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Why must we always cut down the tall poppy?

In my first job in publishing, I was appointed head of the social committee. It sounds more glamorous than it was; I was essentially the only member.

My ‘role’ basically involved choosing a wine bar to drink at after work, booking a table which met all the requirements (close to bar, close to toilets, view if possible) and gathering a substantial crowd to rock up.

Of all the ‘roles’ I’ve ever had, this one was probably the most fun – it didn’t offer a paycheque, but job satisfaction was stratospheric. If there was an award for it, I would have won it hands down. I was dedicated, committed, and every event was a resounding success. Usually once a week, sometimes twice, we laughed, drank, chuckled as we told stories, whinged about the office and eyed up hot barmen. It was brilliant bonding with colleagues in departments you didn’t always get to see.

Each time I moved magazines, the transferable skills of being a luminous social butterfly fluttered with me, even overseas.

As I moved up the ladder, however, there became a conflict of interest between this role and my actual job. Being a manager means you have to take off the glittering tiara of fun and hand it over. If you have butterfly wings, you need to consider this sacrifice seriously when chasing or being offered a promotion. And it’s the worst. Everyone thinks when you’re flying high, you’re automatically happy and feel untouchable. Not true.

I’ve moved to a new country more than once to take up a promotion and having a social network cut off is extremely difficult. Being excluded from social outings just because you’re in charge is hurtful. If you overhear people bitching, it stings, and if you’re stabbed in the back it causes pain. After all, a fancy title doesn’t protect you from being human. You don’t have a personality transplant when you get promoted, and I’ve often found myself leaving the office late, heading home with a dangerously wobbly chin and crying shattered tears into a cushion on my sofa. Stress + isolation = hard.

As you climb the ladder in your career, it becomes increasingly obvious you’re no longer one of ‘them’, as you succeed and begin to lose people all around you. Friends can get jealous, and at work, colleagues start to resent you because essentially, you’re the one telling them what to do.

In life, it’s comfortable when you’re in the crowd. When you stand out, in any way, it tends to get uncomfortable, and you have to be prepared to lose people on your journey. As the proverb says, ‘It’s lonely at the top’. I always thought people were idiots for saying that, until I lived it.

There’s a great quote from author Hugh Macleod which is particularly relevant when talking about ambition, “The price of being a sheep is boredom. The price of being a wolf is loneliness. Choose one or the other with great care.” I learnt that the hard way.

As a manager, you are the wolf; you lead a pack and you have to be willing to be mocked, loathed, condemned and shunned. No one tells you that in a job description. If you’re in the right environment, with the right team, you will be fuelled by adrenaline and creativity. If not, it’s harsh and cold, and sometimes simply not worth the damage it does to you as a person.

None of us are bulletproof. It doesn’t matter how rich, famous or successful you are, it still hurts when you’re the only one not invited out for drinks.

Comment: Have you had to deal with being excluded as a result of your personal success?