What Does Being a Big Fish in A Small Pond Mean?

Big Fish in A Small Pond Meaning

Definition: To be more talented in a smaller pool of contestants.

If you choose to be a big fish in a small pond, you are choosing a smaller school or job with less talented peers where your skills will be more greatly noticed and appreciated.

On the other hand, you may choose to be a small fish in a big pond, where your talents may go unnoticed in a larger pool of talented individuals, but you may benefit from others’ expertise and the connections you make with people who are high up in the field you wish to pursue.

There are benefits and drawbacks to either situation. You must choose the situation that you feel is right
for you.

Origin of Big Fish in A Small Pond

big fish in little pondThe earliest printing of the phrase is in an American newspaper, The Galveston Daily News, in June of 1881:

  • They [local vested interests in Galveston] are big fish in a small pond.

Examples of Big Fish in A Small Pond

In the modern day, this expression is usually used to talk about a student’s placement in school.

For example,

  • big fish in small pondSince she was so popular and well known within the walls of her small high school, Jennifer was accustomed to being a big fish in a small pond. Once she started attending a large state university, however, she realized that it would take a lot more effort to make friends.
  • When choosing colleges, Brett had to decide whether he wanted to be a big fish in a small pond, and be a star quarterback, or a small fish in a big pond, and be second string.

It may also be used similarly when speaking about job or sports team placements.

More Examples

  • “I was a big fish in a small pond,” she said, “every day racing between four to six recording studios [to do voice-overs]. I wanted to try the big leagues.” –Chicago Daily Herald
  • “Big fish or small fish, I’m still a fish,” Teran said. “And it doesn’t matter how big or small the pond is, one fish can make all the difference.” –The Northwest Florida Daily News


The English idiom a big fish in a small pond is an important and influential person within a limited sphere of influence who would be much less impactful if part of a larger group or organization.