When the Big Fish leaves the Little Pond

“Let me lay it out for you, Achilles, since you’re clearly too stupid to see where you are. First thing is, you forgot where you were. Back on Earth, you were used to being a lot smarter than everybody around you. But here in Battle School, everybody is as smart as you, and most of us are smarter. You think Ambul didn’t see the way you looked at him? You think he didn’t know he was marked for death after he laughed at you? You think the other soldiers in Rabbit doubted me when I told them about you? They’d already seen that there was something wrong with you. The adults might have missed it, they might buy into the way you suck up to them, but we didn’t. And since we just had a case of one kid trying to kill another, nobody was going to put up with it again. Nobody was going to wait for you to strike. Because here’s the thing — we don’t give a shit about fairness here. We’re soldiers. Soldiers do not give the other guy a sporting chance. Soldiers shoot in the back, lay traps and ambushes, lie to the enemy and outnumber the other bastard every chance they get. Your kind of murder only works among civilians. And you were too cocky, too stupid, too insane to realize that.”
Bean in “Ender’s Shadow”

Can you make it as a creative? Are you good enough?

Without knowing what you field is capable of and what you can be capable of with training and determination, you cannot answer this question.

Unfortunately, many people do overestimate their capabilities because they are unaware of the work of other creatives around them (Kruger & Dunning, 1999, wrote a nice article that goes in a similar direction).

I can relate to that — it’s a Big Fish — Little Pond effect. You might be the best in something in school, but unless you know how your school itself fares compared to the national or international average, you might just be the biggest fish in a little pond. You’re great in school, but once you leave this pond and swim in the ocean you might not be so big after all. Especially because your hardest competition and you will probably end up in the same courses.

Suddenly students who studied real hard to get the best grades face real competition for the first time, or people who are gifted and didn’t have to work hard meet other gifted people for the first time who did study hard and are a league above them. People who were funny in school find out what funny really is when people have the choice not to watch or have to pay money for it. And people who did draw well in school are confronted with the skills of  accomplished artists for the first time.

This doesn’t mean that you cannot grow, quite the contrary. In many subjects good training happens after the school is over (although you might not enter these courses unless you are already good enough at the beginning). And it takes a lot of practice to become great.

But I think it is extremely important that you get some feedback regarding your current capabilities and your possible future developments before you stake your life and your happiness in something.

This distance between you and the experts in the field might be large when you first look at it, but that’s normal. They have invested much time and effort, of course they are better than you — at the moment. The question is, do you have what it takes to become great yourself? Are you willing to learn the basics, and build advanced skills on this foundation, even if it will take you decades?

That’s your question and you can only answer it yourself.


Literature: Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled  and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77 (6), 1121-1134.