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.

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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”.

Oh. Really?

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

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

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. 

 

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