A thought from Rachel Smith

17th October 2016

Career FOMO

This year I’ve been trying to work on my self-awareness and be less reactionary towards feeling of career FOMO. The arrival of CSSDevConf really brought home how much progress I’ve made so I thought I’d share some of the strategies I’ve used.

What is career FOMO?
You may be familiar with the concept of Fear Of Missing Out as it applies to social situations but we can also experience FOMO when we’re making decisions about our career.

FOMO when we’re deciding what conferences, meet ups or networking events we’re going to attend or speak at. We don’t feel any strong desire to attend besides a fear that we may somehow miss out on the fun or social connections that others may be enjoying in our absence.

FOMO when we see a peer achieving success or receiving recognition for something that we would like to succeed in. You could easily label this as jealousy but its often less about being jealous of a particular person and more of a fear that they are “taking” the success or recognition we might want.

FOMO when we’re choosing which specialization to work in, or which technology we’re going to use to build and design. This is particularly tough for front end developers because the skill set is extremely broad, there are a million ways to do the job, and everyone has Something To Say about your particular course of action.

Maybe, if you’re a motivated person who wishes to advance your career as quickly as possible (like I was) you’re more prone to experience FOMO. Maybe you reanalyze and beat yourself up over the missteps you’ve taken in the past, or constantly compare yourself to your peers only to find that you’re falling short every time.

In fact, if you never experience this career FOMO and are just a confident Chill Chillington every day of your life I would love to walk in your shoes for a month, it would be a nice reprieve!

How I’ve worked on not making reactionary decisions in response to FOMO

1. Acknowledge the feelings

Imagine someone who you are friendly with releases a very successful open source project or announces they have a book coming out. You’re happy for them but also feeling those uncomfortable thoughts of “why not me?”, accompanied by a mental analysis of your achievements stacked up against theirs, as if you can pinpoint exactly how much “extra” they did or didn’t do to beat you to such a milestone. Its easy to tell yourself to stop being such an asshole and push the feelings back down. As you're reading this you might even think I’m an awful person for admitting to having such thoughts. But if we don’t own up to our thoughts we can’t process them and move on. So accept and identify your fears.

2. Seek out the source

You’re feeling a fear of missing out. Why? This can be for a number of personal reasons but more often then not they stem from approaching your career with a scarcity mindset1.

When written out on the screen, these thoughts look silly but more often than not they’re what can creep up in our subconscious all the time. This nagging feeling that if somebody else gets a slice of pie that’s less pie for you to have, the feeling if you don’t have the thing right now you will never have it.

What I’ve been trying to work on, is remembering and adopting an abundance mindset1. It is the belief that there is enough success, recognition and professional relationships to be had by everyone when they choose to do the work and take the opportunity. If I believe in abundance then the fear of missing out has to be placated because what I am “missing out” on is only temporary until I consciously decide to pursue that path.

3. Work out what you really want

Haha. No, really. So much of my decision making was guided by a fear of missing out rather than listening to my intuition and following the path I really wanted to take. A great example is agreeing to speak at a couple of conferences, that in hindsight I only agreed to because I thought if I said “no” too many times then people would stop asking me to speak. What I didn’t ask myself is if I even wanted to keep speaking at all. When I was really honest with myself and tapped in to my current career values, I realized that although I appreciate all of the experiences I’ve gained by speaking at conferences, it is not something I want to divert my energy to for the next year at least. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders. And yes I’ll still get the occasional fear and worry that I’m “missing out” on what my peers are “getting” in return for speaking at conferences, but I know I’m placing my energy towards what I value from my career at this time, so I can let those fears go.
Forget what everyone else is doing, what do you want from your career? Identify and follow the actions that will bring the value that you seek.

4. Be present and be grateful for the journey YOU are experiencing

The worst part about FOMO is that it stops you from appreciating your current career path and can basically kill all good vibes. Some dissatisfaction with your current place is not a bad thing as it can drive us to improve ourselves and achieve more. But if the dissatisfaction is reactionary and based in fear of missing out it isn’t productive. I will never feel I know JavaScript well enough and that is a great thing because JavaScript application development is my specialty and the path that feels right for me at the moment. If I’m stressing over the fact that other people know more about CSS pattern libraries than I do, that would be a waste of my energy as I doubt at this stage that I’ll ever be asked to make one. I’m learning to appreciate this moment and journey that I have chosen for myself and worry less about things I may or may not be missing out on.

I remember around this time last year that I was really pissed that I wasn’t at CSSDevConf while it was happening in Long Beach, 30 miles from where I lived. I was annoyed that I couldn’t justify getting work to send me there (I didn’t write any CSS in my job!). There were going to be a bunch of people there that I wanted to meet and/or hang with and I remember being just generally grumpy about it all. I carried that feeling to FOWD in San Fran later that week and although I had a good time there I kept thinking it “wouldn’t be as good” as the time everyone had had at CSSDevConf. So basically I had a kinda shitty week and it was all of my own making. And I needn’t have. I saw and hung out with most of those people at some stage this year and I got that interaction I had been looking for. Now I look back on that time last year not with regret that I missed out on CSSDevConf but that I didn’t have the right attitude at work or at the other conference.

I applied to speak at CSSDevConf this year, I didn’t get picked. I felt the FOMO creep in but when I was honest with myself I had to admit that I had phoned in the RFP and if I had really wanted the gig I would have made an effort to make mine irresistible to voters. I was actually kind of relieved I wouldn’t have to speak at a conference again. I was just starting to tap in to the realization that I’m done with speaking (for the near future). Now the conference is on but my fear of missing out is minimal. I’m sure its a great time as usual but I don’t need to be there. It’s our 3rd wedding anniversary this week and I would like to be nowhere else except here with Andy. I’m satisfied with the path I’ve chosen after listening to what I want. I hope me sharing this will somewhat help you with your own FOMO, and you feel some peace and happiness.

1 - The concept of scarcity vs. abundance mindset is from the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, if you want to read more about this.

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