Criticising successful individuals and cutting tall poppies -down to size' is a common practice in Australian culture. In fact, according to one recent survey, one in five Australians believe the Tall Poppy Syndrome actually defines what it means to be Australian.
Clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and global Right Voice for You facilitator, Susanna Mittermaier, is eager for Australians to recognise the destructive nature of the Tall Poppy Syndrome and is on a quest to help people celebrate exceptionalism – in others, and in themselves.
'When you vilify success and target individuals who dare to stand out in their field, you are not just pressuring them to be normal – you are encouraging them to be mediocre", Mittermaier warns.
Embracing mediocrity in order to -fit in' is a global phenomenon, Mittermaier admits, 'But in Australia it is entrenched in society – more so than in Europe or the USA. You even have a name for it", she remarks. Sadly, studies show this pressure to be -normal' or -unremarkable' can have a very real effect on Australian society, including increased bullying, a lack of innovation and the purposeful underperformance of talented students.
According to Mittermaier, the effects on the individual are even more sinister. 'The trouble with this social expectation is that we often unconsciously adhere to it, even if we don't think it affects us. This means many Australians are hesitant or unwilling to share the skills and talents that they are most gifted at."
Mittermaier encourages Australians to look out for these four sure signs that they have fallen prey to mediocrity:
Money troubles: Wealth is an obvious point of exceptionalism, so if you are trying to be mediocre, you may undermine your own ability to become, or stay, wealthy. 'If you are making financial decisions from an unconscious stance of not wanting to stand out, it is likely you will make choices that reduce your ability to earn, or to overspend the money you have."
Constant struggle: If you are struggling with life – if nothing comes easy to you – it is often because you are being mediocre. 'Once you go beyond the TallPoppy syndrome and you don't care about others' demands on you to be mediocrity, you become unassailable. You feel an incredible level of freedom, ease and joy, and life tends to work in your favour."
Depression, anxiety and dissatisfaction: 'if you are feeling depressed or depleted, it is common to turn to therapy or medication. But underneath these symptoms often lies the root cause that you're not choosing the life you really want. You are choosing to remain mediocre."
Fear of future judgement: Fear and avoidance of future criticism can compel you to remain mediocre. 'If you tend to focus on judgements that might come up in the future, if you are paranoid before judgements come, then this will stop you from shining in whatever way is possible for you."
Mittermaier offers the following advice to anyone hesitant to share their talents and gifts, for fear of standing out too much. 'If judgements come, the most effective tool is to ignore them. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it really is that simple", she advises. 'It takes a while to learn how to do this, but one simple tool is to realise that everything is simply a point of view."
'When faced with judgement, just tell yourself -interesting point of view, they have this point of view'. Also, acknowledge your willingness to accept their judgement of you: -Interesting point of view, I have this point of view that their judgement is relevant'", she adds.
Mittermaier believes that rising above mediocrity is good for the individual, and for the world in general. 'Once you stop trying to be mediocre and making others' limitations more relevant than the brilliance you are, that is when you can be a gift to the world. How many people can you inspire by choosing to be different; choosing to be exceptional?"
Susanna Mittermaier is a licensed clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and author of the #1 international bestselling book, Pragmatic Psychology: Practical Tools for Being Crazy Happy. As a global speaker, Susanna offers a new paradigm on psychology and therapy called Pragmatic Psychology. She is also a certified facilitator for Right Voice for You, a special program by Access Consciousness. She has been featured in publications such as TV Soap, Maria Shriver, Women's Weekly, Empowerment Channel Voice America, Om Times, Motherpedia, Newstalk New Zealand and Holistic Bliss. She has hosted her own radio show and often appears on TV for expert comment.
Question: What is Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Susanna Mittermaier: Many people can feel intimidated by others' success – it can remind them that they, themselves, are choosing to stay small, or safe, or 'normal." Therefore, in order to justify their own choices or circumstances, many people make success and greatness 'wrong". This occurs in societies all over the world, but in Australia it is so prevalent it has its own name.
Question: What are classic examples of Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Susanna Mittermaier: Australian starlets Naomi Watts, Rebel Wilson and Ruby Rose have all recently mentioned the difficulties they have faced with Tall Poppy syndrome. Ruby avoids calling herself 'famous" to protect herself from attacks, Rebel felt victimised because of others' apparent need to keep her in her place, and Naomi recalled how her friends started treating her differently. Sadly, it seems to be women who are most affected by Tall Poppy syndrome. An Australian study even found that talented young female athletes often face bullying at school because of the way they shine at their chosen sport.
Question: How does social media impact on Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Susanna Mittermaier: Social media amplifies this syndrome and its effects. When those who are enjoying success, greatness, luck, achievement share snippets of their life online, it reaches more people than it would have in the past. (Before social media, signs of success would only be seen by family, friends and immediate community. Now, the world can see these elements and can form an opinion about it). And of course, social media makes it easier for those who want to complain, or bully, or knock someone down, to gain direct access the Tall Poppy they are targeting.
Question: How is this practice detrimental?