Fighting the F.O.M.O. – A conversation about workplace and personal perspective.
Imagine you won an opportunity to be on an island in front of two identical locked metal boxes. A note in front of the boxes reads:
“One box contains a life-changing gift, and the other contains a small piece of paper. Once you grab one box, the other will instantly be destroyed. You have ten seconds to grab a box or both will be destroyed. The chosen box will unlock 24 hours after you choose it.”
Which will you choose?
After some quick thinking, you will claim either the box on the left or the one on the right. Shortly after, your mind will commit to visions of possibilities. Eventually, you’ll imagine you got the “better” box. You’ll envision what a “life-changing gift” is and think of the potential it could hold. Eventually, you’ll also consider getting the box with the “small piece of paper” and wonder what it might be. You’ll begin to escape your reality and feed into the excitement of perceived opportunity until you open your box. What’s in it? Is it the better box? Or are you curious about what you missed out on? The questions continue, and the “fear of missing out” (“F.O.M.O.”) starts settling in.
The fear of missing out is considered a phenomenon that is attributed to fears and insecurity of the future. While we generally use it in the context of missing out on a “fun” event or needing to make a specific choice over another, it also carries context in the workplace by way of missing a meeting, not being part of a discussion, or missing out on potential advancement opportunities. From a coaching perspective, the major problem with F.O.M.O. is that it pushes you out of the “now” and into an idea of the future that doesn’t exist. Things such as envisioning “water cooler talk” about a game you missed last night could make people feel like they won’t be considered “in” with their peers. It also goes as far as fearing that missing something for a client/boss will cause you to be perceived as a poor worker providing an inferior work product. F.O.M.O. acts like a virus that looms and grows to spread in all areas of work and life, so it’s important to understand why it exists just as much as it’s crucial to get rid of it.
Coach, every time there’s a conversation that I’m not part of, I really feel like I’m missing out on information I should know. You’re saying that’s workplace F.O.M.O. but me not knowing means I can’t do things the right way.
That sounds like a few limiting beliefs rolled into one that is manifesting as fear. First, stop convincing yourself that you need non-stop information given to you to complete a task. Whether dealing with clients or coworkers/bosses, what is stopping you from asking if you feel like there’s information you need? Next, do you know exactly what your missed conversation or meeting is about, or are you just taking some seemingly logical guesses? The only thing standing in your way here is YOU.
F.O.M.O. is exactly that: YOU standing in the way of YOU. It isn’t about looking good in front of your peers or missing something that brings about bonding. It’s about providing a service to your clients and making the best of what you have in front of you. Every time you stray from this train of thought, you do a disservice to your client and yourself. Think of it this way: is having a surface-level conversation with some jokes more important than getting recognized because you focused on good work? The answer is an obvious no, but F.O.M.O. makes you think otherwise.
I’m not saying I’m ignoring my job though, I’m saying I’m missing conversations. And what’s wrong with wanting to bond with my coworkers? And why is it bad that I don’t want to miss parties with friends?
Why aren’t these questions geared towards getting yourself to your next level? Consider your priorities. Relationships are wildly essential, but you’re engaging in questions that do not affect your success and growth. In fact, it’s the opposite. There’s a time and place for everything, so when you’re actively focusing on helping a client or completing a task, that’s what you should focus on. Let the surface-level water cooler talk happen at lunch.
Okay but facetime with people that like me shows that I’m part of the culture and that’s good for my career so workplace F.O.M.O. is still a thing.
Helping your clients and improving your work product is your career. That inevitably leads to advancement. Your clients don’t care that you know what happened at last night’s party or that you bonded over an episode of a TV Show.
So why do I care about it so much?
This is where it gets intense. Fear is effectively about the future. You envision things that you think will happen, and they scare you. When you “miss out” on something, you envision not being part of a bonding that it could bring in the future. It might be missing out on inside jokes, not enjoying a collaborative vent, or being left out of subsequent events. That fear turns into self-doubt. You doubt whether you make good choices or if you could have greener grass. Eventually, you even wonder if you are “good enough,” and the spiral keeps consuming you. It’s all fear of an irrational future that doesn’t exist. The only person that can bring that future to life is YOU. So what does the mind do? It triggers ways for you to quell those fears and “fit in,” and it’ll do it in ways that offer the most minor path of resistance. It’s the same reason you sometimes want to binge-watch a show instead of running errands or working out. That path of least resistance for your brain to ease the fear of needing to do chores or exercise is relaxing. F.O.M.O. is a fear that consumes you and causes you to lose sight of what is really important.
Too deep, Coach, too deep. What do I need to do to get over workplace and personal F.O.M.O.?
Start by being honest with yourself on what needs to be done. The more you actually list out the things you need to do, the more control you gain over them. Writing a daily list of necessary tasks can help bring you into the “now” and keep you centered on what you need to achieve.
Also, whenever you experience any F.O.M.O., ask yourself exactly what you fear. Is that fear taking you away from appreciating what you currently have? Are you avoiding what you could do because you’re letting your mind wander? Give yourself a reality check and be objective about it. You know the logic of the situation. You’re choosing to let your mind wander purposely. Stop it and reset yourself to appreciate what’s in front of you and make the most of it. That goes for work just as much as it goes for life.
Still deep, Coach – but it’s legit. Wait, what about those metal boxes? What was in them?
Since we’re talking about overcoming F.O.M.O., there’s no need to know what each box had in it. You just need to consider the idea that it was never about which was the better box. It was only about being in the moment of getting to choose.
We’re lucky to have a lot of things. Being in the moment and staying focused on what’s essential will bring fulfillment in the workplace and life. Ignore the what-ifs and be in the now. It will make you unstoppable.