The “tall poppy syndrome” has become a South African social phenomenon.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this saying, Wikipedia describes the tall poppy syndrome as: “a 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”.

Many years ago, like so many of my social group I was keen to go and live in Australia but after hearing that the tall poppy syndrome was alive and well in the “luck country”, I chose to live in South Africa with its go-getting frontier “anything-is-possible” culture. As a young entrepreneur, I looked up to those who were successful and I wanted to live in a place that encouraged and promoted this type of success.

Most Australians will tell you that a ‘tall poppy’ is someone who has an inflated sense of self-worth. Unlike America where individual achievements are feted from a very early age, the culture in Australia is very much one of teamwork – an ‘all for one and one for all’ kind of society. Achievements are of most value when they benefit the team, not the individual, and new players have to be modest about achievements and to downplay their successes otherwise they will be cut down and put back in their place.

But back here in South Africa, we had a culture where success was encouraged. Overt success must never be confused with arrogance but in South Africa we have so many great examples of people who grown great companies and were encouraged along the way by a an admiring  society. But over the last few years this seems to have dissipated. Many magazines and publications look to attack high profile people, be they politicians or businesspeople. They try to find ways to knock successful people off their success path. I often wonder why we have so many poor politicians in this country, and I suppose it’s because who wants to be savaged by the public continually. The same applies to successful businesspeople.

Maybe what is causing the change is a more vicious Media; maybe it’s our trade unions that are changing us into a country of civil servants. It could even be a positive phenomenon where the   world has just become more socially conscious about overt displays of success?

In business, as you continue to grow a business and increase your credibility and reputation within your field, not only will you capture the attention of your potential clients – but you’ll also be noticed by your competitors and other people in your circle.

And, unfortunately, some of these people may not always have your best interests at heart. In fact, they will try to hinder your progress through a direct attack on you personally and your work or they’ll try to drag you down with their critical comments and actions.

I’m not talking about constructive criticism where someone is trying to offer you advice with good intentions because they want to see you grow and prosper.

I’m referring to the vindictive comments that are coming from a place of ‘do or die competitiveness’, or out of spite and envy with the sole intent on tarnishing your credibility or keeping you down.

I have found that the more successful my business became the more thick-skinned I have had to become otherwise I would never survive those who have no agenda but to inflict harm for their own personal or business gain.

I know of a young fellow who found himself without a job after he had exposed several things to upper management in his company that needed to be brought to their attention. Apparently his manager didn’t appreciate his new rise to fame and quickly saw to it that he was removed.

A few years later he opened his own business and was frequently told by people in his community that he’d never achieve the goals that he had set for himself.

So, if like this guy you too have someone who is going out of their way to ‘attack, cut down or criticise you’ – what do you do? Should you come out fighting? Should you retaliate and serve them back some of their medicine? You know – tit for tat? Or do you just simply ignore them and hope they’ll go away?

Whatever you decide, I believe it’s important to hold true to your integrity and honour so that you can continue to hold you head up high.

Here are some tips to consider if ever you find yourself at the receiving end of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’.

1. Don’t stoop to their level

I think the most important thing to do is to avoid retaliation where you come out fighting and throwing negative comments back at them.

Stooping to their level and ‘serving them up a spoonful of their own medicine’ will only serve to take your attention, energy and focus away from what you SHOULD be focusing on – which is to continue the great work that you are doing.

Don’t get caught up in anger, frustration or retaliation – you’re worth so much more! Rather let your light shine brightly and continue to bring your message to the world, so that you can carry on helping the people who you know you are meant to serve.

2. Realise – it’s NOT about you

It’s important to realise that their remarks have nothing to do with you and the work you are doing, but rather EVERYTHING to do with them and their inability to achieve their own successes.

It’s THEIR stuff – their own issues and lack of self-worth and/or self-belief – and has nothing to do with you!

Remind yourself of your mission and purpose and the people you are here to serve. Listening to the naysayers and critics will only delay you from achieving your bigger mission. Move on.

And, most important of all, is to:

3. Surround yourself with supportive and positive people

Do you feel physically and emotionally drained after being in someone’s company where you have listened to their negative remarks? Being in the company of these naysayers and critics will impact you negatively.

Are the people you associate with constantly telling you why something can’t be done, or why your plans are impossible to achieve? Perhaps that’s true for them. However are you going to let this person’s inability to reach their goals affect your ability to reach yours? I certainly hope not!

So surround yourself with supportive people – people who will continue to encourage you to be the best you can be and who will celebrate alongside you as you continue to move from success to success.

The important thing to remember is to hold true to who you are and the work you do; keep your eyes firmly fixed on your goals; and to build a community of like-minded people who will continue to inspire and uplift you on your journey.

Have you been a victim of the tall poppy syndrome? What did you do? Share your stories and comments.