Haters Gonna Hate: How To Kick Tall Poppy Syndrome

Tall Poppy Syndrome is a cultural marker long ingrained in Australian society. We are a good natured bunch, but our tendency is to cut down those whose successes shine brightly. In fact, the glory of success isn’t often in its attainment but rather in the struggle. If you’re a good Aussie battler, you’re great. If you’re winning then all of a sudden, your friends are going to have something to say about it. It’s true in many areas of life: from business, to purpose, career and family.

So what do you do about it, short of putting Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” on repeat and blasting it until your neighbours complain?

On a recent episode of 100 Not Out by The Wellness Couch, Dr’s Damian Kristof and Marcus Pearce sat down to talk about it [1]. For those who haven’t heard of Tall Poppy Syndrome, it’s a scenario best explained in the words of Marcus Pearce: “It’s like people want to deflate our tyres while we are celebrating our victories [1].” It’s the softening of other people’s victories by teasing or disparaging.

Is this malicious or just good-natured ribbing? That’s something that comes down to the individual situation, but it could be motivated by something Damian Kristof calls ‘the crab in the bucket scenario.’ When one of us starts to get out of the proverbial bucket, the others in there think ‘if I can’t get out, he’s not getting out either.’

We strive for equalisation, and often we do that by clipping at the ankles of the one that’s started to find its way out of the status quo. “In order for people to move ahead, they almost need to disassociate themselves from their peers because their peers generally are the ones that are going to hold them back,” says Kristof. He goes on to explain that this can lead to a bit of fear when it comes to sharing your success.

And yet success is what we aim for: be it a successful career that changes the lives of patients, or success in many areas of life. Should we sabotage success in order to maintain status quo?  Perhaps a better way of going about it is to start with the belief that the world needs your success.

“We are all tall poppies. That is a wonderful thing. We are all incredible human beings capable of incredible achievements and ways of being,” says Pearce. He encourages the abandonment of an ‘us versus them’ mentality. “Even though we may feel that in the conscious world where people want us to fail, or they want us to suffer or they want us to not do anything that people aren’t doing, we have to recognise that there is a perfection in that process too [1].”

If we are going to make our mark on the world, both as individuals and or as a collective, then Tall Poppy Syndrome may be something we have to deal with it. Kristof and Pearce put together some tips on how to deal with it when it comes [1].

  1. Use the power of gratitude. “Tell people ‘thank you’. You don’t have to tell them to their face, but you have to feel a level of gratitude,” says Pearce. This can be the decider: are they going to be the fire that puts out your dreams or the fuel to drive you forward? He suggests we use opposition or ridicule as fuel, to feel the satisfaction that not only did we do something we wanted to do, but we did something that other people said couldn’t be done. “How good is that for them to see that great things can be done?” says Pearce. By reacting in gratitude rather than guilt, you’re moving from defence to acceptance. “This changes your physiology,” says Kristof “You’re moving from a defeatist or defensive posture into an acceptance and welcoming.”
  2. Don’t argue with the people who don’t think you can do it, or who put down your success. “Nobody ever wins an argument, despite the fact that people will still look for the last say [1].” Once someone has made up their mind, it’s incredibly difficult to change it. Arguments rarely facilitate that. “It’s highly likely that someone will still walk away with their own opinion,” says Kristof. “In Australia we see conformation. We see that everybody has to conform to a particular set of guidelines… But it’s the outliers that tend to make headlines in doing ‘the wrong thing’ good or bad, black or white.. The beautiful part of life is the colour.”
  3. If you do want to change their mind, do the thing they said you couldn’t do. Live your life purpose. “Do the thing that you think is going to draw out the level of fulfilment that you think your life is dedicated to. Inspire the living daylights out of them by living the best version of you,” says Pearce. It won’t always cause someone to change their mind, which involves the changing of a deeply engraved belief system. But that’s okay. You’ll still be living your life purpose and this can bring you a lot of joy.
  4. Recognise the fear factor. “I would say all, not most, I would say all people who have tall poppy syndrome are coming out of fear. It’s very much ‘don’t leave the tribe’…If you feel like you are being doubted by people around you, it’s got nothing to do with you. It’s their own fears,” says Pearce. What if you could do something they told you was impossible? What does this mean for the status quo? How does this reflect on their own lives and limitations? These are the things that can weave themselves into fears and cause people to hit out. But its not really about you. Often these fears that hit out at us are really grabs from our peers saying ‘come back to the tribe.’ You need to decide whether you will.
  5. Plan to make it happen. There are so many people whose dreams and visions overwhelm them. They don’t know what to do next? If you’re going to deal with the tall poppy syndrome, you need a plan. “A plan builds confidence to make it happen,” says Pearce. For some, this will involve a lot of detail. For others, it won’t involve so much. There are visionaries who hate the small detail. There are details people. There are all sorts of levels in between. Either way, you need steps to put it into place.

There is a great proverb that says we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. This is the profound impact of the tribe. Some of us go through life allowing our tribe to decide itself. Others go about creating a mastermind peer group that challenges them. Tall Poppy Syndrome occurs when the tribe pulls us back. A possible antidote to this involves creating a tribe that pulls you forward.

*100 Not Out is a podcast on healthy aging and all that contributes to it. Tune in for some informative topics covered by our friends Damian Kristof and Marcus Pearce.



[1] Pearce, M and Kristof, D (2016), “5 Steps to Overcome Tall Poppy Syndrome,” 100 Not Out by The Wellness Couch, retrieved 6 May 2016

[2] Assadi, A (2016), “How to deal with haters: tall poppy syndrome,” Arman Assadi,  retrieved 6 May 2016

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