Professionals young and old are falling victim to one of the most invasive, highly-contagious diseases of our modern era. This sickness, while treatable, has no known cure. Symptoms may include anxiety, insomnia, increase in headaches, and decrease in overall quality of life. Most alarming, however, is that this professional-targeting ailment appears to be wholly self-induced. It’s commonly referred to as “FOMO”: fear of missing out.
The fear of missing out is nothing exceptionally new. Everyone has felt the worry associated with the consequences of indecision. Whether it’s an event that you should have attended or a text message you’ve left unresponded-to, you’re going to “fall behind” or miss out on potential opportunities. Since the integration of daily (hourly?) absorption of social media into our lives, this fear only continues to increase. We’re worried we made the wrong choice by staying home one night after we see photos of our friends schmoozing and networking. We get anxious when we see the email notifications piling up on our phone.
Unplugging can seem virtually impossible for the creative professional, especially if you’re running your own start up or freelancing. Now, in addition to missing that guffaw-worthy live-tweet, you have the added stresses of FOMO creeping up into your work: fear of missing out on ideas to capitalize on, on billable hours, on building and marketing your brand — the to-do list is endless.
Find the Downtime
This fear stems from calculating the risk of not doing something. If you don’t constantly check your phone, you could miss out on an important email from a client and lose them. If you don’t go to this industry event, you might miss out on making some essential connections. And, if you spend all your time checking your phone and attending events, you might miss out on hours that you should spend working to develop your product or service. The cycle is never ending, which is why FOMO is the first step towards total burnout — how can you win? You can’t, but you keep trying anyways.
Realistically, there’s no way to completely rid yourself of FOMO, but it’s important to to establish work/life balance — or at least try to. One of the most important questions you have to ask yourself, particularly as a freelancer or the founder of a new company, is: “when is downtime?” There’s always things to learn and tasks to complete, which makes it seem like downtime is unattainable. Understandably, you want to do what it takes to succeed, but often you’ll be doing so at your own expense. Determine the difference between high value knowledge versus low value knowledge — is what you’re learning ultimately beneficial, or worthwhile? Will it help you directly and immediately, or are you putting in this time and effort because you think it “might” pay off someday?
Prioritize Your Goals
One of the key methods of minimizing FOMO is to prioritize what you want to accomplish — because you can’t do it all. Compile a list of goals, either personal or business-oriented, then allow this list to act as a checklist later when you feel stretched too thin by obligations. “Will I be working towards achieving any of these goals if I do this thing?” If the answer is yes, then it’s worth your time.
Much like calculating risks, taking inventory of the actual potential of your decisions is also a huge factor in eliminating (or at least reducing) the fear of missing out. Part of the fear stems from thinking of all the things that could happen — and by not staying connected, you’ll never find out if they did or didn’t manifest. While luck does play a role in success, aimless actions do not: you set the parameters of your own success. Make careful, concise decisions. While a chance encounter is possible, it’s not probable. So, instead of hoping that there will be someone at whatever industry event you’re at that can help you out, narrow the events you attend to make sure there is. Don’t waste your time if you can help it, especially when there are a million other things you could do instead. Take the time to reevaluate the ratio of “events I attend” to “people I’m glad I met” — as soon as the latter becomes less than the former, you need to make a change.
Keep Your Vision Clear
The FOMO that creatives feel is rooted in the idea that by not constantly creating/working, they’re missing out on jobs (read: money), and that someone else will swoop in to fill the void. Time is always of the essence. But often, stressing out over what everyone else is doing means that you aren’t paying enough attention to your own product or service. Make sure whatever you do is top notch, and soon you’ll be the one generating FOMO in others.