm

I definitely agree with you, Laura, that ego plays a big part in this– I don’t see, for example, a contented Buddhist monk worrying about being the big monk on campus. 😉

That said, I’m not sure I think that it’s simple enough to say that ego and desire to be a big fish are negative things that should be avoided. I think having a bit of an assertive ego is a good thing, in many cases. (I don’t think you stated they are negative things, but I wanted to clear up what I felt about it)

Then again, I think it is pretty universal– working a job selling bagels, there were still “office” politics and maneuvering– people wanting to be the big fish in a small, meaningless pond. We all want to feel like we matter, like we’re important somewhere. I’m not sure I agree that many jobs avoid this. To repeat a platitude I’ve heard before: “You have politics anytime more than 1 person is put together”. Hehe.

Paradoxdruid - November 7th, 2005 at 4:38 am

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