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Is there an English expression or idiom for:

You can jump places and secure a higher position if you are in small community (country or city as political figure, organization as a manager, school as a head master) versus remaining on a lower rung in a big community (country or city as a official, organization as an officer, school as a teacher)

2 Answers 2

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A phrase in this general area is big fish in a small pond.

In my experience people are most likely to use this phrase about themselves to say "I've reached the maximum I can in this small community, I want to show how I can turn that into even more success in a larger community".

However, thefreedictionary.com (citing Farlex Dictionary of Idioms) suggests that it is used exactly as you want: that they wouldn't be as much of a success in the larger community:

A situation in which one person has more power, influence, knowledge, or experience than others within a small group. It often implies that the person may not have as much clout in "a bigger pond," i.e., a larger group or arena of some kind.

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    I agree with your suggestion but in my experience the phrase is most often used to refer to others. For example when explaining why a talented person would stay in a small company rather then taking a better paid job with better prospects in a large company. I also feel the connotation is slightly negative, someone who wishes to remain an outstanding individual in one group rather than an average person in a larger group.
    – Eric Nolan
    Sep 4, 2018 at 11:41
  • @EricNolan - Your experience definitely matches with my research. I think my own understanding of the phrase is mainly from when a contestant on The Apprentice used it to describe himself. Being a single data point it's not too surprising if I got the wrong end of the stick.
    – AndyT
    Sep 4, 2018 at 13:37
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    I also see it used fairly often for someone who has "moved ponds"—as in "I was really popular in middle school, but then in high school I went from being a big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a big pond" or "I moved to the big city to see if I could make it in a bigger pond".
    – 1006a
    Sep 4, 2018 at 14:37
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What is more an antonym (or synonym? I'll explain) of big fish in a small pond than a direct answer to the question is to be out of your depth.

out of your depth (Cambridge English Dictionary)

not having the knowledge, experience, or skills to deal with a particular subject or situation:

I was out of my depth in the advanced class, so I moved to the intermediate class.

On the face of it it describes not being good enough, but the phrase is typically used to mean that the person is not good enough for the particular task and this can be remedied by retreating. They were rather good earlier (that led to their promotion or switch) but they have been promoted beyond their capabilities (or they have chosen to be there themselves). So if you're a big fish in a small pond, then in a big pond, you might easily find yourself out of your depth.

One more association that comes to my mind is this.

The Peter principle (Wikipedia) is a concept in management developed by Laurence J. Peter, which observes that people in a hierarchy tend to rise to their "level of incompetence". In other words, employees are promoted based on their success in previous jobs until they reach a level at which they are no longer competent, as skills in one job do not necessarily translate to another.

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