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Tall poppy syndrome

Posted by Cathryn Mahoney on

Today, I connected on LinkedIn with a lady in Australia and when I read her profile the final sentence struck a chord with me. It read: My mission is to eliminate the 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' in Australia. As I live in the UK I had never heard of this syndrome before and had to look it up. Here is a description: The tall poppy syndrome describes the cultural phenomenon of mocking people who think highly of themselves, "cutting down the tall poppy". Common in Australia and New Zealand, it is seen by many as self-deprecating and by others as promoting modesty.

Why did this strike such a chord with me and inspire me to write about it? It was initially the symbolism, as I love poppies, especially those that rise above or are a different colour or type to the rest, and the single delicate flower that is found in the most unlikely of places.

That last sentence will then give a clue to what the symbolism means to me! 'The one that is different and stands out' which may appear to be taller, brighter, prettier, hardier, and resilient, when in fact by standing out they could more easily be cut down or destroyed by the wind or by other means and therefore may actually be the most fragile.

If we relate this to people, initially being the one who 'stands tall' and 'stands out' we can again give many positive attributes to. However, when their success raise them higher than their peers, when they shine brighter, perhaps even adorned with the trappings of success, highly confident and self-assured and promoting their achievements within their social circle or in the public eye, then there will surely be someone who will want to cut them down to size or even destroy them. The reason could be jealousy, dislike of someone who blows their own trumpet who seems bolstered by their 'ego', the belief that we all should be modest about our own successes, and many other socio-cultural beliefs about what is acceptable behaviour.

Have you had the experience of being cut down when you have shared your achievements? This can have a damaging effect on people, especially if it happens regularly and from a young age, which will then affect confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.

I, for one, grew up within a family and culture where 'blowing one's own trumpet' was frowned upon. I was encouraged to make something of myself and to have a career so there was an expectation for some success in my life, but not to look for praise or reward. The motto was "hard work pays off" but always strive to do better! Whenever I tried to gain any acknowledgement for doing something well I generally got knocked down. In fact, my experience throughout life is that someone would rather ignore me, belittle me or take the credit themselves rather than acknowledge any of my achievements. I believe that is why discovering the term 'tall poppy syndrome' has resonated with me so much. It has helped me to look much deeper at the issue, how it has originated in my life and then been played out throughout my adult life. I know that I have perpetuated the belief that I am not 'worthy' of recognition because of my childhood experiences and have found people throughout my life whom I have given the power to knock me down over and over again. There are of course other issues behind this too, but just hearing about the syndrome has raised my awareness to an even deeper level, so that I can be more aware of how I express and share with others my achievements in future, and know that I have a right to do so!

If this article has resonated with you, perhaps you would like to share your thoughts within the comments.


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