Dealing with FOMO is relatively new for me. Let me tell you why. When I was young and impressionable, I was a Princess Diana fan. I had books about her and read whatever I could find about her. But that was as far as it went because she was just so disconnected from my real life experience in a tiny town in Tamil Nadu.
FOMO stands for fear of missing out. But it is more serious than a kid worried about not being picked for the team. It’s an actual psychology term.
Dealing with FOMO hourly is the problem
We’ve all gone through a phase of putting up celebrity posters or avidly following their lives on social media. Their lifestyle and success don’t really trouble most of us at any practical level because “they’re not like us” and we can rationalise it on those grounds. In fact we root for them – hence the success of reality shows that lift people from the ordinary to celebrity.
The “people’s princess”, Diana, grew up in a 100,000 square foot home and her family is super wealthy, but the narrative was around kindergarten teacher to princess because we like the Cinderella story arc – person overcomes troubles in life to become rich and famous. Fairytales follow this arc across cultures because it makes us resilient and better able to deal with life. At some point we realize these are fairytales and tailor our expectations accordingly.
What happens if you are bombarded with heroic stories every hour or minute? What if everyone around you is having a Cinderella moment?
LinkedIn and the Fine Art of Dealing with FOMO
This week I spent more time than usual on LinkedIn and noticed that my feed was full of positivity. Many CEOs had their kids graduating from Harvard, Stanford or MIT. Plenty of folks were announcing their new jobs. Others were celebrating how they had overcome adversity to be be successful. Everyone’s success is personal to them and I am not a Grinch – I am happy for them to be happy. But.
The destructiveness of FOMO
It’s just distracting to be bombarded by so much success and have tiny twinges of FOMO through the day. Should I be spending more time with the kids like the best practices shared by successful dads? Should I be doing a viral post on my dog? Is this industry a bad choice? Is it time to retire? How did that company become a unicorn? Should I turn this newsletter into a podcast? Why did it take me 3 tries on Wordle when others got it in 2?
It’s low level but it’s steady.
Marketers actively seed FOMO as a means of driving interest and purchases! Yes, we are a part of the problem.
How to deal with FOMO
We are already dealing with way more information than we are equipped to process. The information super highway ends at our tiny country road of a brain. I suspect that dealing with all this happiness is a lot like a sugar crash.
The only way to overcome it is to be very clear about our personal goals for the next 5 years (or 5 months) and evaluate each FOMO against that. Sort of like setting up checkpoints to slow down the highway’s access to our soul.
Businesses dealing with FOMO
If your organization has frequent self-doubt – reflected in shifting plans and strategy it could be due to FOMO. We have always reviewed competition strategy but it used to be at best at a quarterly frequency, and against some set parameters. Now it is daily or hourly as social media updates us on their many celebrations too.
Let’s say you’re taking baby steps to get your team back to office. On Twitter you see Elon Musk’s ultimatum that employees must return “or else”. Without considering the difference in your situations or the on ground reality of the policy at Tesla you experience FOMO and send out a similar mail. Or you see post from one competitor that they opened an office in Singapore. Makes no sense to you, but it is now suddenly important to figure out why. It emerges from a later post from the founder’s that his daughter has gained admission into a university there.
FOMO is like candy. And we’re like kids in a candy shop.
In this world of FOMO there is no time to build a brand or reputation – it is all about those quick wins and the resulting celebrations. Everyone expects it. Eventually, like too much candy, it will contribute to toothache and heartache, but by then it will be too late.
The only way to Succeed in the Sea of Success is to stay true to your own vision of what that looks like. A 5 year blueprint of what your version of success is. And to systematically ignore anything does not contribute to it.
Is it wrong to celebrate success? Of course not! But partaking of Other People’s Success? Don’t overdose on it.
Enjoy your own kind of happiness.