Why tall poppy syndrome is bullshit

You’ve worked tirelessly on your thing. Devoted so much of yourself. And you hit it out of the park. All that hard work has paid off!

But don’t bask in your own glory. Oh no, you can’t do that. Instead, you quietly celebrate your efforts and move on, hoping nobody notices your small win. We have this seemingly unwritten notion that we can’t talk about doing well, because we’re ‘bragging’, or we can’t ask for applause because we’re ‘up ourselves’.

And if we do raise our heads up? We’re often waiting for it to be lopped off.

Welcome to Tall Poppy Syndrome.

What’s with this shit? Tall Poppy Syndrome is a phenomenon whereby people are often cut down when they achieve a level of success or notoriety. Others either don’t want to hear it, want to vilify the person, or try to minimise their success. A poppy that grows higher than the rest often gets its head lopped off (Polley, 1996).

Of course this isn’t always the case. Peeters (2004) thinks Australians aren’t about putting others down, but rather that Australian culture is more about targeting those who take too much credit for their achievements, or those who think they’re better than others because of said achievements.

Yes, there are times when people need a reality check. Ego is a wonderful thing. But how and when do we determine it’s okay to do this? Why is it that often, our perceived ‘reality checks’ actually take the form of lopping off that tall poppy?

Why do we wait until designated days, like International Women’s Day, to celebrate others? To celebrate our achievements? IWD is fantastic. It brings to the public arena amazing women who are doing great things. We admire them, we tout them as being fantastic, and we join together to celebrate all of us. Fuck yes! Aaaaaand then we go back to making snide comments under our breath about ‘show ponies’ and ‘snobby bitches’ and ‘lucky cows who have it all’.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We need to be the change we want to see in the world.

At the crux of Tall Poppy Syndrome is emotion. When we let our emotions drive our decision making, we can end up in a tricky spot. Often Tall Poppy Syndrome brings up emotions that don’t leave us feeling too crash hot, like envy for example. Envy is a valid emotion, and it’s okay to feel envious.

It’s not okay to then denigrate others, or begrudge their achievements as a result. And as it turns out, it doesn’t make us feel any happier or better about ourselves.

Research has shown that by focusing on others’ happiness, and helping others to feel happy, it actually benefits us too. A study by Otake and colleagues in 2006 found that by being kind to others, people’s personal happiness increased. Martin Seligman, the guru of positive psychology, along with his colleagues, found that by writing a gratitude letter to someone, thanking them for things that have helped you, gives you an instant shot of feel-good.


Focusing on others’ wellbeing, and encouraging them to feel good, inadvertently increases our wellbeing. It releases our happy juices (yes, we have happy juice – in our brains – get your mind out of the gutter), strengthens our bonds to others, gives us more meaning in our own lives, and even help us to feel more able to tackle our own personal struggles. Fuck.yes. Let’s get all over that shit.

How do start the change?

  • Focus on you – stop looking in somebody else’s backyard.
  • Acknowledge your emotions – the good, bad and the ugly.
  • Check your thought process – what’s driving those negative emotions? We’re such clever little things we can actually turn our feelings around by looking at what we’re saying to ourselves. Instead of ‘lucky bitch’, we could think, ‘I bet that took hard work’, or ‘I will get there in my own way.’
  • Do something nice for someone else – get out of your own head. Focus on someone else. Feel good about yourself for building someone else up.
  • You’re doing okay too! Sure you might not be at the same spot the other person is, but you’re doing alright. What have you achieved lately? Look at what you have as opposed to what you’re still trying to achieve. Be proud of you. You’re a cool cat.
  • Don’t wait to celebrate others. Do it today! Do it now. If you admire what someone has done, tell them! Ask how they did it, work towards it for yourself.

Bottom line: let’s stop this tearing down bullshit, and start building others up. Let those tall poppies grow as tall as they want to. Let’s grow tall too. There won’t be any lopping off heads if we’re all up there together.

Written By

Sasha is a head-shrinker, music nutter, wine guzzling, Mama-type. She’s like Dr. Phil's alter-ego. With hair. And a potty mouth. But minus the trophy wife. She blogs over at From the Left Field, waffling about kids, parenting, and how to think and feel good with a hint of crazy.

1 Comment

  • Love this Sash! Envy is an evil thing & im unhappy to admit it’s a vice of mine. I often have to keep myself in check to make sure I’m encouraging & supportive of the amazing people around me as well as giving myself a little pat on the back. And then I have a wine 😉

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