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When the desire for connection backfires.

Most of my clients are reticent to take action that will run the risk of compromising their strong value(s) of connection.

It’s really the basis of our fear of success.

I get it.

Fully and completely. So when they feel called forth to step into their starring roles, they tend to look at a belief that when they start to gain a bigger audience -- a wider platform or generally become more successful (in whatever metrics that support their vision) -- their time will be strained, they’ll be required to be less accessible and they’ll become more disconnected. This can be an unsettling place to look. Because their fear isn’t JUST about losing connection with others (which is more than weighty enough, thank you very much.) It’s also about what happens when people disconnect from us. Take the following narrative, played out on the cover of any tabloid, at any time, in any grocery store.

A Hollywood starlet begins her ascent as her talents are noticed and appreciated. Then she starts to become revered. Maybe even adored. Possibly worshipped. And then, something begins to shift. The tides turn and she becomes the target of mean-spirited gossips. Fat-shaming. Lies and scandal.  The bigger the star, the more vitriolic the attacks. Mean sells, after all.

The message is clear. The greater the heights, the more popular you become, the greater the risk of being cut down to size.

In the blink of an eye, you can go from revered to reviled.

From worshiped to condemned.

And the fulcrum point between canonization and demonization may well be disconnection.

Who wants that? It’s not just the fate of Hollywood stars, though, is it? Academics, entrepreneurs, blog stars, artists…we see it all the time. Pushed off of the stage that they have earned, or shoved off of the pedestals onto which they were forced. They become too popular and then they are attacked by the critics who fling their assaults from the safety of anonymity. For their weight. For going mainstream. For not staying in a box. For evolving. For celebrating. Like Brené Brown shares with Oprah about her experience with reading the comments about her transformative TED talk (on VULNERABILITY, no less)::

People were saying things like "Less research, more Botox" and "Maybe you'll be 'worthy' in 20 pounds." And they all were anonymous, which is such—well, crapola! I'm not going to cuss, but it's chicken. So one day I sent my husband, Steve, to work, I sent my kids to school, and I sat on the couch in my pajamas and watched ten hours of Downton Abbey. I ate some peanut butter. I was like, This is not worth it, man. I'm not doing this anymore. I didn't want to go back to my world, where all that hurt was. So instead I started googling to find out what was happening in the United States during the Downton Abbey period. That's when I found the Theodore Roosevelt quote. He said, "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs.... [And] if he fails, at least fails while Daring Greatly." In that moment, my life changed. You know when you hear something and you're just ready?

Yes. Yes I do. (You too?) (BTW:: Alexandra Franzen has done the most magnificent job of smacking down hate-blogging cyber-bullies.)

But you and I, we’re NOT those anonymous insult-slingers…how does this relate to us?

Well, if you’ve read this post, you may have seen yourself where you disconnect from those you admired. Part of the reason this happens is due to the fact that we may have projected our desires onto them. We see someone doing something that we admire we may feel an affinity towards them, possibly because they are so relatable. And they model something that we deeply want. Mastery, excellence, authority, or talent. And we may feel a gap from where we are to where they are. A gap that wants to be filled by connection and proximity. But when that’s not available to us, we try to fill the gap with projections. Beliefs about that person. Stories. “What would ______ do?” can be a powerful question to hotlink you to the value that the person represents for you, but it’s not TRUTH. It’s still story. And it’s not connection. It’s projection. Which is the genesis of disconnection. The very antithesis of what we were trying to achieve in the first place. Because somewhere along the line, we start to believe that story. And rest assured that said story won’t align with the subject of our admiration’s actions. So, the bloom falls off of the rose. What happens next depends on the cast of characters involved.

So if we see tabloids doing it to stars, and we see ourselves doing it, then it stands to reason that we can expect our people to disconnect from us too, non?

Ah. Connecting the dots between how we can perceive and treat others and how we expect we’ll be perceived and treated is the objective here. Once we can see that clearly, then we are free to see and heal the fears we have about stepping into our own starring roles.


Tall Poppies, Comparison Compulsion and Worship Wisely

When I was about 10 years old, my father sent my mother two dozen extra long-stemmed roses. Extra, EXTRA long, as I recall. They were taller than me. She was out running errands so I thought I’d make the gift that much sweeter by putting them in a vase for her, but seeing as none of our vases could accommodate the extra FEET of stem, I cut them back…significantly. There.That looked far more reasonable.

I, of course, didn’t understand the caché of the XXXL length. And how much went into cultivating them in that way. Nor the ancillary cost.

When my mother returned from her errand, she beamed at the sight of those beauties, then called my Dad to thank him for the sweetness. He asked about the length, clearly proud of himself for getting that detail right. When she explained that they fit the vase perfectly, I could hear his roar from where I was standing. She saw the cuttings I’d left in the sink and understood all at once what had happened. She managed to explain it to him before he had time to get a hold of that poor florist.

The way it was oh so patiently explained to me later that evening, every inch trimmed was about $4. And I’d cut off a lot.


Heard of Tall Poppy Syndrome? Many of my clients sure have.

Tall poppy syndrome (TPS) is 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.

Another way in…when someone is wildly talented, incredibly attractive, naturally brilliant, radically successful, they can feel some shame in it. Or feel as though they have a target on their back. And perhaps they feel called to “dim their light” so that others feel more comfortable…to be more, um, reasonable. To fit in the vase, nice and neat.

I know where you just went. I know you went to the place of “that doesn’t apply to me…I’m not wildly talented, incredibly attractive, naturally brilliant, radically successful”.

We're all cool kids in someone else's eyes
We're all cool kids in someone else's eyes

Oh. Really?

Yes. YOU have experienced it. While you may not self-identify as “wildly talented, incredibly attractive, naturally brilliant, radically successful”, there is much about you that is TRULY extraordinary.

{Sit with those words for a moment and notice where that lands on the spectrum from “I suspect that could be true” to the full-blown “TRUTH”.}

Part of the reason acknowledgment is so hard for you to receive may not simply be because you are modest or humble. It could be because the very thing you are being commended for may be the very thing you fear may become a liability. That your fabulous figure makes it hard for people to relate to you (so you carry around a couple of extra pounds to be more reasonable). That your incredible intellect is intimidating for others (so you make sure to dumb it down to be more reasonable). That you point out all the ways that your success has been a fluke so that the whole story seems more reasonable. It’s possible that you have experienced the sin of outshining and the cost was isolation and disconnection and being cut down to size. To fit the vase. So you shelve your otherselves. (My goodness, but I wish you’d stop that.)

And while I’m going out on a limb here, I may as well stretch out the very edge of this branch. You have been cut down for your magnificence AND? Bless you, but you may also have had a hand in cutting others down. When you have had the experience of “not measuring up” to another’s talent, attractiveness, brilliance or success, your thoughts, words, or eyes may have cut off a few inches.

It was inadvertent. Of course, it was inadvertent. And it was unfair.

And guess what happens? That impulse to compare, then project, then disconnect merely validates the very notion that if we shine, others will distance themselves from us. BECAUSE WE HAVE THE PROOF. It’s right there, in our own experience.

You’ve been the idealized tall poppy. I’ve been the idealized tall poppy. You’ve idealized and cut down the tall poppy. I have idealized and cut down the tall poppy.

Let’s try this.

Let's put away the scissors
Let's put away the scissors

Photo credit: the yes man.

Let’s put away the scissors. Let’s put them right back in that drawer. Let’s agree right here and right now that we won’t do that shit to each other. Whether your brilliance or gorgeousness or success is “reasonable” is none of my business. Shine on. Agreed?

Let’s surround ourselves with the very best. Let’s preen each others’ beautiful feathers. Let’s dare to fly higher and faster and farther together.

"When you meet a woman who is intimidatingly witty, stylish, beautiful, and professionally accomplished, befriend her. Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better." - Shine Theory: Why Powerful Women Make the Greatest Friends

And finally, let’s do some deeper work. 

Lauren Bacon have spent a good number of years seeing how that compulsion to compare is the birthplace of holding back. Intending to transform that pattern, we created Beyond Compare.

Let's start the transformation. For all of our sakes.