What is served by being a big fish in a small pond?

What is served by being a big fish in a small pond?
by: Anne Beaulieu

Three years ago, I was asked a similar version of this question by my future mentor Dov Baron. He phrased it as something like, “Who are you hurting by playing small?”

When I first heard his question, sitting in the audience among hundreds of others, I immediately told him to fuck off… in my head of course.

I started feeling agitated inside, angrily pondering, “Who is he to ask me such a question? After all I have been through in my life!”

Back then, I was very much a victim and, like all victims, I might not have noticed I was playing small out of fear.

Which brings me now to this incident yesterday…

I have been actively doing lane swimming for the last three weeks after almost a ten years absence from the pool. Jumping into the water, I had ‘forgotten’ how cold it is at first. I had also ‘forgotten’ how much effort it takes to kick, and how much air we need to keep a swimming rhythm going…

I felt out of breath… I swallowed a lot of bile… but I still keep swimming, having faith to become a better swimmer and change lane one day.

This week at the pool, I notice a ‘strange’ phenomenon. I am watching this guy, this middle-aged man…

When I get to the water, there are about 7 swimmers in the slow lane, including him and I.

I notice he waits a solid 15-20m before he starts swimming after the person in front of him. This is a 50m pool. I think to myself, “He is so generous! How compassionate of him to leave so much space between swimmers!”

My eyes grow bigger as I watch him then zoom across the water and  pass the swimmer in front of him in the last 10m or so. I think to myself, “WTF! What kind of person does this?”

I stand on the ledge watching him swim back towards me. As per his ‘usual’, he passes every swimmer along his path. He even seems to claim the middle black line in the lane as ‘his own’.

He touches the ledge and decides to just stand there. I watch every arriving swimmer do a turn around him.

“Really?”, I wondered, “is this person for real?”

As he seems to catch his breath, I seize the opportunity to quickly start swimming. Maybe this time will be different?

No, it is not. By the time I arrive at the flags (10m before finish line), he passes me and I choke on water from the wave he creates. I stop swimming and walk the rest of the way.

He looks at me, unfazed. He smiles, “Good morning!”

I seize him up. “Good morning.”

He smiles a bigger smile. “Please! Ladies first! I am not that good of a swimmer! I am quite slow actually!” He chuckles.

I look at him coldly, “Is that so? You could have fooled me!”
He pretends not to notice my anger. “I really do not want to go right now, I am catching my breath. Go! Please! Ladies First!”

I think to myself, “Am I making all this stuff up?”

I start swimming. In the last ten meters….

Now I am pissed off. All I want to say to him is “What the hell is wrong with you?” As soon as I think it, I stop. Why?

Because I now know that,

Every time I make someone their behaviour,
I am triggered and becoming the Wound myself…

So I asked myself, “Who does he remind me of?”

The Wound howled back, “Meeee!”

I used to ‘love’ being a big fish in a small pond. This is why I was so triggered three years ago when Dov Baron asked the question, “Who are you hurting by playing small?”

Let me ask you,
If you are living into your potential, would you be offended if questioned on it?

For me, the answer is no, but back then it was….

Having said this,

What is served by being a big fish in a small pond?

I believe FALSE PRIDE is served.

  • I flaunted my skills in front of people who might be less skillful than me… just like this man overpowering every swimmer in our lane that day. What does flaunting skills without discernment say about us?

  • I pretended to be nice while screwing people in the back…. just like this man who smiled at me and so politely told me, “Ladies first! I am not that good of a swimmer!” What does fake compassion say about us?

  • I got to think I was ‘better’ than I truly was in reality…. just like this man who might actually get his ass kicked in the middle or fast lanes. What does being full of ourselves say about us?

Now, when you think about what I have just shared,

What is served by being a big fish in a small pond?


“Who are you hurting by playing small?”

You be the judge.
With love & compassion,

Anne Beaulieu and is a Certified Emotional Intelligence Coach who assists her clients in becoming expert swimmer in bigger ponds.Anne can be contacted via email at: [email protected]

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