Are you suffering from Career Fomo

From worrying about what everyone else is earning, to wishing you’d taken a gap year like your mates, fear of missing out is real.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
From worrying about what everyone else is earning, to wishing you’d taken a gap year like your mates, fear of missing out is real.
Corbis/Click Photos
Corbis/Click Photos

Think of it as a more evolved form of that classic Singaporean kiasu attitude we’re so famous for. But in the new millenium, the fear of missing out (FOMO) is bigger and more pervasive than ever. Thanks to technology, that gnawing anxiety that you’re missing out on something is heightened by the ping of yet another social media update about someone’s new job, hot party or latest ASOS buy.

“FOMO makes us feel insignificant, and we perceive we are being excluded,” explains Dr Sallie Strickland, clinical psychologist. “Social media is not the cause of FOMO, but rather the medium for it to rage wildly.” There is, of course, a time and place for healthy bench-marking against your peers. But if the mere whiff of someone else’s promotion sees you bookmarking job search websites, or a friend’s carefully filtered Instagram snaps from her gap year sees you writing your resignation – stop. To get ahead in the workplace, you need to distinguish real career roadblocks from your own unrealistic expectations. Here’s how to put FOMO in its place.

YOU THINK: Everyone else is landing new, better jobs

Reality check: FOMO, in career terms, leads to restlessness and job-hopping for the wrong reasons, explains John Lees, career strategist and author of How To Get The Job You Love. “Moving jobs isn’t a bad thing – after all, career mobility is what makes a CV, and if it’s about progression and movement and learning new skills, it’s a positive thing. However, job-hopping because you think that the grass is greener in a different role or industry is potentially careerdestroying.” If your friend’s career move prompted you to think about your own opportunities for progression, and you truly think that they’re absent from the role you’re currently in, then by all means think about moving. If not, it might be time to start paying attention to your patch of grass instead.

YOU THINK: My friends enjoy their roles more than I do

Reality check: According to John, this could be entirely true – but it could also be that they are projecting an idealised version of their jobs. “If you’re thinking about moving, then don’t accept secondhand information, i.e. what you read on Facebook,” he advises. “Find out what a job or sector feels like by speaking to people to gain objectivity. Look at your options. Could you renegotiate the terms of your job, be attached to a new project or get some training? If not, and you believe you need different experiences on your CV, then move on.” And remember, few people love their jobs 100 percent of the time. If you can enjoy your role around 70 percent of the time, you’re doing well.

YOU THINK: If I leave on time, I’ll miss out on promotion

Reality check: Not the case, says Shannah Kennedy, life coach and author of Simplify Structure Succeed. “It is the quality of your work, your ethic, your ability to read people and your emotional intelligence. It is how you interact with people and your boss that is critical.” CEOs want people who can do the job, do it well, are a good fit with the team and are prepared to work hard – what they don’t want is someone who burns out in a fortnight because of the long hours they’re having to put in to keep up. Don’t sit in the office for the sake of it. As Shannah confirms, leaving on time “actually solidifies your foundation as an employee with integrity, self-care, regulation and worth.”

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YOU THINK: I should have taken that gap year

Reality check: Wishing you’d done something – whether it’s taking a gap year or studying something different – based on other people’s experiences is often used as an excuse: “I could have had a great career if only I’d accepted that high-paying job/followed my dreams”. According to John, you should lose the regrets and look forward. “If you’re seriously motivated by a friend’s gap year, consider how you could get a similar experience or do something that gives you the same type of rewards,” he says. Maybe move to your company’s international office, take a career break, or even volunteer.

YOU THINK: All of my peers have a career plan

Reality check: Having a career plan is all very well, but before you put pen to paper, consider that being too focused on planning the perfect career may mean you might miss opportunities that don’t fit your plan. “You do need to have a sense of what is important to you to guide your future decision-making and life choices,” explains Kate O’Reilly, managing director, Optimiss Consulting. “Focus on your vision of the future and then reflect on your own set of personal values.” Remember, doing that might not necessarily mean following strict plan. Sometimes, the best careers could even be built on snap decisions.

YOU THINK: Everyone earns more than me

Reality check: This one is worth investigating, but it’s tricky. It’s important to benchmark your pay correctly, but if your friends work in different industries, then you shouldn’t compare. And you can’t just ask your workmates. “Most contracts state you can’t disclose your salary to co-workers, so it can be a dangerous sport asking colleagues what they earn,” warns Shireen DuPreez, executive search consultant. “You can ask people at other companies, check out salary surveys online and then speak to external recruiters who can give you an idea of the range for a position and the current state of the market.” A bit of legwork might find that your salary is higher than average, but if not, you’re now armed with all of the information you need to ask for a raise.


FOMO is usually seen as a negative, but it doesn’t have to be since it can be a driver for change. Executive search consultant Shireen DuPreez says, “FOMO can feed into the stereotype that women are anxious rather than curious, bossy as opposed to assertive and needy instead of inquisitive. I think FOMO means women are noticing other opportunities, especially if it’s being driven by the career success of others.” So forget about FOMO and focus on COMO – Creating Opportunities More Often. By being more aware of your options, you can educate yourself about how and when to progress your career. A bit of worry can be healthy – it means you care... a lot.

5 Ways To Stop FOMO In Its Tracks

Don’t let FOMO hold you back in your career. Dr Sallie Strickland, a specialist in empowerment, advises.

1 Decide and be clear on your vision of career success, and your purpose. Write it down. Put it somewhere you can see it.

2 Break your vision into small but meaningful goals. Spend time writing down the actions you need to take to be living your vision.

3 Share your vision and goals with friends and family. Positivity is a contact sport – hard on your own, more successful in groups.

4 Get out of your head and into your life. Learn simple mindfulness techniques to bring yourself into the here and now.

5 Actively disconnect from all technology and use the time to volunteer or study a new skill that’s relevant to your vision. Decide when and how you are going to use social media to enhance your career and personal profile. Now, time to make those dreams come true!