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Let the Tall Poppies Grow!

I’m currently in Australia for a teaching tour around the country and am having a blast! Since this is my first time here, I’ve been really interested in finding out more about the people, life in Australia, their art, their creative history and their culture in general. There’s so much to see and experience here as the colors, textures, shapes and landscape are so very different from the United States. It’s as if God created a whole group of uber-cool seed pods just for Australia and put them down here where the rest of us would have to visit! They are simply gorgeous and unlike others I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. Too bad I can’t pack them all up and take them home!

Understanding Australia’s colonial history obviously is very important as that history informs and colors much of what’s currently happening in the country including things like respect for indigenous peoples and their culture of art and craft, not to mention driving on the wrong (excuse me, left) side of the road and being religious about tea time (Which by the way is so confusing: tea is a drink, a morning break with sweets and actual tea or coffee, an afternoon break that would include the same but maybe some savories or fruit and then they call dinner ‘tea’ as well. All I know is that they like to eat and drink a lot, which I’m completely good with!)

Tall Poppy Syndrome

Part of that baggage from the past is something I’ve run into in the UK as well when speaking to artists about overcoming a starving artist mentality. It’s affectionately called “Tall Poppy Syndrome” and embraced by lots of people, especially many of the incredible artists I’ve met. In fact, it’s so pervasive, that’s even got a formal definition:

  • Google Dictionary: a perceived tendency to discredit or disparage those who have achieved notable wealth or prominence in public life.
  • Wikipedia: the tall poppy syndrome is a pejorative term primarily used in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and other Anglosphere nations to describe a social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attached, cut down, or criticized because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers. This is similar to begrudgery, the resentment or envy of the success of a peer.A similar saying occurs in Chinese and Japanese culture that translates to “The nail that stands out gets hammered down.”

I honestly didn’t even know this was a thing until I started teaching artists in these countries about thriving instead of just surviving and how to break out of the starving artist mindset. Now that’s it’s on my radar, it’s something that recognize as a pervasive lie that bombards many creatives. The inner conversations go something like this:

“I know I’m creative and I think I might actually be pretty good, but I better not stand out from the crowd or promote my work too much… otherwise, I’ll be seen as prideful and egotistical, becoming a target for others to ridicule. It’s safer just to keep my head down, don’t rock the boat and stay to myself. Too much success is simply too risky.”

Interested in learning more about how to thrive as an artist?
Check out Matt Tommey’s webinar series called “Choose to Thrive” beginning May 2016!

And so what’s the result? Thousands upon thousands of artists, who are immensely talented, uniquely created and equipped to succeed in their creative gifting yet completely bound in fear and shame because they don’t want to be seen as ‘the tall poppy’. Throw a little religiosity on top of that and you have the makings of an entire population of creative people who are unable to thrive in their divinely designed assignment: to be an artist. This kind of thinking is so toxic, especially for creatives, because it squelches the very nature of the artist which is self expression. When those opportunities are not available, then people who would normally be incredibly creative artists simply become people who try (many times unsuccessfully) to follow rules.

Poverty of Creativity
I’m convinced that all poverty, no matter where it is happening has nothing to do with money or even power for that matter. The poverty that most people experience is a poverty of ideas and creativity. Anything is possible for those who believe but controlling cultural and religious norms demand that most people – especially creatives – stay within the established boundaries or risk being seen as the proverbial tall poppy.   The establishment goes on trying to control and manage society, all the while teaching others to control and manage their individual lives all based on fear; fear of being too much, having too much, wanting too much. The underlying assumption of all of this fallacy is fear of lack. Somewhere along the way, people started believing that there were only so many resources and accolades to go around and that if someone got more, then obviously everyone else would get less. And so, through fear, shame and control people learned to go with the flow, keep their heads down and just try their best not to stand out. All the while, the very thing that these societies need most is what they allow the least; extraordinarily creative ideas formed by extraordinarily creative people who stand out from the crowd and declare, “There is more”!

Let the Poppies Grow!
It’s time that creatives shirk the cultural norms of the tall poppy syndrome and stand in their divinely designed place in culture to create beauty and become catalysts for real transformation. It’s time creatives embrace their own unique design and live out of a place of passion, not just function and obligation. It’s time artists throw out the lies based in fear, shame and control and embrace the truth of God’s Word for their life, finances, unique design and creative calling. It’s time artists realize that they have a prophetic voice, given by God to release His nature in the earth. It’s time to realize that financial provision and blessing is the inheritance of every child of God and to thrive creatively and financially is normal in God’s Kingdom. It’s time to drown out the throngs of fear mongers with the cries of freedom and declare that we are the sons and daughters. We are the ones called and equipping to release the Light and Life of God into the earth. We are the ones called to thrive!

So stand in your place, renew your mind to this ‘new normal’ and encourage others around you to do the same! God is raising up an army of artists and you’re a part of it! It’s time!

Interested in learning more about how to thrive as an artist?
Check out Matt Tommey’s webinar series called “Choose to Thrive” beginning May 2016!