Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond?

The sunshine, palm trees and ocean breeze welcomed me when I landed in Charleston, South Carolina. Mid-70s and the smell of seafood wafted through the air. In just one day, I would indulge in some authentic seafood. Until then, it was time to decide which type of fish to be.

Have you hear the analogy of being “a big fish in a small pond?”

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond?

This concept demonstrates that the fish has outgrown its habitat and environment. It could also be related to leadership and experiences. Have you become good enough in an area and are not surrounded with room to grow or develop further? Or is the talent pool around you less than or equal to your capabilities? I was disciplined and focused on this goal for just over a year in bodybuilding and felt confident and comfortable. Was I becoming a big fish in a small pond?

Among 700 athletes, I competed in my first national bodybuilding competition at the NPC Jr. USA Championship on May 21, 2016. I was out of my small Midwest area. I was no longer a “big fish”.

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? Jr. USA experience

The Charleston Convention Center was filled with tanned muscles, energetic supporters and the opportunity to showcase success on a national stage. Show week, also known as “peak week”, I knew I had prepared the best I could. It was my time to shine. I had to bring my “big fish” mentality from rural Nebraska to a larger group of competitors. I got a cold-like sickness just a few days before leaving for South Carolina. However, I refused to get mopey or upset about it. Just focused on drinking water, resting (when I could) and getting mentally prepared for the large feat ahead. Just like a fish, hydration is necessary.

Saturday morning at 6 am, it was go time. I had seen some of the other athletes enter around the venue. Now, it was my time.

Spray tan, check.
Hair and makeup, check.
Food and flexing, check.
Emergency supplies, check.
Friends to witness, check!

Morning of show preparations

I approached the preparation room. As I entered the back room of the auditorium, something obvious struck me. I was no longer a “big fish”.

I quickly became the small fish in a big pond. I was surrounded by athletes who had been challenging themselves, working their bodies and developing muscle for years. They had more “complete” physiques. They were more prepared. There was nothing I could do to change my stage compared to them. The main difference was amount of time dedicated to the sport.

What a humbling view. As I made my way backstage with a class of 28 other women, I felt confident, yet small. My moxie was in full effect, as it was for the other ladies. I left it all on the stage from comparisons to my individual presentation.

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? - Class Alignment

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? - Class Alignment

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? - Class Alignment

After prejudging, I text my coach. I knew I had not qualified for the top in the class. However, the small fish effect was rewarding.

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? - Bodybuilding Presentation
Individual presentation photos at the Jr. USA Show. I have come a long way but I’m not where I want to be yet!

With any large goal, it often takes the little steps and actions to accomplish them. Patience, discipline and laser focus are three keys to achieving something as detail-oriented as bodybuilding. I am more driven after this show experience than ever before. I am planning a longer “off season” to increase healthy calories, put on some weight and build more muscle (all the carbs and all the gains!). I am now a little fish, but I cannot stop swimming.

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? Relaxing in between prejudging and finals
Chilling with the girls.

Are you becoming a big fish in a little pond? How can you reverse this to learn more and surround yourself with folks better than you, more experienced than you and ultimately, people who will drive you to become better than ever before?


Lucky for me, I have a great coach, new friends in bodybuilding and current friends who are learning about my bodybuilding pursuits. I even spent a few days exploring Charleston and Atlanta, completing my first photo shoot and enjoying some sweets and wine along the way!

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? Dinner
Post-show dinner at The Pearl. Swordfish, asparagus and
southern rice.

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? Photo shoot fun
Photoshoot in Charleston!

Take some time to identify one or two of your biggest goals. Are you a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond? Once you determine that, make a plan that will lead to your biggest potential. Don’t swim alone; the school of fish is waiting to help you (and that can include me if you like).

Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? Sweet indulgence
Ice cream cookie sandwich at King Street Cookies.
Caroline's Cues | Big fish in a small pond or small fish in a big pond? Mediterranean
Mediterranean in Atlanta: Zoes!