I’d rather be a small fish in a big pond than a big fish in a small pond.

It’s not secret: I like big ponds. Big schools and big cities are the only option for me–anything smaller for too long becomes restrictive and chokey. There are just too many reasons why 200, 2000, even 20,000 people is too small–and here’s why.

1) Bigger means more options

This is a list of all the free things to do in New York City (population 8.175 million). This is a list of things to do in Charlotte, NC (population 731,424)–free and paid. Notice how NYC has 996 free and cheap options for entertainment. Charlotte might have that many things total, but sadly that includes rather expensive options.

Before anyone says “That’s not fair! New York is 1018% bigger than Charlotte!” That’s my point. The sheer size of the Big Apple means that it naturally has more to do. That means less searching and more deciding. Having lived in Charlotte, there were times when no local event piqued my interest; and while having that many options can begin to be like a TV Package with 1000s of channels but few that we frequent–knowing that those other channels are there makes it easier to step outside my bubble and grow myself and my self-definition.

2) Bigger means more people

With 33,879 people, my school is the largest school in North Carolina. Being a student of the largest school in the state, we are used to people telling us that it’s a big school (my inner reaction: “Well…duh…”). However, the usual answer is “it means that there are 34,000 people to meet. 34,000 possible new best friends. It also means that there are 34,000 stories to challenge ourselves with.

While the odds of meeting all of the students enrolled in this school are minimal, especially when a graduating class enters, exits, and transfers every year, I expect to get to meet, live with, and get to know a decent cross-section of stories that will affirm and challenge my beliefs and definitions.

Along with this also comes less homogeneity. More people ensures that the people that I come in contact with come from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds–and that their populations are large enough to create a comforting sense of community along with a petri dish for challenging conversations. I would never go to a school of 200 or 2000 similarly-minded people when I can talk to twenty, thirty thousand people from more varying backgrounds.

3) Bigger means more room to grow

Looking at an article about proper care for Goldfish we find this tasty nugget (pardon the pun):

You should NEVER keep goldfish in a bowl. Goldfish can grow to be over a foot long and need a lot of space to swim around.

Scaling this up to Homo Sapien, we find that a similar problem exists. According to Susan Saegert of CUNY Graduate Center and director of the Housing Environments Research Group, children who grow up in small apartments can end up being withdrawn and have trouble concentrating.

Life in small towns has inspired hundreds of songs and movies about escaping the choking environment in small towns. Basically, considering our entire city as an environment we get a similar theory. If we can find more places to explore and see and escape to and learn from in our town–we increase our chances of finding something that can help us grow as individuals.

The only downside? Life in a big city may lead to living in a small apartment… which can lead to us being withdrawn and have trouble concentrating.

4) Bigger means a larger safety net

Going back to that article about Goldfish

They also produce a lot of waste, which means that you need a large amount of water to dilute their waste and a large colony of bacteria to convert the waste into less harmful chemicals. All of these things require a big tank.

Let’s say I mess up. In my high school of 1500 students, news of the failure can spread faster than a wildfire in Yellowstone. In a school of 34,000 things spread less quickly and there is more stupidity–meaning that my stupidity has to be exceptional to make it into the public sphere (here’s looking at you Dwayne O’Rear).

While Mr. O’Rear REALLY screwed up, many other mistakes that would lead to endless lampooning would just not be that big a deal in a larger city or institution. The sheer size of a place can provide that dilution space that we all need. Being under constant scrutiny is never fun, especially when a mistake that we make gets overblown. We want to minimize the spray that follows our sh!t hitting the fan, not amplify it.


5) Bigger means more sources of help

In a way related to the safety net: the larger a place, the greater the availability of sources and funds to help you do…things! When I first came to NC State,  I was assigned a faculty mentor and a peer mentor. When I changed majors I was given a professional mentor and another peer mentor. All of these were through different programs that the school has at its disposal.

Living in a larger city, there are more investors, charities, and public funding to help you get your dreams started. As always, it’s up to you to seek it out. But at the end of the day, it’s all there. Waiting for your hand to come along and take it out of its pot.

6) Being a small fish is a temporary condition

I’m in college right now. As far as adults are concerned, I’m at the bottom of the food chain. But that won’t be the same position I’ll be in in 5, 10, or 20 years. I am going to move up–and I will be better positioned to grow in a larger pond-there are simply more nutrients to absorb, more prey to eat, more room to grow, and more paths to take.

In an age when networking is rapidly becoming an obsession because it’s so useful a larger city makes more sense because it naturally has more potential connections to be made. My LinkedIn profile is growing, and living in a smaller city would not have afforded my the same opportunities to explore my career options by generating connections.

Long story short, while small places are cozy and comfortable there is way too much out there to explore and learn about. I know that I will never know what I’ll find just around the riverbend, but regardless of whether I find a falls or some rapids, an eddy or shoal: I WILL LEARN. I will advance, and I will grow. Take that, coziness.


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