You’ve heard of FOMO by now. It’s that generalized anxiety that comes with sensing that you are missing something important, though you don’t know what exactly that may be.
You may experience regarding your Saturday nights or about a meeting you couldn’t attend. Or if you are my mother, you may feel it when your husband picks up the phone when your daughter calls and has a conversation without you.
But you can also have Career FOMO.
What is Career FOMO?
Career FOMO is when you are reluctant to take action in support of your career because you do not want to close off viable options.
It makes sense that you can experience FOMO in relation to your career, just like in other realms. The root of the word “decide” is “to cut off”, which feels dramatic and scary. And when it comes to your career, those decisions can feel especially heavy.
Career FOMO is real and it has two possible negative consequences.
- You become at the effect of your career. Afraid to take a proactive step that might be the wrong career move, you allow your career to take shape entirely by opportunistic means. Many people look back on the last ten or fifteen years of their careers and realize that they did not consciously choose any of it. There is wisdom in allowing your career to unfold. But when you lose your point of view or stop steering, it disempowers.
- You chase every opportunity, afraid to miss the one that will be the one that changes your career forever, for the better. Busier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, as the saying goes, you scramble to pursue everything put in front of you. You have no regrets about what you did not do, but you sure are tired.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Career FOMO
You can manage your Career FOMO by following these tips.
Don’t bother with detailed 5-year plans or career maps. Having a detailed plan is seductive and comforting in its concreteness. When you meet someone who has known all along what they are working towards, in great detail, it’s common to feel a bit of envy. But often these plans backfire. When the precise plan that you have been working so hard for doesn’t pan out, the failure can feel devastating. And when you finally do achieve what’s on that plan, it can feel a little underwhelming. You wonder if you have been focusing on the wrong thing.
Do bring your fuzzy long-term dreams into a bit more focus. Whereas some of us have that detailed 5-year plan, others draw a blank when it comes to the long term. You may feel like a failure for not being clearer on what’s ahead. It’s normal not to know what the future holds. Think of it this way: throughout your life, aspects of your dreams come in and out of focus. It may be that the nature of the work you see in your future is not yet in full focus. But it’s very clear to you that you will be leading a team. Shift your attention to what is in focus now, and bring just a bit more focus to what is presently blurry.
Don’t stop at a career vision of “I just want to contribute more”. When you are smart, capable, and flexible, it can be hard to get past a career goal that is quite simple: do more, be more. This is a good place to start, but without a strong sense of what is important to you, and where you really shine bright, that Career FOMO is likely to set in and rob you of your job satisfaction.
Do make conscious career choices. Know your career North Star—that is, what guides you on a grand scale- and make daily choices that support that. When your career decisions are entirely reactive, or something you take up because it is recommended by someone you respect, you lose that intentionality that really drives career satisfaction.
Don’t get paralyzed by the overwhelming slate of possibilities in front of you. In reality, you are deciding, whether you consciously do so or not. It’s just that when you are not making a conscious decision, you decide based on what is right in front of you. Best to acknowledge that, at all times, you are deciding, and make that choice a conscious one.
Do regularly take small actions that stretch you, or bring you closer to your career goal. Action breeds clarity. Big things come from small actions, and by dipping your toes into the waters of something new, you can become clearer on the benefits or potential drawbacks of a certain path, before diving into that big career decision.
You can beat Career FOMO and find the right balance.
Career FOMO affects most of us at one time or another in our careers. See it as a great opportunity to fine-tune your approach to career management in a fulfilling way, instead of as an obstacle or weakness that must be overcome.
Wendy Hultmark, ACC, CPC, is a coach who helps women in leadership own their story and write the next chapter. Learn more at www.wendyhultmark.com.