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How to stop 'career FOMO' from ruining your work life

According to a recent survey, more than half of us are suffering from 'career FOMO.' But is the grass really greener on the other side?
by Nicole Spector /
Image: Stressed woman using cell phone
What we see on social media is only a partial truth at best. That goes not only for people, but jobs and companies, too.Blend Images via Getty
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Any of us who uses social media has probably experienced some degree of FOMO, aka, fear of missing out. You know, those little darts of anxiety you get when you scroll through your friends' feeds and suddenly feel whatever you're doing is inadequate? It happens in our professional lives, too, and it has been coined “career FOMO.” In my life, it manifests as the need to take advantage of each and every journalistic assignment that presents itself, even if it means canceling a weekend trip, because I’m scared that if I don’t, I’ll have missed some pivotal opportunity to advance.

According to a recent LinkedIn survey, this sense of panic is incredibly common, with nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of professionals stating that they “fear they will miss their opportunity to succeed if they don’t keep their options open.” In my experience, it's somewhat duplicitous: it feels like ambition and drive, but more often than not it just leaves me exhausted and unable to recognize my own my successes. How can we cut through the emotional clutter so that we can truly assess our professional paths with confidence? From conversations with several career experts and coaches, we created a five-step list to help you do just that.

1. Take Everything On Social Media With A Grain Of Salt — And Dig Deeper

First, we need to recognize that what we see on social media is only a partial truth at best. That goes not only for people, but jobs and companies, too.

“We see these great images of awesome office spaces or cheery colleagues or business perks that this person says they're getting or that this business is purportedly offering, but we don't dig deeper than the surface image in many cases,” says Gretchen Skalka, senior manager of content and creative services for TBC Corporation, who notes that career FOMO is a topic she often counsels on. “Truth be told, the grass isn't always greener; and sometimes when it is, it's nothing more than a good paint job.”

If you really want to know what a company is like, do some research about its history, business model and use a job review site like Glassdoor to find out details on pay and benefits.

Truth be told, the grass isn't always greener; and sometimes when it is, it's nothing more than a good paint job.

2. Get Specific About What It Is You Feel You’re Missing Out On

Try and pinpoint exactly what it is that is triggering your fear and then work backwards from there to figure out what it is you really want. Is it the laid back office culture? The exotic business trips? The ability to work from home?

“One of the most effective techniques I use with clients is to ask them to describe this other career that they feel they have missed out on,” says Teri Coyne, a career and leadership coach. “Who has it now? What does it represent? What are they missing out on? Get specific. The antidote for missing out is getting what you want — and that starts with knowing what you want.”

3. Create A Priority List And Keep It On You Always

Laura Mael, a public relations executive in Wisconsin who runs a career services program for a local college, finds that making a priorities list is a great tool to tune out the noise and help you focus on what really matters in your career.

The antidote for missing out is getting what you want — and that starts with knowing what you want.

“[I recommend] creating a priority list of those things we find important in our careers (and our lives); those things that satisfy us and fill us up,” says Mael. “Keep that list someplace easily accessible and then when [this] creeps up, pull it out. Ask yourself, ‘Whatever is causing me to feel FOMO right now, if I did it, would it enhance one of the priorities on this list and fill me up more?’ If the answer is ‘yes’ then do it, but more likely it will be ‘no,’ and then just let it go.”

I’m following Mael’s advice and have found it to be helpful. When I feel a FOMO flare-up, it helps to quickly refresh on my values such as “the ability to work from home everyday,” “being there for my parents” and “spending time with my dog.”

4. Consider The Potential You Have In Your Current Role

Lucia Smith, a HR Consultant at Gray Scalable, finds that part of conquering career FOMO lies in honestly examining your current job. Can you grow in a way you want to at your present workplace and position? What are your goals and are you on your path to meet them?

“Think about if your current career fills [your] needs, be they salary, flexibility, challenges,” says Smith. “If it does or has the potential to as you grow, great. Now you’ve clarified what you care about and you can be your own best advocate. If not, you can start to think about what careers would actually give you those; it’s likely different than the ones you fantasize about having. Even if it takes a while to make a change you can rest easy knowing what your goals are and that rather than missing out you’re simply on your way."

Can you grow in a way you want to at your present workplace and position? What are your goals and are you on your path to meet them?

5. Celebrate The Small Wins and Reward Yourself Often

We tend to get hung up on the landmark career stuff: raises, promotions or signing with a huge client. This habit can cause us to overlook the little but essential successes, in turn firing up career FOMO.

“Make milestones for yourself that you will find fulfilling,” says Blair Decembrele, LinkedIn career expert. “It doesn't have to be your lifelong mission, but it will help you. If you're planning an event and you need to find external sponsors or you need to give yourself a fundraising goal, say, ‘Okay, if I achieve this goal by ‘X’ date I will celebrate. Or, if you're a manager and your role is built on others succeeding, give yourself short-term management goals to help that person grow whether it be them nailing an oral presentation or achieving the metrics their looking to achieve for that quarter. That can be incredibly rewarding.”

And, if after all this, you find that career FOMO isn’t merely a thing to be overcome, but the symptom of real unhappiness with your job, then, after following these steps, at least you can pursue your next job with your priorities and goals intact.

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