Consequences of the Tall Poppy Syndrome
Growing up in New Zealand, I repeatedly received criticism, words that diminished any achievement. I wasn’t allowed to fully celebrate what I did well and rarely received praise or recognition. This came predominantly from my mother, who believed that too much praise would result in pride and arrogance.
I believe that humility is a cultural value in New Zealand, but by not celebrating accomplishments, instead of inspiring true humility, it ends up fueling almost reverse pride and devalues what God has created. As a consequence, my main underlying belief was that I was not good enough. This resulted in a pattern of striving for me: I drove myself hard, always educating myself, motivated by the need to be capable, to be confident. I was driven, rather than operating from a place of rest.
Of course, as a dentist, I must be excellent in my practice, and I must have much knowledge. However, the way I worked ended up wearing me out and creating burnout for me.
I lost joy in the pursuits I could have otherwise celebrated, and I became stuck in a trap of comparison instead of enjoying the moment.
In New Zealand, anyone who stands out from the crowd–who has special talent or skill, achieves something above average–invariably experiences something called “tall poppy syndrome.” Like a single flower that has managed to grow taller than its neighbors in a field, this person gets “cut down to size” as a “tall poppy.” Excellent performances are met with a brief nod of approval, while the slightest mistake is pointed out and corrected. It is very common for top achievers in sports, arts, academics, business, and so on to exhibit a heightened sense of humility, downplaying or even failing to mention their greatest accomplishments. Actually, it is more that they fear being cut down by others, so they keep their heads down, and if perchance some praise is offered, they quickly reject it. For me personally, this experience has resulted in my sometimes wanting to hide–to be anonymous. Although, as a dentist, I have been out there in the community, it feels different now to be sharing more of my journey online as a writer.
I hope that by sharing my journey, I will bring encouragement to others. It is so easy when you have high expectations of yourself to work hard to try to prove yourself. However, I believe that if we can know the Father’s pleasure in our lives, we can operate from such a different place–one of rest. This is a place I am moving into.
Before Jesus went into the wilderness, He knew the Father’s pleasure. He knew who He was, and He wasn’t fazed by what the devil said. He told the devil where to go. I believe that as we rest in Jesus’ and our Father’s approval of us, we, too, can celebrate so much more of our lives. We can know that we are His beloved son or daughter, and He is well pleased with us.
Matthew 3:17: “and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’”