Life is not a meritocracy so it’s time to pick yourself

{Click image for source}

mer·i·toc·ra·cy n.: A system in which advancement is based on individual ability or achievement.

Given we live in a country where the national sport is tearing successful people down, it’s easy to understand why Australians are so bad at being tall poppies. Unlike our counterparts in the US we continually labour under the assumption that life is a meritocracy.

In the simplest terms this means we think that if we work hard and are good at what we do, we will get our just deserts.

If I have learned one thing from life though, it is that this is not the case. This expectation we have that so long as we do good work, people will recognise this and pay us our dues is delusional at best.

Yet I see people doing this every single day and yes, have even been guilty of it myself. The worst thing about it is that when we are passed over for those we consider less worthy we are left with feelings of resentment or jealousy or both.

I’m a better runner than her, how come she’s managed to wangle a shoe sponsor and I haven’t?

My blog gets WAY more traffic than his, how come he got flown to that blogging conference and invited to that cool event?

I’ve sweated blood and tears for this company, I can’t believe they didn’t even consider me for that promotion.

Hey Joey D is a MUCH better singer than Jenny B – how come he got kicked off Idol?!

So now that we’ve established that life isn’t fair and being awesome is often not enough, what can you do to stack the odds in your favour?

Well, why not start by picking yourself?

Whoah!! Holy un-Australian batman! What – do you think you’re good or something?

Yep – if there is one problem with our great country it is the way we abhor self-promotion of any shape or form. Well I say phooey to that.

We all hang our hats on those stories about the tiny percentage of people who have been ‘discovered’ and made it big overnight. But for every one of those success stories, there are thousands of others where people have chosen to put themselves out there.

And “putting yourself out there” doesn’t need to be all sleazy megaphone stuff you know. Try these:

If you’re an athlete you can start a blog or get on twitter, grow a following and then (here’s the holy un-Australian batman part) APPROACH potential sponsors instead of waiting for them to come to you. SHOW them how your ideals are aligned with theirs and how a partnership with you would be good for their brand.

If you are a blogger … well der, ditto.

If you’re a writer, why not do what my very talented friend Anna has done and crowdsource the necessary funding to write your book. (PS get behind Anna, she is the real deal).

If you’re desperately unhappy in your work, strike out on your own. There’s nothing like the fear factor of ‘oh my goodness how am I going to feed my family’ to jolt you into actually blowing your own trumpet.

Need some more ideas? Well try these from Seth and Bernadette. Because like the clever people they are, they agree with me :) Still not convinced? Check out this Striking Truth, print that baby out and put it on the wall!

So now it’s time to share

What are you holding back on doing right now because you don’t think you’re good enough? Or because you don’t want to put yourself out there. What is it that you are afraid of? I’d love to hear all about it in the comments!


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  1. says

    I just adore you.

    I am a self-sabotager in almost every way, but I’m in the process of taking a few leaps at the moment. I’ve always waited for things to come to me because it was less scary. Now I wonder why I did that for so long – there’s so much greater reward to be had in being proactive! I’m excited (but still terrified, obviously).

    It seemed quite self indulgent to put out a writing project for crowd funding. I wondered whether people would think I just couldn’t be bothered working or didn’t feel like saving up to write it like everyone else. But the feedback has been so lovely, and whilst I’m sure there will always be people who DO think it’s the lazy person’s way, most have championed the social issues in the story and been incredibly supportive. Even if it doesn’t get funded, it has been amazing to have such genuine support behind it.

    Now I might cry forever.

  2. Mrs Woog says

    I love this post and agree. You take a risk sticking out your neck, but no one is going to come knocking on your door and reward you if they do not know you are there.

    Mr Woog realised that he was unhappy professionally and took a huge risk and started his own business.

    If you don’t back yourself, no one else is going to do it. The Americans (generally) and great at saying LOOK AT ME! I HAVE SOMETHING TO OFFER where as we have to gently inch out into the world and hope like hell no one smacks us back into the hole in which we dared to poke out head out of.

    Fuck that! Love this post and you are awesome xx

  3. says

    I love this post Kelly. You’re so wise – are you sure you’re not a 95 year old in a young woman’s body? ;)

    I am holding back on creating my media kit for my blog. Why? Because I figure there are way more successful writers out there doing their thang. I’m going to pull my finger out and back myself. Thanks for the boost. Love your attitude.

  4. Lorraine says

    Brilliant post Kelly! You may not believe this, but the Irish are EVEN WORSE than Aussies when it comes to this. :-)

  5. says

    I’ve only just discovered Anna’s blog after enjoying her funny tweets. I really hope the book gets off the ground because I love the way she writes.

    I think you are right about waiting to be picked, self-promotion makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable and the thought of pitching my stories anywhere conjures up all kinds of criticism. Despite interviewing people for uni and being asked “do you want this put here for your portfolio?” my standard thought process is usually “um, what portfolio?” I’m really going places with that attitude.

    • says

      Ha ha Carli – come on, I expect more of you!!

      Pitching stories is SO hard – rejection is SO horrible!! But I have assisted with editing magazines myself so I know that 90% of the time it is not personal, it is just that something isn’t quite the right fit. Once I take the personal aspect out of rejection I find it is so much easier to handle .

  6. says

    Kelly, you don’t know how much this post makes my heart sing. Well you probably do as I told my leap of faith story on my blog last week.

    If I’d just leapt from paid employment into self employment and didn’t network (online and in real life), talk to my contacts, build relationships and blow my own trumpet by doing my own PR, then I’d be back in some kind of paid employment and nowhere near as happy as I am now. That fear of not getting food on the table is definitely a motivating one.

    Another thing I learned at the start of my business was to share my information – it comes back to you 10-fold. The people who are uncomfortable with this are usually too wrapped up in their competitive mind frame to run their own race in a field (whatever that field is) that can accommodate everyone.

    • says

      Well as you know, I completely agree with everything you have said. I wish people realised just how hard you have worked Nikki to have achieved what you have.

      Love the last paragraph above too – why compete when you can collaborate!! Collaborating is so much more fun!

  7. says

    Loved this post Kelly and I agree 100%. Self promotion isn’t something that comes easily to most people, Aussies in particular. Shout success from the rooftops I say.

  8. says

    Love you, love your post, love your mind….. it is up to us to makeour path and follow our passion. Yes we will stumble, yes we will wonder why not me, keep trying, keep pushing, make your own waves. Stand up for yourselves, connect with others, be kind and things will happen.

  9. says

    I love this! I wrote about something similar recently and probably because I wrote it too late at night it wasn’t as clear as it could have been, but this is exactly what I was talking about.

    If you want to achieve something, get out of your own way and get to it!

    • says

      Now you see, I read that post and I TOTALLY understood what you were saying. I still can’t quite figure out how/why some people got upset about what you said!

  10. says

    Love this. As much as it terrified me, I recently sent my newbie media kit to two people (one rejected, one accepted) and approached someone for sponsorship for a conference. You don’t get if you don’t ask! I might not be as good/popular/successful as the next person, but I’m good enough to ask.

    We may be the country of the tall poppy syndrome, but we’re also the country who loves to ‘have a go’.

    • says

      Yay go you Tam!! I’ve recently started pitching articles to various publications and I reckon I have a 50% success rate too. As I said to someone the other day, if I pitch 4 articles, I get two acceptance and two rejections. If I have a day where I just can’t bear rejection and I don’t pitch at all … those are the days where I get 0 successes!!

      And I also agree that yes – we have a real ‘have a go’ mentality here in Oz. It is at such odds with that darn tall poppy syndrome!

  11. says

    Totally agree and it is probably the number one reason why I so love living in the US and want to permanently. I want my daughters to live in a society where they are encouraged to be the best and to live their best life. I want them to stand up for themselves and their dreams. There is nothing wrong with it. Americans always get grief from the rest of the world, mostly tall poppy Aussies for being that way, but honestly, despite their confidence and desire to rise above mediocrity, they are actually the warmest, friendliest and most supportive people you could ever meet.
    Cragi and I felt we could be ourselves when we lived there and we could achieve our dreams. If it wasn’t for living there we would never have chosen ourselves and we would never have had the success we have had. We learned you can choose yourself and be a good person. We’ve felt the tall poppy effects so badly when we moved back home, but I’ve leanred to just ignore it. No one is ever going to define my life for me.

    Feels great to be able to express just why I love and miss living in the US so much and I just wish Australian’s would drop this tall poppy BS> It’s so convict era!

    • says

      It’s funny you know, I find America VERY full on and love our relaxedness here in Australia. But I do wish we could ditch the tall poppy syndrome thing. It is just so frustrating and infuriating!!

  12. says

    Wonderful Kelly, I have 3 things to say to you…

    1. I love the way you help people whenever you can – and I’m so glad you gave me the opportunity to support Anna’s project (and introduced me to her writing which is just sooo good).

    2. Thank you for the excellent points you raised in your post (and I love the gorgeous image!)

    3. Being an artist, I have had to spend so much of my time and energy in self-promotion that it often hurts my brain! You’ve made it sound like a sort of cool thing to do!! I’m going to change the way I think about this. Well, I’m going to try, anyway :)


    • says

      Lovely M – I am always so pleased to help in any small way I can :)

      I think you do such a wonderful job of promoting yourself – very low key, non pushy and gentle. Definitely change the way you think about it – because it’s such a necessary part of your job!

  13. says

    Hi Kelly, I really needed this reminder (confidence boost) today. Thank you! Hmmm what am I doing…not doing…. I am not pulling my finger out and rewriting my synopsis to accompany my memoir which, of course, means I don’t have to do that scary thing and send it to agents.

    Right now, I am waiting on a few readers (including the lovely and very talented abovementioned Anna) to come back to me with feedback. And I am quietly weeing in my pants a little bit like I always do. I NEVER ever think my writing is good enough to hold its own, even though I know it’s a kick-ass story that needs to be read (if I do say so myself and have been told countless times!). Just cannot stay with it confidently to give it the shot it needs. Whyyyyy??? Is it because I’m Australian?!

    • says

      So thrilled to be bang on with my timing then ;)

      And just remember this one – in the acknowledgements of every book I have read recently, the author has thanked their editor for making their book sparkle. Believe me – your writing IS good enough and when everyone comes back to you with their feedback – don’t take their words as criticism, look at it as them helping you make your story sparkle even more.

      I know that your story has helped me with my losses over the last couple of years – so I can only imagine there are LOTS of other people out there needing the same help.

  14. says

    Fabbo post Kel & once again we are in each others heads! I literally climbed a tree this morning & filmed a video to say ‘scre waiting’ for things to be ‘perfect’ & I would rather be ‘judged’ than ignored, as that wise man you mentioned, Seth, would say! Let’s play BIG & support ourselves & others to do the same :) anyone can sympathize with you when things are not working out but it takes an extraordinary person to congratulate & truly be happy for you when you not only kick a goal but win the game! Never stop writing Kel, you have a gift x

  15. says

    Oh Kel, you’ve just given me that last little push I needed to get started on a project that I’ve had in my head for soooo long!! It’s to do with the ethics behind Zen Designs, and I really feel now is the time to put it out there. So…………..I’m onto it!!

    Thank you darling, for making me realize that I can give myself permission to “talk up” my idea xx

    And John and I always have a giggle when we hear “un-Australian”, it’s such an Australian thing to say :)

  16. says

    God I love you Kelly! You have such clarity. You’re so good at telling it like it is and making life feel so much easier. Totally agree with you about our US counterparts doing a much better job at selling themselves and knowing their worth. I constantly have to fight against the cultural pull of tall-poppy syndrome… especially when it comes to blogging. Wise words my dear, wise words. xx

    • says

      Bless you lovely Deb :) thank you. Those cultural norms are so hard to buck!! And strangely, we give the naysayers so much more airtime than the people who tell us we’re awesome. What’s with that?!

  17. says

    Love love LOVE this Kelly! As you know, I am getting better at this (hello state of “joyfear!”) but still can only blame myself for holding me back. No more though, I should be proud to blow my own trumpet – if I dont honestly, will anyone else?

    Thanks for the good dose of faith xx

    • says

      Exactly EXACTLY!! Never have truer words been spoken: “I should be proud to blow my own trumpet – if I don’t honestly, will anyone else”

      Go you Donna – I am loving your enthusiasm and drive for your fiction writing!

  18. says

    Not sure what the cultural norms of a Brit are …. Reserved I would say comes top.. certainly not trumpet blowers. I hope I havent developed too much of the Aussie Tall Poppy but it is so hard to blow your own trumpet. I do it quietly inside sometimes and I can do it in sports (sorta) but thanks for the kick..

    I will try harder ‘cos I rock… lol … see not easy!

    • says

      Ah yes, I do wonder what the Brits would do. I guess they would just be very polite about it all! And maybe that would be the best way?!!

      • says

        Thanks so much for this post Kelly! So insightful AND helpful. Really appreciate all the juicy links and examples.

        Really enjoyed reading about what other people are doing too (in the comments). Go for it, I say!

        As for me, it’s not *just* needing to decide to back myself, it’s also a time management issue. I’ve got lots of projects I’m wanting to kick off the ground, and I can’t do any of them well if I try to get them all going at once. I’ve been spending a lot of time reflecting on this and think I’m ready to start putting together my own small business. Services are only broadly defined so far! I’m going to take a leaf out of the book “Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One” (incidentally, written by an American author!) and hold a brainstorming extravaganza with trusted friends to try and help me define it further.

        Life’s too short to sit around wishing.