Is Tall Poppy Syndrome destroying Australia’s ambition?

As we flick through our Instagram stories, we may discover close friends interning for big companies and old high school peers who are ‘working hard or hardly working’ in their new uni classes for the semester. However, the 2019 CGU […]

As we flick through our Instagram stories, we may discover close friends interning for big companies and old high school peers who are ‘working hard or hardly working’ in their new uni classes for the semester. However, the 2019 CGU Ambition Index Research Report highlights concerns about how young Australians have insufficient ambition, with 11 per cent of millennials admitting they believe they completely lack it. 

Unfortunately, 84 per cent of Aussies believe our allies – UK and US – are more ambitious (according to the report). The data also reveals Aussies far and wide no longer value ambition or link it to personal and economic success. This is worrying, as ambition and the traits that define ambitious individuals are in fact critical to a healthy and prosperous economy.

The report states:

“The identified traits of ambition as found by Judge & Kammeyer-Mueller (2012) and other studies are a combination of: extraversion, parents’ occupational prestige, intelligence and conscientiousness.”

It’s also mentioned that while three-quarters of Aussies say they’re ambitious, only 10 per cent of us exert ambition. Those with uni qualifications are more likely to obtain seven or more attributes of ambition (39 per cent) compared to those without a tertiary qualification (25 per cent). 

It may come down to ‘tall poppy syndrome’ which “describes aspects of a culture where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down, strung up or criticised because they have been classified as superior to their peers”. In Australia, I feel like we are quite notorious for tearing successful people down, whereas in the US people usually idolise their heroes – is this why they have bigger celebrities, like Kanye West and Taylor Swift?. ‘Tall poppy syndrome’ is Aussie slang for “If I can’t be special, no one can!” according to Urban Dictionary – yet we Aussie millennials can’t seem to act on our own ambition, potentially because we are afraid of being torn down ourselves.

Chattr spoke to one of Australia’s top leadership coaches Sonia McDonald on the importance of having ambition and how we can gain motivation:


How is someone’s ambition linked to mental health and wellbeing?

This depends on what is the motivation behind the ambition – is it intrinsic or extrinsic? If you are ambitious to achieve and gain power, money or status (not that there is anything wrong with that) and you don’t achieve it, or it is threatened, then yes it can impact mental health.

ambition interview
Sonia McDonald

If your ambitions are focussed by more intrinsic motivations (like making a difference and helping others) then you might find your mental health is impacted in a positive light. It’s how you see success in your ambition that I feel is key to mental health as well. 


Why do you think Aussies believe our allies (U.K, U.S) are more ambitious?

I believe it is because they talk about it more than Aussies. Those in the UK and US are not afraid to talk about their achievements, ambitions and success and tend to be more open to lifting others’ ambitions as well. I suppose it’s the tall poppy syndrome thing again and again here in Australia. I do believe in and have experienced this syndrome and as the CGU research suggests, it is a major block for ambition for Aussies. 


What are some repercussions for Australia if we continue to devalue ambition on a personal level and business level? 

Where do I start? I think the repercussions are massive. If we continue to devalue ambition (like CGU’s research suggests) and hold onto this tall poppy syndrome, we are not leading by example for our future generations that need ambition, and we are not providing leadership to help others be courageous. It will impact our society, generations, businesses, innovations and economy. 


What are some tips for people who don’t have any motivation?

  1. Think about what motivates you – what are you passionate about or love doing? Find it and do it.
  2. We only have one life – you won’t want to look back at your life and wished you had given it a go.
  3. Surround yourself with people who are motivated.
  4. Small steps can lead to big changes.


Chattr also spoke with Aussie artist Mitch Revs, who has made waves over recent years. Known for his bright, bold art, Mitch has gone from strength to strength, collaborating with well-known Australian brands, including being selected as one of three of the artists on the Vegemite 95 jar. Mitch has recently opened up a bespoke Mitch Revs art gallery in the centre of his home town (Newcastle), selling his dynamic and lively artworks along with hosting in-house art workshops.

ambition dog
Image provided

What do you think about ambition? Has it played an important role in seeing small-business success?

Ambition is one hundred per cent what creates the divide between a regular business, and one that is successful. I didn’t start my business to be “successful”, I just wanted to have fun and make people happy through art –  that was my personal goal and ambition.

What have been your biggest career highlights to date?

I would say one of the biggest career highlights for me would be having my art on Australia’s Vegemite jar – this came from being creative day in and day out and trying to be innovative with my work. I am constantly trying to educate myself and learn new techniques. It keeps it fun and keeps me young!

What are the major challenges you’ve faced going into business for yourself, and how has having an ambitious nature helped you overcome these challenges?

The only real challenge that I face being an artist is there’s only so much work I can take on. When you have a particular style that people want, you can’t outsource or delegate work to someone else. As my business grew and I came to realise this issue, I began looking at different ways to market my artwork so that it wasn’t always so hands-on. The Mitch Revs brand now has a retail line of unique products such as puzzles, keep cups, fine art prints and more.

We opened our gallery here in Newcastle towards the end of 2018 where we have monthly exhibitions, workshops, paint and sip classes (pinot & Picasso), and the list goes on. Without ambition, I would still be painting on my bedroom floor thinking about doing all of the above.

ambition art
Image provided

Have you ever felt embarrassed about being ambitious and following your dreams?

No way! I believe that ambition is something that separates a successful business from the rest. I have always been open and vocal with my audience about the importance of setting goals and being ambitious and surrounding yourself with people who are like-minded!

What are your top 5 tips to anyone thinking about making their side-hustle their full time job? 

  1. Outline your goals – being aware of what it is that you want to achieve (and outlining it) is important.
  2. Get a good accountant and good business support – don’t go into business thinking that you will set these things up down the track. You are going to be run off your feet, so make sure you know exactly where your money is going and what to do with it!
  3. Let your passion be the primary driver to the success of your business – not money! Your clients will see that what you do is from the heart and will be more inclined to support what it is that you are trying to achieve.
  4. Do it your own way (it’s great to take advice but be a leader, be ambitious, be you).
  5. HAVE FUN.


Do you have any tips for harnessing ambition? Let us know in the comments below!