When I was asked if I would speak at an event called “Meet Tall Poppies” I assumed that they really just wanted me there as the hired clown. You know crack some quality gags, maybe ask some interesting questions if I wasn’t too distracted by angling for more wine, and then feel entitled to eat my weight in free finger food because I “helped”.
When the person organising the event said “no it’s just you speaking”, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why firstly anyone would attend an event with some random speaking; secondly why would someone attend something where I talk at you for half an hour…I mean if you’re out with me on a Friday night, you’ve probably already copped that; and thirdly the idea of being a “tall poppy” threw me.
For me, to be a tall poppy I thought you actually had to achieve something. You know either have started your own business, have a public profile of speaking out for an important issue, or at least have so many awards and qualifications running off your email signature you actually get an award for having the longest signature in the world…
Basically I’m guessing a “tall poppy” doesn’t extend to those who attend networking events with the primary intention of eating their weight in free finger food…that’s just a guess.
For those who don’t know me, I’m Arani and the carefully crafted LinkedIn version of myself fits the bill of a “tall poppy”. On paper I am:
- A former investment banker
- I now work in corporate where over a few years have developed strategic and operational skills
- I also help run a social enterprise called SEW Tanzania, which employs HIV positive women in Tanzania to produce bags and accessories made from recycled wheat bags and African kitenge fabrics
- I also co-founded an seed capital fund, which invests in early stage start-ups, and
- Most importantly I write an INCREDIBLY hilarious blog called The Escape Key which you are reading right now….
Pretty impressive right. Yet, when the organiser called, my immediately reaction was “why? Surely there’s someone else with a better message than me”.
You see, as far as I’m concerned, if I were to run through my LinkedIn self against how I really see it, you have:
- Investment banking – an experience that makes being told that you have to eat nothing but dried cockroaches for the rest of your life, a pretty ok trade
- Corporate – situations with enough office politics to exhaust even the most experienced politician
- SEW Tanzania – the business we run in the wee hours post work where if the problem is not having enough money, it will invariably be that two Sewing Mamas are not getting along or one Mama has developed an addiction to sheep fat, chased down a sheep and cut off its ear…true story
- Then you have my dear blog, The Escape Key, which despite being INCREDIBLY hilarious still feels like only my close friends and sister read. Nothing like investing 10 hours a week to write gags for just a handful of people who have probably already heard your gags at brunch already
But this got me thinking? Why can’t I see what this organiser sees? It’s almost as if my thought process is still consumed by 15 year old Arani, telling me “You’ve done nothing you said you’d do before you were 21. You never played netball for Australia. You’re certainly not a multi-millionaire being courted by that hot, dark-haired, New Zealand guy from Neighbours. And you’re wearing short skirts that are WAY too inappropriate for anyone over 25 years old”.
And to be fair, 15 year old Arani, was given frequent validation and certification that she was “achieving”. A ribbon for finishing 3rd in a race, passing another music exam, an A at the end of every term [yep that’s right you heard correctly…I even got an A in Latin]
That validation continued to up until I was 23 – that’s right, for 23 years of most of our lives, we’re handed official notices that we are achieving, then in one fail swoop they drop kick you into the real world, and take that all away. So now it’s: Finish a project really well, under budget and on time? Who cares, here’s your next one; Mentor an employee through a difficult time? Don’t expect to get paid anymore; And speaking of, try to ask for more money, even though you don’t really want it, you just need some measure to indicate that you are achieving something?…yeah nahhh that’s not going to happen because you know the economy, the market, your boss needs need to upgrade his Porsche
But you know what? Stuff that judgy 15 year old self. She knows shit.
I’m 29 years old, and yes next year’s a big year apparently. The big 3, 0. Have I achieved what I wanted to achieve before next year? No fucking way. Did I have unrealistic expectations? Absolutely.
That’s why this year, I’ve spent the most part not achieving anything and being happy about it.
Just at this point, I should stress that I didn’t have some major ‘Eat Pray Love’ epiphany, I didn’t end up on a retreat or travelling to find myself, in fact the closest thing I had to life telling me to get my shit together was probably when I was refused entry into Mojo Bar at 5pm on a Tuesday.
So this year of “finding myself” was purely accidental and started with some shit at work – the usual stuff: not being recognised, not being promoted, not being paid enough, not getting enough good work, feeling under appreciated, bored at work…blah blah blah.
However whilst normally, my instinct would’ve been to immediately pull up as many Seek and LinkedIn Job windows on my work computer and start ‘making it my rain’ with my CV into the job hunting ether, this time I took a different approach. Who knows why….actually I think it was more because I really couldn’t be fucked updating my CV. Anyway this new approach was just to leave it. Yep just leave it. Simple as that.
Now I know you might think, “ooh this is a slippery slope to losing ambition” but as it turned out, as I relaxed and just left it, things have actually started to happen. The work situation improved because not only did I suddenly get more recognition because I could relax, come up with new ideas and smash my targets, but it obviously also improved because I wasn’t there sucking arse and selling my soul to a massive corporate after 5pm. That’s right, 5pm on the dot you will find me stuck half way in a lift well, travelling down to ground to leave work.
The reason I “have to leave at 5pm”? Well I told work that I had to do something related to caring for my baby nephew, but the fact is I hit a spin class four times a week. Despite countless lectures from my parents, friends and mentors over the years about how I should leave work at a reasonable time, the only thing that got me leaving not a moment after 5pm, was the thought of being surrounded in close proximity to 20 or so fellow cyclists capable of sweating more than should be humanly possible, riding in the dark to David Guetta.
Then as I have been dark cycling my way into the abyss, I figured hey, I probably should go to the doctor, you know just in case my spleen has sunk into my leg or something. Anyway whilst there, I finally decided to tell this random doctor that I felt like I carried around a bone crushing weight on my chest every day. After careful examination, this doctor reconciled that contrary to what I thought, I didn’t have a massive boulder strapped to my chest, but rather I have clinical anxiety and depression. Yep anxiety and depression – the little black dress of the mental health world.
But the best thing about actually getting treated, is that now I actually give a fuck about how it affects me. So previously if I walked into work feeling like I wanted to punch the first person to say hello to me, now the treated me knows that “its OK to actually punch that person”. No no, I’m just joking, but seriously being treated just makes me understand myself a lot better.
But all of these things – leaving work at work, spin class and taking care of my mental health – none of them are things that I could ever write down on LinkedIn, to give myself a tick for the end of the year as having achieved something. They’re all to do with me and no one hands out 3rd place ribbons for attending spin class…best I might expect would be a bottle of water.
In terms of work, I could’ve continued to get frustrated at the amount of shit I have to deal with…but we all have to deal with shit at work and I’m guessing most of us feel this same way at some point in time. So who knows, maybe it was the doctor’s diagnosis, or maybe it was just the excessive sweating in the dark during cycling…whatever it was, I’ve started to realise that most of us are 5-10 years into a 50 year career….fuck. That means even if you get to your goal say of being a CEO in 20 years of working, then what the fuck are you going to do for the next 25 years? I can assure you as much as you want to say “retire to the Bahamas and hire the cast of Magic Mike as your personal butlers” you’re not going to be content with that. You’re going to keep going.
So here’s my advice. You ready?
(1) Cut yourself some slack
I did it this year and to be fair, I’m probably going to do it next year and maybe the next year after. But you know what? If I’m going to be working and trying to achieve stuff for the next 50 years, I’m guessing no one’s going to notice.
(2) Back yourself. You’ll get there
You might be sitting there saying, well I’d happily cut myself self some slack but I’ll get nowhere. But I’m guessing most of you have managed to get to where you are today on your own hard work and smarts. That’s like 25, 30 years of just killing it, time and time and time and time again. Every time you get a new problem, you somehow get through it and you’re still here. Now I love statistics…and guess what….if you’ve been faced with problems for 25, 30 years to date, and continue to smash it then just on the balance of simple probability you’re going to be ok for the next 25, 30 years even if you take some time out to just chill. You’ll be right. Just back yourself.
(3) Be confident even when you don’t think you’re successful
Finally it then follows that you need to actually celebrate what you HAVE achieved. Be confident even if you don’t think you’re your own definition of success. I bet that if we went around the room, everyone would have something interesting to say about their year which would leave others in the room thinking you were awesome. You don’t need a promotion or title or award to tell you you’re smashing it.
So before leaving you to eat my weight in finger food because I believe my job is done, there’s one thing I wanted to caveat this whole thing with. All this self-improvement shit I’ve been ranting about? I’m just half way through it…. I’m like a tiny percentage of the way on my journey to actually feeling happy in my skin. But at least I’m on this journey and it’s fucking awesome so far.
I mean, I can justifiably say to my husband that I NEED to listen to Ludacris’ song “Move bitch get out the way” every morning as part of my “journey to be happy”.
Anyway, not all of what I’ve talked about is for everyone. It’s what works for me. But key to this all, is don’t feel like you need to achieve something tangible to be a “tall poppy”. If you’re a good friend, you’re level headed and invest in yourself, you’re setting yourself up to be not just a “tall poppy” but a massive fucking tree that can’t be ignored. So just stick to it.