Cutting down the tall poppies” is a British expression for tearing down people who stand out because of their success. I learned it years ago from a friend who had studied in Australia. I liked the term immediately; it so aptly describes behavior I had witnessed so often. I think most of us who strive to do well have felt that scythe of resentment.
Recently, talk show host Joy Behar told Bethenny Frankel that she (Frankel) was the most hated women in America along with journalist Helen Thomas. Behar was only half joking. Thomas, the former senior White House journalist, had resigned after making some infamously anti-Semitic remarks about the Middle East situation. Bethenny – famous for her Skinnygirl books, exercise DVD, and cocktails – lost her baby weight quickly. Too quickly it seems for an envious and competitive society.
Behar seemed to relish shoveling coals onto the “hate” fires burning for Frankel. She even bet Bethenny that she did not weigh the 122 to 123 pounds that 5’4” Frankel said she weighed. Bethenny demanded a scale. She weighed 122. She credits her rapid weight loss to sensible eating during her pregnancy, exercise before and after the birth of her baby, and genetics.
I have read pure vitriol about Bethenny’s weight loss. Comments have ranged from those who say she is still fat to those who say she had aa tummy-tuck with her C-section to restore her figure. Both allegations are ludicrous.
All were to be expected. Bethenny is doing well and that is something many people just can stand. They love the underdog, but the underdog had better watch her back if and when she makes a comeback. Envy can turn that same cheering section into a nasty, critical mob. Bethenny has become a tall poppy and that’s a dangerous thing to be these days – even in America.
People loved Bethenny because she wasn’t the rich spoiled wife on The Real Housewives of New York. She had to work for her success. She didn’t have a huge New York apartment or a husband bankrolling her. She was flawed, humble, and relatable.
Now Bethenny has found her prince, moved into her Tribeca castle, and is even thin. Is “happily ever after” interesting? Is it even forgivable? Will her fans relate to her as a happily married wife and mother?
If you don’t care about reality TV, I have probably lost you. But there is a lesson here for all of us. That’s why I find these shows so interesting. Helen Gurley Brown, the creator and brilliant editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, advised her readers to “keep two sets of books”. Darlings, she wasn’t talking about accounting. She was warning her readers about envy. She has seen how success, even smaller ones you may not think about, can make enemies.
She wasn’t advising her readers to hide their light under a bustle, or not try to get ahead, but to be smart about it.
On your way up – especially in this rough economy – realize that not everyone, even friends, are going to be thrilled for your success or support your plans. Pick your advisers and confidants carefully. Even non-business successes can make friends act a little crazy.
When I quit smoking on the advice of my doctor after years of social smoking, I went cold turkey. I had a fear of gaining weight – and I already had few extra pounds I could stand to lose. So I quit smoking and went on a diet and exercise regime. I didn’t tell anyone, even my husband. It may sound crazy, but it worked for me.
After four weeks I lost about eight pounds and knew I had quit. I finally told people as they noticed. One friend was so upset by my success that she actually said “I think this has stressed you out and maybe you should smoke again.” Luckily, I was not stressed out at all. I was in such a good mood; I just let her comment go. I knew that she was not in a good place with her own career or weight. It was irrational, but my little quiet success annoyed her. Her comment was hurtful, but I chose to let it go. I could afford to be generous because I was feeling really good. And this person is really a nice person; she was just going through a really bad patch.
There have been other times when things have not been so easy or simple. I can still remember battling acne before I found my magic dermatologists. I will never understand people who make rude comments to anyone about acne, weight, or anything personal. When some fool would ask or say some thing rude, I knew I was doing everything possible to stop my skin from breaking out.
I am sure it was those early experiences that helped me cultivate what some have told me is my intimidating or confident – depending on your point of view – air. It also gave me a lifelong distaste for awkwardness and bullies. I dislike personal and awkward questions aimed at anyone. This behaviour always comes from envy and meanness.
It’s smart to grow a thicker skin – or like me the appearance of one. If you aim to be successful and stand out at something, get ready for those who want to cut you down. Learn when to blow it off and how to counter it coolly and calmly.
Work fills a lifetime. You will be in and out of fashion; it is inevitable. Enjoy the good times and be assured the bad ones will pass. If you are smart you will learn to cherish longevity. Your true friends will sustain you through the tough times. But real friends help you in the good times, too.
Recently a friend, who is a brilliant and successful women in her own field, did me wonderful turn professionally. She is generous and helpful. She says it all comes back to her. I know like myself, she enjoys life among the tall poppies. Darlings, there are always going to be those who want chop you down. Don’t waste your time on them. Just learn how to duck and then stretch to sun.