Where Is Your Comfort Compass Pointing?


I was recently at a client site where I was meeting with the sales team one-on-one. My one-on-ones are not your typical, boring, go through the motion, “update” driven one-on-ones. They are almost like therapy sessions or serious coaching sessions.  We get our hands dirty, dissecting, assessing, and analyzing where improvement and opportunity exist.  The goal, get fucking better.  A lot fucking better.

Getting better at something is hard, really, really, fucking hard. You can’t do it by playing on the surface. You can’t do it without digging deep, challenging yourself and letting others challenge you. So, that’s what I do.

Candice (No, not it’s not her real name), and I were talking about her new role. She had just been put into a what could be interpreted as “lower” role.  She expressed to me that when she started in her first role a month previous, she felt “intimidated” as she had the least experience of anyone on the team and it made her uncomfortable. She said now that she’s in her new role she is feeling much better. I asked why and she said because she is the is the top dog. She has more experience than the other folks.  She’s a big fish in a little pond.

This struck me and was the breakthrough in our discussion.

I told her that’s a problem and we need to fix it.

Feeling confident as a big fish in a little pond is not a good thing. It is a common emotion however. I think it’s how most people feel.  When we’re the smartest, best, most competent person in the room, it builds our confidence, it makes us feel competent and capable. We don’t have to work as hard when we’re the big fish in the little pond. We set the direction. People look up to us. We’re familiar with our surroundings. Very little is new. Being a big fish in a little pond is easier. I get it.

When we’re the little fish in a big pond it can be overwhelming. We can feel small, insignificant, and incapable. Being a little fish in a big pond can be scary. We’re not familiar with our surroundings. We have to work harder to keep up. We have to take control of our actions. There is more room for failure and judgement. Being a little fish in a big pond is a LOT more work.

But here’s the problem, there is no growth when you’re a big fish in a little pond AND that should make you a shit load more uncomfortable than being a little fish in a big pond and this is what I shared with Candice.

Here’s the deal.

If you get comfortable when you’re a big fish in a little pond and uncomfortable when you’re a little fish in a big pond, your comfort compass is jacked up.  The best, most successful people, get very uncomfortable when they begin to become the big fish. They start to feel squelched, suppressed and penned in.  The comfort compass of the successful is exactly the opposite of most people. They get increasingly uncomfortable as their competence begins to outpace those around them. This is when they start looking for new, bigger ponds to swim in.

The successful are comfortable being the little fish in the big pond, because they see the opportunity. The see all the open space as growth and improvement. They see all the other big fish, not as competition, but as teachers. They recognize the big pond is a trove of information, ideas, approaches, methodologies, and lessons they can’t get in the smaller ponds.

The successful LOVE, and thrive in big ponds and they know exactly when it’s time to jump ponds. They never stay in a pond that’s too small. They don’t let themselves outgrow their pond.

The average and unsuccessful are just the opposite. They are much more comfortable being a big fish in a small pond. They seek environments where they can be the top dog and do everything they can to stay there. In many cases they are the reason the successful look to jump ponds. The big fish becomes threatened and starts to fuck with the up and comer.  Rather than look for a bigger pond and expand, the unsuccessful, the average person, takes residence in the little pond, content in their safe, predictable and known environment. This is not good.

I’m gonna tell you what I told Candice. Learn to get comfortable in being the little fish in the big pond and VERY uncomfortable being the big fish in the little pond.

Get your comfort compass straight. Success can’t be found with a broken compass.