Why it's good to be a Tall Poppy

APRIL 26, 2017 / Articles


By Karen Tui Boyes

I was honoured recently by my National Speakers Association colleagues as NZ’s Educator of the Year 2017.

Previously I have won NZ Speaker of the Year (2013) and Educator of the Year (2014). It is always wonderful to have your work acknowledged by your colleagues and the hundreds of congratulations emails, posts and messages are always lovely to receive.

Interestingly, living in New Zealand, we have this unspoken cultural condition going on – The Tall Poppy Syndrome. Once all the congrats have died down, here is what I am often asked … “Why do you go for these awards – is it ego?” or “You have won so many awards – why don’t you let others have a turn?” or “What do you have to prove?”. These are interesting questions which have forced me to ponder over the years – why?

The phrase “Work for a Cause not the Applause” resonates with me. I truly believe this and while putting myself up for awards may seem like a need for applause to others - and yes let’s face it who doesn’t like acknowledgement for the work we do - for me there is a bigger reason.

Before I reveal my reason, I do highly recommend the process of applying for awards. It is a wonderful opportunity to take some time out of your busy life and reflect on where you have been, your successes and learnings, a chance to focus forward, to articulately restate your mission and purpose, your drive and your commitment to moving forward. There seem to be so few opportunities for this in life. The old adage that we will often do more for others than we do for ourselves rings true here, and as this is a self-inflicted yearly review with a deadline, it ensures it gets done.

So why else do I do it? What is the reason? The pressure! When people look at me receiving the award and think, “I wish that was me,” or tell me how inspiring I am, or I send the information out via social media and I perceive people thinking ... “Oh look there she goes again” or “Really her?” ... it simply adds more pressure on me to live up to the expectations of others. The award is about pushing myself to greater heights.

The pressure is immense and perhaps why many people do not go for such awards. Or maybe it is the fear of failing which truly stops them. Perhaps they are scared of success – as this does take you outside your comfort zone.

Please don’t get me wrong – I love my comfort zone – I am really attached to it. It is warm, safe and comfy inside. Yet I know that being in a state of comfort stops me (and you) from growing. My ideal is to work on expanding my comfort zone slowly – to take tiny risks and give new ideas and opportunities a go. I read recently the idea that as your comfort zone expands, so does your definition of yourself.

Furthermore, as Ilya Prigogene and his law of Irreversible Thermodynamics states, the more pressure, the greater the change (or growth). That’s why I enter for the awards - to grow, to stretch myself and to scare me. And if I don’t win (as often happens), I am thankful for the reflection process and am keen to learn from the winner.

I want to be a Tall Poppy – someone others aspire to and with this comes the pressure. It is about unmasking and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and real. Brene Brown states: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn't feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.” To grow we need to stretch that comfort zone, risk failure and be vulnerable.

So when was the last time you did this consciously? Have you said to the Universe/God/Spirit – give me pressure that will stretch me and cause me to grow? I believe you can consciously welcome this in, or the Universe/God/Spirit will send it unannounced and packaged in a way that might cause alarm.

Which awards could you apply for to stretch your practice, profession and self definition?