You’ve felt it before. You’re at home on a Friday night with Shark Tank on the TV, a cold glass of Pinot Grigio in hand, feeling anxious and insecure instead of relaxed and self-assured, all because you glanced at your Instagram feed and saw the proof that all your friends, colleagues, and even your dorky younger cousin are living it up. So much for enjoying a rare night of rest and quiet, much-needed for mental restoration.
FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is a powerful phenomenon, the 21st century equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. Thanks to social media and digital technology, we’re faced with constant comparisons of our vacations, our clothes, our relationships, our social lives, even our life choices, with those of others. Naturally, that ever-present stream of perfection leaves us feeling sub-par.
You start to question and doubt yourself, thinking things like: where does she get those amazing power outfits? My desk looks like a disaster, not a pretty Pinterest board. I wish I could afford a week in the Mediterranean on the salary I make.
Letting FOMO lead you to feeling bad about your personal life is one thing. But letting it interfere with your career can be even more damaging.
A toxic offshoot of FOMO is what I call Opportunity FOMO — or fear of missing out when it comes to career and professional development. Constantly questioning and doubting elements of your work life can negatively impact your performance, your sense of job satisfaction and your work-life happiness.
Think you might suffer from Opportunity FOMO? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you say yes to every single work-related opportunity that comes across your plate, justifying it by saying this may be a potential “big break”?
- Do you over-schedule yourself, committing to networking events or learning opportunities like webinars, classes or workshops because you’ll feel like a failure if you don’t devote every second of free time to propelling your career forward?
- Are you constantly questioning you work-life balance choices (like distractedly wondering what’s happening at the office while out to lunch with a co-worker, or checking your work email while relaxing with your spouse), thereby not fully being present in either area?
- Do you often have doubts about your professional path in comparison to those you see on Linkedin, hear about over happy hour with your college friends or read about on blogs?
- Do you frequently feel left out when you’re not included in a meeting or consulted on a decision?
- If you’re unable to attend a conference or event, are you anxious that won’t make valuable connections that could take your career to the next level?
If you’re honest with yourself and you think you may have fallen prey to Opportunity FOMO, it’s possible that you’re also experiencing Impostor Syndrome, a belief prevalent among high-powered working women in which you feel inadequate and unqualified for your role or status, living in constant fear of being “found out.” In other words: if you’re frenetically afraid of missing out on work opportunities, it could be because you’re even more deeply afraid that your colleagues may discover that you’re some kind of career con artist. (Rest assured: you’re not!)
Both Opportunity FOMO and Impostor Syndrome add extra stress to your life. But there’s hope. Refer to these strategies to help you calm down and put things in perspective.
Do a Social Media Reality Check
Let’s be real: clearly you can’t (and don’t want to) give up social media altogether. But you can train yourself to view it through a different lens. Here’s the thing: social media presents the best of someone’s life. Look through your own camera roll on your phone. Aren’t there at least a handful of photos you took in a given moment, then picked the one in the best light or with the coolest angle to actually post?
Each of our social media profiles provides the opportunity to curate a polished capsule of ourselves. We only tweet links to interesting articles that we wouldn’t be embarrassed to be caught reading. We post status updates of milestones we’re proud of or are secretly seeking attention over. We publish blog posts that portray us as smart, witty or accomplished. What you read on your screen is not the full reality.
Life is messy and complex. Career paths are not straight lines. And you have no idea how long someone saved up to afford that vacation to the Mediterranean (or how much she negotiated in her last job offer to be able to afford it).
Remember that Work Is Infinite, But Time Is Finite
Accept that you can’t do it all. Translation: you will definitely miss out on things. But it’s not going to kill you, or kill your career. It may help to repeat to remind yourself: “Work is infinite, but time is finite. ” True, there is always more you could be doing in your job. Yet the harder you gun it and the higher the standards you hold for yourself, the faster you’ll burn out.
Don’t teeter into workaholic territory. A meaningful life is composed of so much more than a job title and you’ll crush it in the workplace if you feel fulfilled outside of the workplace, too.
Dismantle the Delusion of Career FOMO
When you’re feeling fearful of missing out on job opportunities, whether it’s pining for a job in an up-and-coming industry or being passed over for a new executive leadership committee, put your investigative cap on and get more information. Things aren’t always what they seem and finding out more details might assuage your restlessness.
For example, if you’re stressed that a conference you can’t attend is going to be packed with prospective connections, email the organizers to get a sense of who exactly is attending. There’s a chance you’re exaggerating the prestige of the audience, causing yourself unnecessary worry and stress. If key influencers will be there, reach out (Check out Molly Ford’s RO strategy for an exact script) and leverage the fact that they’re in town to plan a meet-up that also accommodates your schedule as well. Win-win.
If you’re bummed you got passed over for a plum promotion that went (infuriatingly) to a coworker you can’t stand, ask your boss for more information. Are there any specific skills that would be smart for you to bone up on? Is there another growth path she had in mind for you, with your own promotion coming down the pipeline?
Or let’s say you’re jealous of a former colleague’s new job, or an industry your college alumnus works in. Ask for an informational interview. When you hear about the nitty gritty of the work, it may help you go from feeling like you’re missing out to being appreciative of your own current job.
Ultimately, living in a state of perpetual wishfulness isn’t productive. Letting Opportunity FOMO consume you isn’t going to ensure you’re a part of the coolest projects with the most connected people, maximizing your earning potential and making you feel fulfilled. That vision is just as unrealistic as the social media posts that make your friends’ lives look charmed.
Life’s just too short for FOMO. After all, YOLO.