We’ve all had the experience of being cut down to size after a success: “Don’t get too big for your boots!”, “Your head will get so big you won’t fit through the door!”, “Who do you think you are?”. Tall Poppy Syndrome refers to the act of cutting someone down 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.
One of the Biggest Obstacles to Growth:
But whether it’s our own inner critic, mom, sibling, sports coach, colleague, friend or lover these Tall Poppy Syndrome experiences (or fear of them) are one of the biggest blocks to our growth.
Why? Because we are literally shamed into being and doing less! The experience feels so terrible that we dumb down, tone down, keep quiet and stop trying so hard just so we don’t have to experience that again. In short we decide not to become a target by not growing taller than anyone else…
A Noble Goal? Many People Mean Well:
While cutting one person down to size so that no-one feels bad about themselves seems like a noble goal, it actually hurts all of us. When someone’s successes and strengths become shame-worthy, we’re sending a message out to EVERYONE: Don’t succeed (too much) or this could happen to you too…
It can help us to understand the intentions behind the people who put us in our place – as many people mean well (at least to society at large!).
Here are 3 categories of Tall Poppy Syndrome instigators, they want want to:
- Protect US from what OTHER people think. Often this comes from people who care most about us – they’re trying to protect us from ourselves!
- Protect THEMSELVES. i) They feel personally threatened by your success and achievement and aim to make themselves feel better by making you feel smaller, or ii) They worry you might leave them behind if you get too strong/successful – they’re trying to keep you from outgrowing them…
- Protect SOCIETY. They feel the need to teach you a lesson or slow you down – for the betterment of society.
Help Your Clients Stand Tall!
Each of us has unique talents and skills, and when we worry too much about how others feel about our success, it dilutes excellence. The chances are your client has been on the receiving end of Tall Poppy Syndrome at some point in their lives. It’s why so many of us keep playing small.
So, next time you notice your client is holding back on celebrating, acknowledging their strengths or taking a risk and going for it in their lives, tell them about Tall Poppy Syndrome, and help them stand tall.
Here are 5 Ways You Can Help. Work With Your Clients to:
- Let go of the guilt! We can’t all be good at everything. Everyone has their own unique strengths, skills, talents and gifts – and it’s each person’s responsibility to find their own! If someone hasn’t found their strengths and talents yet, it isn’t your client’s fault.
- Stop worrying what others think! There will always be someone, somewhere who will find fault with them. This quote sums it up rather nicely:
“If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much.” Lewis Carroll
- Remind them that other people’s success brings out the best in each of us – helping us focus, improve and see what we might be capable of. (Until Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile, no-one thought it was possible. But once he broke the record, suddenly everyone else was doing 4 minute miles too…)
- Figure out what they ARE good at – and unashamedly reach to be their best! You may also like these 10 Essential Questions to Help Your Client Identify Their Strengths!
- Get better at noticing and celebrating what other people are good at too! When your client notices other people’s strengths and successes, they become part of the change. And it makes it harder for those people who do want to cut them down to size too…
Wrap-up (let’s help everyone succeed!)
Tall Poppy Syndrome, is a terrible misuse of energy. When people spend time pulling others down, we create a false and inauthentic society where people hold themselves back for fear of what others will say, think or feel.
Instead, if each of us focused on our strengths instead of comparing ourselves to others, the world would be a much easier place for everyone to succeed!
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