Are You Afraid Of Being
A Tall Poppy?

A couple of weeks ago I happened to catch a local current affairs TV program which featured a segment on Robert Allen, author of The One Minute Millionaire.

robert allen
Robert Allen
I watched in disbelief as an Australian real estate guru ambushed Robert as he stepped out of an elevator in Sydney and basically accused him of being a charlatan. Robert handled himself with his usual grace and aplomb, but his accuser was practically frothing at the mouth, both during the confrontation and later in a studio interview. My first thought was, “Boy, Robert's really pushed his buttons!” as the man's emotional state seemed out of all proportion to the situation.

Apparently this person has prompted a government investigation into Robert's business activities in Australia, in particular, his claims of teaching people to be millionaires. It will be interesting to see how this all pans out.

To me this is one more example of what Australians call "the tall poppy syndrome". In this country, if a person applies himself and becomes successful, he runs the risk of having other people attempt to "cut him down to size". According to my British friends, this is a legacy of our history as a penal colony, as the English have a similar attitude. It is echoed in expressions like "too big for his britches", "she's got tickets on herself" and "who do you think you are – Lord Muck?"

Instead, we glorify what we call "the little Aussie battler". This is usually someone who's got six small kids and lives in a tin shack with no water and electricity, or a woman who's lost her husband in a horrific accident, been evicted, and is working three jobs to pay off his debts. The more extreme the circumstances, the more we applaud the participants. I'm not suggesting that struggling to overcome adversity isn't admirable; these people certainly deserve our respect for persevering against huge odds. But God help them if they should move beyond that and actually become successful. That's when we sharpen the knives and start looking for chinks in their armor.

What has this got to do with you? Well, no matter what country you live in, there will always be people who resent your gifts or talents, especially when you become successful. It's just something you need to accept and decide ahead of time how to handle. As Rick Nelson put it in the song Garden Party: "You can't please everyone so you got to please yourself."

There are two things to keep in mind when you become a tall poppy (as I hope you will):

  1. Spend time with other tall poppies.

    If you associate mainly with people who are less successful than you, you're bound to encounter some resentment, often on an ongoing basis. This can quickly undermine your confidence and lead you to sabotage your own success.

    Yes, you can still associate with friends and family, but perhaps you should consider limiting the contact and spending the majority of your time with peers who support you and applaud your success because it doesn't threaten them.

    A complementary principle operates in mastermind groups, where you spend time with people you wish to emulate. The idea here is that you become whom you associate with. So having a supportive peer group will help you pursue success and also enjoy it once you've attained it.

    Take a good look at the people around you now and decide who will accompany you on your journey and who will be relegated to occasional contact. This is vital to your success. Although it may sadden you to lessen your interaction with some people, this may be the key to preserving the friendship in the long run.

  2. Understand the feelings of those who are jealous or resentful.

    Don't take it personally when someone acts jealously towards you. It's usually not about you - it's about them. Jealous people experience pain when in the presence of someone who has what they want, whether it's looks, fame, a spouse, possessions or whatever. The successful person's presence reminds them of what they don't have. It's not that they don't want you to have whatever you have, it's more that they want it too. And they feel the lack most acutely when you're there to remind them of it.

    So wish them well but remember that it's their challenge to get what they want. It has nothing to do with you. And you don't need the negative energy to distract you from your goals.

    You might discover that it's actually fun to be a tall poppy.