On Being a Big Fish in a Small PondI grew up in Dunsmuir, California. It was so small that I never got it straight, which was larger, the population or the elevation? I stayed with one class from fifth grade on. We were an unusually good class, though, and we knew it, as our teachers made comments about us throughout our educational experience.
I was third academically, always being beaten by Winifred Anderson in language arts and Michael Harris in sciences, although they would occasionally reverse their superiority to me in subjects, or take one and two in an area without me. But I was reliably amongst the top three, and once or twice even captured the top spot in one or the other of those most highly regarded of academic fields.
When time to go to college approached, my parents began preparing me for the real world by emphasizing how different no longer being “a big fish in a small pond” would be. I initially started out on a career teaching high school by enrolling at San Jose State College, a then highly regarded teacher’s college in California. After two and a half years of success there I decided to raise my target to college level and transferred to U.C. Davis with my goal being a Ph.D. in mathematics.
By the time I was ready to write a thesis I was convinced I should not be shy and tried to solve a famous problem against the advice and common wisdom throughout the department. I got a partial result, which seemed more than enough for the Ph.D., but on presenting the result to my thesis committee, one of the professors asked how I knew something I claimed to be true was. I was never able to answer that question, and eventually wound up accepting an A.B.D. from the institution, which, in the long run, was probably a very poor decision on my part.
At any rate, it was my closest brush with being “a big fish in a big pond,” and pointed out one distinction that I only recently identified. What makes the pond big is the level of questioning that peers, or would-be peers, are apt to subject the upstart to.
It is probably a subconscious recognition of just this heightened level of hard ball that the big boys play that has kept me, ever since, from striving to swim in the bigger ponds. My entire career has been teaching math in a small community college in a small city in northern California. It is a classic example of a small pond.
Not to say I would change it a bit. I love living in South Lake Tahoe, and I loved teaching (although dealing with administrators was frequently a major pain). And, if truth were to be told, I have always loved being a big fish in a small pond. There are many advantages that come with that position. For one thing, you rarely have to worry about serious challenges. That allows for thoughtless throwaways at parties, such as a recent prediction I made that if the next President after Obama weren’t a dictator, then one of the two following ones would be. Even medium sized ponds would have drawn a challenge to that one. Maybe it was as much respect for my age as anything that got me the pass.
Anyway, after years and years of silence, here I am wanting to jump back in and register my thoughts on the largest topic to present itself in recent history, climate change. It doesn’t get to be any bigger a pond than that.
One additional problem exists in that, in order to swim in the big pond at all, one both has to work really hard and has to be willing to go trough a period in which one is the little fish. I guess I should look at the latter a bit, for it may have been a major factor in why I never finished my Ph.D.
But there is one difference now from back when my Ph.D hung in the balance; this matters.
On first writing this, I finished with,“So I’m jumping,” but now I realize, like the child on the edge of the thirty-foot diving platform, I have some nerve building to do first,