I often joke to my friends that people with tall poppy syndrome might struggle to have me as a friend because I am absurdly accomplished these days. What I don’t tell them is that if I met someone with my level of accomplishments ten years ago I would almost certainly have struggled with jealousy and avoided that accomplished person.
Now I’m getting very honest here but my own autism advocacy journey which bought me to the amazing place I now inhabit was ushered in by an amazing mentor. She was incredibly supportive but after my first book came out I started to feel threatened by her success and found it hard to maintain the friendship with all those insecurities and status anxiety going on. It was definitely not a situation where I covered myself in glory. I still feel shame and regret at my actions.
I always found my reaction of jealousy odd because as wasn’t that I didn’t want people to succeed, just that I felt intimidated when they did. Looking at th issue I knew that I was never competitive because I thought myself better than the person I saw as a rival. In fact the opposite was true. I took this feeling with me well into adulthood. What it meant was that I became obsessed with recognition and success because i thought having those things would signal that I wasn’t inadequate. It wasn’t really much fun being inside my head at this point.
I used to think my jealousy was based in me thinking I was somehow better than other people and ‘deserved’ the success they had more than they did. The sign this wasn’t the case though was that I absolutely hated my jealousy. I hated thinking that way about my colleagues and friends. It was a thought process I would have given anything to rid myself of.
This is an issue for others as well. I have been on the receiving end of jealousy and tall poppy syndrome and it is very upsetting. I was at an event once and one of the attendees was incredibly rude to me. I had never met this person before and couldn’t work out what I was doing wrong. A friend who was also at the event told me it was due to the other person having an issue with ‘famous people’. Which is silly because I’m not a ‘famous person.’ I am well known in a small community in a country with a small population. In the scheme of things fame-wise I’m not up there at all. I don’t even have a Wikipedia page! But it was quite hurtful.
Autistics frequently face disadvantage and discrimination. I think it is best to support one another rather than see others as rivals. I feel very bad about my years of comparing myself to my autistic colleagues and feeling intimidated because, in my mind they were somehow better than me.
I find it helps to think about timelines in this space. Twenty years ago I hadn’t written any books, ten years ago I had written a book but had a much smaller profile and now I have a bunch of books and way too much profile for a Jeanette to manage without resorting to a lot of debriefing with friends, cursing at the laptop and repeatedly pushing my ‘NO!’ buzzer! Other people have a timeline too. You might not get an opportunity you want one year but you might the next.
Opportunities tend to be fleeting and our ambitions and aspirations change over time. Another person’s success does not really detract from anybody else’s. There are plenty of rewarding things to do out there. The more autistic writers, speakers and advocates the better! I really honestly don’t want to be the ‘only Aspie/ autistic in the village.’
The other thing about jealousy and rivalry is that you do not know what the person you are having difficulties with is going through. Some ‘successful’ people are really struggling but we don’t see it. I have learned that the only person you should ever compete with is yourself.
I have learned how pointless and divisive jealousy is. Success is different for each person, as is ambition. It remains a great disappointment to me that in order to get past my jealousy and insecurity I had to become what my own personal version of ‘successful’ was. However I am happy I got there because it is so much nicer to be free of this burden of insecurity. I am so happy to be abel to willingly nominate colleagues and friends for awards, to celebrate the success and achievements of others without thinking I am inadequate by comparison. Comparing yourself to others will very effectively ensure you feel miserable. Thankfully the converse of that is also true – celebrating the successes of your friends and knowing you are a individual with your own path to follow is a pretty good feeling.
Me with Tim Sharp and Temple Grandin – and NOT feeling intimidated!