Have you ever hidden your success, or the achievements of your children knowing that others will somehow want to see you fail and will try to cut you down to size? Do friends, family and colleagues ever put you down or even shut you out through jealousy of your success? Today Lets talk about Tall Poppy syndrome and why other want to see you fail.
Imagine the scene, you are looking out over the most beautiful field of poppies, all glowing in the sunshine, but there, in the middle, is that one poppy that has grown above all the others and stands taller than all the rest. There are hundreds of poppies in that field, but your eyes are only drawn to The Tallest Poppy.
Now go with me on this … What do you think the other poppies feel about this tall poppy? Do they all look at that one, singular poppy, that stands head and shoulders above all the others, and encourage it to grow even taller and stronger, or do they look at it and just want cut it down to their size?
Tall Poppy Syndrome is that same set of emotions, but with people, as it’s when that one person stands out in the crowd making those around them want to cut them down.
The sad thing is though, that it’s not envy, because envy involves looking at someone and maybe disliking them because you either want what they have or what they do. Tall Poppy Syndrome is more about wanting to end the other persons success. The expression is far more more common in Australia and New Zealand, but the concept behind it is known, and felt worldwide.
Human beings have this unique ability to either make or break someone else. One day we are awarding medals and place people on podiums and hold massive award ceremonies, then the next day we struggle to appreciate the success, appearance or status of others, feeling that they are taking all the glory and need to be stopped from growing any further.
The logic behind the name “tall poppy syndrome” is that same feeling of wanting to cut that singular poppy to blend in with all the others, and is a sad part of todays social culture. Whether at school, college or in work, there is a real mixed view of success. School pupils want to do well, but getting the top award for grades isn’t as cool as the one who get the medal on sports day.
We are surrounded by examples of Tall Poppy Syndrome all over social media. People like and comment on the pages of people they don’t feel threatened by, but a similar photo or comment from someone seen as competition, evokes the tall poppy syndrome, meaning that they don’t acknowledge the post, as in the back of the mind is this tiny voice saying ‘who do they think they are.
Schools and workplaces create and give out awards to recognise everything from work to behaviour, but the recipients feel that they aren’t allowed to celebrate, in fear of being cut down and isolated. In our daily lives we are all trying to do better, and stand out from the crowd, but in the back of our minds we know that there are repercussions.
Tall poppy syndrome creates 2 distinct consequences, the first being the natural tendency to not allow others to stand out from the crowd, by criticising what they do and almost rubbishing their talent and achievements. If we stop them from growing, they will never be able to make us look smaller.
The second consequence is that it teaches people to be afraid of standing out as it will place them in the firing line for rejection and being ostracised from their friends or colleagues. So what do they do? Well those who lack the confidence to challenge this social norm, will keep a low profile and end up either giving up or carry on accepting the ridicule as standard. Those who do have the confidence, will, as the Susan Jeffers quote goes “feel the fear and do it anyway”
Sadly, the workplace has become a toxic environment due to the behaviour of Poppy cutters.
Studies have been conducted that show that the psychological health of women in the workplace, who are deemed to be The Tallest Poppy, is being negatively affected by interactions with superiors and colleagues, as the successful women experience some form of hostility and are being cut down due to their success and achievements.
There is however a gender difference, as men are applauded for being goal driven and achieving success, men are often actively encouraged to stand out from their peers, leading the way and being the one to beat. Research has however shown that women have a very different experience, with many reporting low self esteem and self confidence as they downplay their achievements to avoid being cut down.
It has been found that Tall Poppy Syndrome in the workplace leads to to withdrawal, mental breakdowns, self-doubt, depression, insomnia, anxiety and overeating, among other effects, and HR professionals are now beginning to look at how Tall Poppy Syndrome affects employee mental health, satisfaction and retention.
When people mock you we tend to take that personally and to heart and judge ourselves negatively, but in reality the issue at play is not actually criticism, it’s projection. The ‘poppy cutters’ look at the tallest poppies with feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, fear, jealousy, and anger, all of which lead to a desire to cut others down, and its their own negative feelings that are projected onto the source of their own discomfort: the tallest poppy,”
But the syndrome flows in one direction only, as there are no actions of intent to make anyone else feel inferior, but knowing that the attack is actually not directed at you personally, doesn’t make dealing with people’s unkind comments or behaviours any easier. So here are 3 pieces of advice for all those tall poppies out there …
1. Don’t accept their feelings.
No matter how hard your try, you can’t cut a poppy with words, or actions. So remember that others are trying to cut you down with all the things that cannot touch or harm you. If someone tries to give you a box full of bad things, why would you ever accept it. You not only don’t want it, you don’t deserve it, and if you don’t accept the box, it remains the property of the person who filled it. No matter how inquisitive our are to find out what others think, don’t open the box, if you feel you are being introduced to anything negative, walk away, switch off, or delete it, and tell yourself it was never for you in the first place.
2. Do what makes you happy
If every person stopped at the point someone tried to cut them down, the world wouldn’t have the businesses or brands we have today, the list is actually endless, as every single item on every shelf or showroom was once a concept, and its success meant someone had to ignore all those who tried to cut them down.
Do what you want to do, and as long as you are not hurting anyone else, listen to those who offer genuine support, and be proud of your achievements, regardless of what others may think or how it makes them feel.
3. Don’t waste time fighting back
Your energy is a finite resource, and when it comes to haters, critics, and toxic people, most of the time, it’s just not worth your time and effort to fight back, argue, or try to defend yourself. “Your time is better spent just getting on with the business of being you and creating your great work in the world.
The way others react or perceive you and your accomplishments is beyond your control. Remember that the tall Poppy cannot hide, so embrace who you are, what you have achieved and don’t look back on those trying to cut you down, look up at those who have grow taller and see how much further you can grow.
Many women have lost a sense of purpose as they feel failure, when in fact the have lost who they are as they fear success. Self confidence is knowing that you can cope with whatever and whoever you are facing, with the ability to control of your thoughts. There are ways to change and find the confidence to not only be successful, but primarily be happy.