Tall Poppy Syndrome refers to the idea that all flowers should be the same size and that if one grows too tall, it needs to be cut down. 1 The Tall Poppy Syndrome 2 occurs when people are attacked, resented, disliked, criticized, or cut down because of their achievements and/or success. The tall poppy syndrome is a phenomenon that every successful person would eventually have to deal with as acquaintances, family, and friends begin to say things like you have changed,
have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
A study led by Dr. Rumeet Billan examined the consequences of the tall poppy syndrome and its impact on women in the workplace worldwide. The study examines the impact of Tall Poppy Syndrome on the individual and the cost to organizations. The study looked at thousands of working women from all demographics and professions to determine how their mental health, well-being, engagement, and performance are affected by interactions with their clients, colleagues, and leaders surrounding their success and accomplishments. The Tallest Poppy study reveals that TPS remains a significant issue in workplaces around the world and the results are detrimental to women and the organizations within which they work.
Some people fear that our boldness—our big moves—will expose them as weak and inferior in comparison. This makes them feel a need to preemptively destroy us. People who believe they are inadequate are often tempted to bring someone down to their level or shame them for shining too brightly. Tall Poppy Syndrome is a term that took hold in Australia and New Zealand. It refers to the idea that all flowers should be the same size and that if one grows too tall, it needs to be cut down.
Success usually brings out envy and jealousy from the closest people around us as we usually show people what they could have done had they persevered. Hence the reason why some people see the need to cut down others to their supposed size. In her memoir, Let Your Mind Run: A Memoir of Thinking My Way to Victory 3, American long-distance runner Deena Kastor shares a story about how her training partners suddenly changed towards her because of her success. The story is a great example of the tall poppy syndrome. She writes:
Coach was out of town to give a clinic, so the men and I were on our own. I arrived first and stood in the morning chill, doing leg swings to stay warm. I jogged around a bit and when the men still weren’t there, I started my warm-up, wondering what’d happened to the guys. I ran through the trees and onto the river dyke. As I arced north, I saw the men coming toward me. Phil, Marco, and Peter were there, but also newer members, Jeff, Teddy, and Bryan Dameworth, my friend and former teammate from high school who’d joined about six months ago. When we reached one another, we all stopped.
“Hey, what happened? Why did you start without me?” I asked.
“We changed practice time,” Peter said.”
“Why didn’t someone tell me?”
“Because we don’t like you.”
Peter said this with no hesitation. I waited for someone to laugh, indicating it was a joke. When no one did, I asked why they didn’t like me.
“We just don’t,” he said. “We never have.”
I looked at the others, trying to assess if Peter was speaking for the group. The men looked away.
I didn’t know what to say. The men walked past me and took off down the path.”
“I stood there stunned. I abandoned the workout and ran home, sobbing into Aspen’s fur until she smelled like a wet dog. I quickly scanned the last few months of workouts and café breakfasts. What had I done? Did they really not like me? None of them, ever?”
“I was angry, sad, and hurt. I spent the next three days running on my own and trying to figure it out, to trace their dislike back to something I did, or something I could apologize for or change. All I could come up with were good times—hard workouts, red beans and rice on Friday nights, gripping our seats on the drive down from Rock Creek. I felt ridiculous for thinking they were my friends, while the whole time, they hadn’t liked me. Caroline said they were just jealous of my success. I wasn’t so sure. Maybe I’d disrupted the male team dynamic. I was close with Coach, a man they loved, too.”
It can be extremely tough to deal with the tall poppy syndrome as it is the closest people to us who often first see the need to cut us to size when we begin to become successful. These are usually the people who had the front-row seat to watch you work hard continuously for years before you eventually got your breakthrough. It is usually a hard pill to swallow but one just has to accept the reality of human behaviour. Haters will always hate, naysayers will always tell you it can’t be done and when you eventually get it done, they will say they had always known.
When dealing with the hate, envy jealousy, and attacks as a result of your success. Try to heed the words of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius who once said:
- Daily Calm with Tamara Levitt – Perfectionism
- Mindfulness practice helps us discipline our minds to be present, but it also offers the opportunity to soften our judgment and criticism. So many of us feel the pressure to be great, to be viewed as special, maybe even extraordinary, but what you feel it is ok to just be you; just as you are right now with all your imperfections.
- What if you believed that your best was actually good enough, that if you failed all that mattered was that you tried. This is part of practice, to relieve yourself of anything that you are not, and to accept who you are; this is a form of radical self-acceptance. It doesn’t mean we give up our effort to better ourselves, strive, and succeed. All it means is that we learn to treat ourselves with compassion and acceptance, which ultimately leads to the success that so many of us desire.
- Daily Jay with Jay Shetty – Teleanticipation
All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.