Tall Poppy Syndrome

By Tricia Scott


Ever had a massive achievement only to be cut down to size afterwards? Turns out that being brought back down to earth with a bump (or a massive ear splitting crash) when we’ve achieved success, however well-meaning is one of the biggest obstacles to growth there is. It’s called The Tall Poppy Syndrome. 

Who would intentionally do such a thing though? 

Well, it turns out, most of us. Whether it be us to ourselves (inner critic anyone?), a boss at work, friend, colleague, bystander or a close family member it’s that feeling of ‘not getting too big headed’ or fear of appearing as such thats keeping us small and keeping us stuck. 

According to The Coaching Tools Company ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome refers to the act of cutting someone down to size when they have achieved success - levelling the playing field so that other people don’t feel bad about themselves Shame, guilt or criticism (both subtle and direct) are used to cut people, who have grown taller than everyone else, down to size’ 

Hello guilt shaming! 

Its not always malicious either, it can actually be well meaning on the part of the person giving the ‘advice’ oftentimes, it’s about creating a perceived safe, level playing field where everyone gets to feel equal and no one feels less than anyone else. However no matter how well meaning it may be, make no mistake its damaging. It makes us tone ourselves down, dim our light and stop trying so that we don’t feel bad about making others feel less by comparison, or worse still, so that we don’t become the centre of attention at all. 

But why? 

There are several reasons for this behaviour, the most common is protection. Protection from judgement of ourselves, from others (this one usually comes from ourselves, family, partners and friends) or protection to those casting judgement who feel intimidated by your successes (you might outgrow them or leave them behind). 

Of course, some people just don’t like to see others succeed (you won't find any of them on this site!), they fear what they don’t know or feel they cannot compete with. This is never ok. You never have to dull your sparkle to fit in with those who choose to remain dull. Ever. 

Stand tall you gorgeous flower - What do I do when I notice this happening to me? 

Noticing this behaviour feels weird at first, especially when its coming from someone who clearly loves you, but remember, we are diluting our excellence by allowing it to continue and then no one wins. Not you, not them and not society at large. 

We have to take steps to stop worrying so much about what others think, there's always going to be someone out there who’s going to be threatened by your brilliance. Its their problem. Not yours. So make like Elsa and let it go. 

Remind yourself that by allowing your strengths to shine in all of their magnificent glory allows others around us to shine too. One of my favourite quotes of all time is by Marianne Williamson and is as follows; 

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

How awesome is that? In fact who are we NOT to shine? Your playing small is not helping anyone, least of all you. 

So, start looking around you, what are the people around you fantastic at? By noticing others strengths and not the perceived  limitations that come with them you become part of the solution. Part of the change. When we feel good about it, it becomes much harder for others to be able to put a dampener on us. In short, the world becomes a much better place, full of positive people shining their brilliance without apology. 

Now, thats just fabulous. 

Don’t be part of the ‘Tall Poppy’ culture, instead be part of the change.

I believe in you. 

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