Who has been a victim of the Tall Poppy Syndrome? I remember hearing the term when I was in primary school and being a young and naive 10 year old, I thought ‘surely I will never experience this’… if only life was this fair.
“The Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is a pejorative term primarily used in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other Anglosphere nations to describe a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.”
Keeping everyone at the same level is good for the people who prefer to cruise though life, doing the same thing everyday, choosing easy options instead of those that challenge them. They are without solid goals, motivational drive or purpose (and do not seek to find what that may be). However, when others around them have all these traits it draws attention to the fact they are missing amongst theirs and as such, they feel inadequate, lazy and shameful. The aspect of shame is highlighted mostly and in order to feel better about themselves, they find it easier to cut those seeking more (we can call these people high achievers for lack of a better term) down.
One example I can think of is when you see a girl with a great body at a bar on a Friday night in a figure hugging outfit. It’s text book behaviour for other girls to make comments about her hair colour, choice of clothing or even her personality - they’ve summed her up to a tee without knowing one thing about her. ‘She must not eat with a body like that!’ ‘She’s probably had so much work done!’ When the truth is she probably works damn hard, each and every day to look the way she does.
Tall Poppy Syndrome is looking at someone driving an expensive car and calling them a wanker for choosing the top end model because it looks ‘showy.’ What isn’t acknowledged is the number of years that person has slogged it out, getting themselves to a stage where they can afford their dream car and be proud of their achievements through years of grafting and sacrifice.
But lets strip it back to you and I… the people who have goals, aspirations and drive to do more, to better ourselves, to set daily challenges and thrive off simply exhausting the hell out of life. You may have once been a cruiser then suddenly realised you want more. This realisation or change of behaviour may be a shock to those close to you and they won’t understand the shift - it may worry them that the old you will never come back and they cannot and will not relate or understand this person who now has a clear vision and focused direction.
I found this with my bodybuilding journey… I have always been a ‘Yes’ person. You know the type - that person who is always up for going out, the person you can always guarantee will say yes to whatever is thrown at them. It was most apparent in London when I consciously made the decision to say ‘Yes’ to everything that was offered to me - I can count how many times I cooked in my kitchen in nearly 5 years. Most weeks I would force myself to say ‘No’ just so I could have one night in - it was hectic but so much fun at the time and I have zero regrets. Moving back to Perth my life is so different - I have cooked more times to count and I have been out socialising so few times I can roll the list off pretty quickly and I’m so happy to announce that. My choice to lay low, study, train, not drink alcohol and prioritise achieving my goals over boozing, lunches, dinners and parties has come as a shock to most however thankfully, most of my people have been supportive but there are always one or two who just don’t get it and make comments that would have otherwise made me question my choices and made me sway, losing focus - had I not known any better or had the strength and knowledge to know that the Tall Poppy Syndrome is rife - even more so with people you have known your entire life as these are the people who usually freak out when they see a change - positive or negative. The thing to note is that you have changed for the better and they remain the same - they may still be doing the same thing they were doing 10, 15, 20 years ago and that mentality not only doesn’t align with you anymore, it serves you no purpose other than to drag you down whilst questioning your path.
Let me just say, people are not inherently bad and no one intentionally means to do wrong, however when jealousy or envy gets in the way, they can make poor decisions to make them feel better. Giving people the benefit of the doubt is noble however you really need to consider whether having these people in your life is going to hinder your progression.
Four things you can do to free yourself from the Tall Poppy Syndrome
1.Cut out negative people
This is probably the most difficult one out of the four which is why I’ve included it first. It’s really difficult to cut people out of your life, especially if they have been in it for years. You may have grown up together and have accepted a lot of things you wouldn’t otherwise accept because you have been through so much together - this is normal however it’s not an excuse to accept negative behaviour. We are not obliged to have the same friends as we go through life and people grow apart, values, beliefs and morals may no longer align - this is okay. Accepting that the relationship is over is hard but necessary in the progression to achieving what is important to you, you must keep moving forward and eliminate anyone dragging you down. When you do this, you’re allowing room in your day for people who lift you higher, forming positive and healthy relationships.
I had a friend, we were inseparable and did everything together. Without realising it at the time, she was a highly negative person in my life. Their was always something negative to say about someone and our chats always consisted of gossiping… it was exhausting and I, towards the tail end of our friendship would find myself depleted of energy when I would get home. At the time I wasn’t in a good place from a personal event and she was there however I never got out of the rut I was in… what should’ve taken a couple weeks at most of wallowing in self pity took 8 months! We would go out together, order a lot of food and I would drink enough alcohol for a week in one night… this happened 4 times per week minimum! As soon as I started to change my life around for the better, feeling happy and making serious lifestyle changes her attitude changed and I felt as though my happiness was not something that was received well. I had to make the decision to eliminate her from my life as the negativity became so toxic - it served me no purpose and was hindering my progression forward.
2. Surround yourself with positive and likeminded people
This is a no brainer. You are a sum of the top 5 people who you speak to the most so if they are positive thinkers and their beliefs, direction and aspirations are aligned with yours, it puts you in a greater position for success. Positivity breeds positivity and negativity breeds negativity. Associating with people who lift you higher and are genuinely happy for you to succeed, encourage and support you is imperative to staying on the right path and focused.
3. Stay focused and keep going
When you have set goals for yourself that seem hard to achieve, deviating from the path to success might look easier - this is true in the short term as you may feel accepted again by the people trying to pull you down - going back to the old you is comfortable however in the long term, resentment and the disappointment you will feel within yourself is not worth it. Stay focused on what is important for you and keep chipping away until you have achieved your goals. If everyone could do it, everyone would do it - challenges are exactly that and they weed out the people who don’t want it bad enough.
4. Accepting that you can’t win them all
Lets face it, you’re not going to be liked by everyone. During my prep I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol whereas prior to starting my bodybuilding journey, I was guzzling champagne down like it was water. The old me would not have found any common ground in a social setting with a person who wasn’t having a few whereas now, people who drink regularly find me not drinking weird ‘what do you mean? You can’t even have one glass?’ The nose is turned up and I see the look of pity time and time again. To the people who just don’t get it, they may not like you and may not understand their distaste towards you is because they envy the fact you are going out and crushing it - and they’re doing the same thing day in and day out - too comfortable or too scared to make any serious changes. Then there are the people who get it - focus you’re attention on these guys as they’re the people who will always see you in the best light, fighting in your corner.