I’m no stranger to the Tall Poppy Syndrome – an inner fear of standing out and being brilliant in order to feel accepted and loved. A child that moved from communistic Poland to USA, I aimed to fit in to avoid being the butt of jokes while catching up with my English.
Later on, I would blend in to avoid attention, to avoid disappointing others and to avoid the platform and responsibility that comes with being the best of me.
In my work I often come across brilliant people who are afraid of unleashing their skills on the world. In trying to norm into their environment, they play small. I help them to realise their dreams and goals by building good habits.
Becoming a coach and a leader has helped seal in me the desire to claim that I have a responsibility in this world and in this life to make as large a difference as I can. It’s not an easy journey but it’s a fun one! We all lead by example.
When I invite my clients to be courageous make no mistake about it, I am living it! Are you?
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What is Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Have you ever been in a place where you want to excel, achieve something and at the same time, feel a tad scared of what will happen if you do reach out for any if the following:
- A promotion
- A dream job
- A person you are attracted to but maybe think they are above you
- An opportunity to tell the world how you feel or what you’re really up to?
The Tall Poppy Syndrome is a phrase well known in America, Australia and New Zealand that summarised a human dynamic whereby people may hold themselves back out of fear they will be perceived as better than others and punished for it through jealousy or envy. The phrase is often used to describe contexts where some people will attack or put down people they perceive as trying to stand out or standing out. I remember once in a job an older senior manager taking me behind a close door and with a look of anger asking me in an accusatory tone “And, what makes you think you’re so special?”
I remember being deeply hurt by what she said and how she said it. She was a senior woman I looked towards for support and encouragement of my work and efforts. I had plenty of evidence that my work was very good from direct and indirect feedback, but my success was a problem for her.
How to Recognise when You’re Stopping Yourself from Realising Your Potential
If you are scared of shining brightly, speaking your truth, sabotage your goals, or talk yourself out of specific opportunities telling yourself that you’re not good enough, you may be a tall poppy that is living in fear of being struck down.
This fear is certainly real. Once we stand out in any way, we become visible to the world. And this brings with it, additional responsibility. The question worth answering however is who does better when we play small or dumb down?
So a first step of moving forward is to recognise that maybe some fear of standing out and really going for it is actually presenting a threat that makes us choose less.
How to Recognise if You’re Preventing Someone Else from Blooming
Take a look at your circle of friends and contacts. Do you tend to surround yourself with highly accomplished, strong and bold women? Or, do you choose safety amongst people that also prefer to blend in?
When people from your circle post their achievements, are you truly happy for them? And if so, how do you demonstrate this?
A colleague announces a win or good outcome, do you congratulate them and feel joy, or maybe say good job but secretly talk them down in your mind saying they are just lucky, or did not deserve it or something else that you’d be embarrassed to admit.
The last way to know if you may participate in this phenomena is to notice how often do you shine a light on other people and their brilliance. When was the last time you recommended someone else for an opportunity? Publicly championed them? Or nominated them for an award?
If you are not proactively lifting poppies to stand out, in essence you are choosing or colluding in a culture that discourages people from being tall poppies.
5 Tips to Combat Tall Poppy Syndrome
- Write a list of 3-5 characteristics or attributes where you already excel or would like to be outstanding.
- Check in with yourself, how would you feel if this list was true and how can you lay a claim to these attributes?
- pick 3-5 strong role models that can remind you that standing out and being excellent is good! It often helps you contribute more.
- Adopt a mantra that reminds you that you’re doing no one any good and especially not yourself by keeping in the shadows.
- Look at your network and notice how many genuine tall poppies do you know. I am not talking about people who are always broadcasting their successes yet fail to shine a light on others’ brilliance.
If you don’t have any such people, get curious with your friends and colleagues about it.
How Can We Overcome Our Fears of being a Tall Poppy?
Here are three useful questions to ask yourself:
- If you could achieve mastery or get really good at something, what would it be, and why?
- What’s holding you back from pursuing it?
- How would your life change if you realised this aspiration?
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