Have you heard of ‘tall poppy syndrome’?
It’s that social tendency which sees high achievers – ‘tall poppies’ – as standing ‘above the crowd’ somehow; and it cuts them down to size.
And if it’s taken root in your patch, it can make it tricky for you to strive. To grow. To dare to put yourself out there in the world and try your best at what you’re passionate about. For it can be a pretty potent motivator to stay small…safe…(silent, even).
Once it’s put like that, tall poppy syndrome starts to sound a bit like fear of judgment. Or maybe even fear of success.
Do any of these things sound familiar to you?
If so, what is it, exactly, that you might fear if you stuck your head up above the parapet?
(It might be worth getting to know that stuff a little better, for, often, we can carry around fairly nebulous worries that can actually draw strength from remaining indistinct… Getting clearer about them sometimes brings them into sharper focus; makes them more known to you. Maybe even more manageable).
So what are you anxious might actually happen if you thrive or succeed or shine?
What do you worry could be said or done?
Which parts of you do you fear might be ‘cut down to size’?
And who do you imagine might be doing the cutting?
One intriguing thing I’ve learned again and again as a therapist is how often the stuff that’s feared from the outside can also be happening from within.
So if it’s others’ judgment you fear, how harshly do you judge yourself?
If you take a moment to really look now and then, is there a chance you might sometimes spy the secateurs in your own hands? Is it possible that tall poppy syndrome has invaded your own internal field of dreams?
And if it has, what might you like to do about that?
What might it be like to transplant it for a while?
To weed it out?
Maybe to practice forgetting about it and just let your qualities and skills and passions and poppies grow to whatever size they will?
It can be challenging. For there is a risk of judgment (from outside and within).
But, as Robert Rosenbaum reminds us,
edit our experience”
(… our experience of the world… our experience of ourselves… and perhaps our experience of life itself).
So will you let your experience of the world be edited in this way?
Will you let tall poppy syndrome decide what the field of your life gets to look like?
Or might you risk planting richly and abundantly, and just letting yourself grow?
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Last reviewed: 24 Mar 2011