FOMO has become such a well-known acronym in recent years that you may not need me to fill in the words: Fear of missing out. Often it’s used jokingly. But behind it is a serious phenomenon: Too much of what we do is driven by a fear of missing out on the great things supposedly happening to others.
Danish psychology professor Svend Brinkmann turns that social anxiety around by celebrating missing out in his recent book, The Joy of Missing Out, arguing passionately for the art of self-restraint in an age of excess. At a collective level, for a sustainable society, he believes we must master the art of self-restraint to address various crises we face, notably in relation to the environment.
But his stimulating essay led me to ponder how it extends to other aspects of our lives and to careers, especially in relation to technology. What websites have you visited in the past 24 hours that you should jettison? Can Facebook and other social media play a reduced role in your life? Can you miss out on checking your devices continually for the latest e-mail? Seek some joy by missing out.
Jackie Jarvis, a British business coach, in In Pursuit of Slow tells how she always pursued speed and one day, while hiking the Camino de Santiago trail, tired and exhausted, her rucksack (and life) too full, she threw the bag to the ground and a thought from within called out: “Have the courage to let go of that which no longer serves you.” There can be joy in missing out on today’s “faster-faster-faster” drumbeat.
In careers, I’ve often felt an opportunity never pursued won’t hurt us. We may fear losing out on a possible new job but likely we won’t regret it for the rest of our lives, as other opportunities will emerge that we otherwise would not have been free to embrace. Obviously that would have been lousy advice for Bill Gates when starting Microsoft and Steve Jobs when creating Apple, but given most new enterprises fail, missing out on starting a new company could be beneficial to psyche and finances. Lots of people find it joyful to not grow their new company but to keep it small.
High-school students grapple with taking a gap year – should they delay going to university and postpone their career for a year, falling behind classmates rushing toward the work force? That’s an individual decision, of course, but often family fear the youngster will miss out on what’s important by taking the year off. If it is affordable for them, they should be comfortable in missing out on the straight-line sprint to their future. As well, research is showing a surprising number of successful late-career bloomers, so if you miss out on early success in your career, maybe that’s not so bad.
Women have faced the dilemma of whether to miss out on work and a career when they have a baby or miss out on time with the infant to return to work as quickly as possible. Choices vary, but while there may be guilt after taking either option, they should celebrate the joy of missing out on the other alternative. It will all work out in the end. Men probably could use more fear of missing out on the chance to take parental leave; taking the break, even if missing out on some time at work, seems to be beneficial for the man, child and family.
Managers have a thirst for immediate action and quick results. But sometimes it’s best to slow down. Let staff grow by finding their own way, even if it’s slower than you might wish. Don’t solve every problem for them. Don’t save them from minor failures that can offer valuable lessons. Be patient.
Palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware drew attention to the top five regrets people have when dying:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Those statements point to elements of your life you should legitimately fear missing out on. If you have to sacrifice some other activities and redesign your habits to avoid those regrets, be joyful about what you give up. More generally, think twice about your actions in the next week and see where there might be joy in missing out.
- If a conversation feels difficult, Harvard Law School lecturer Sheila Heen says it often involves something about identity – something the situation suggests about you that is raising the stakes of the conversation.
- Analyze the reasons for each misfire in hiring, looking for commonalities over time, says HR consultant Tim Sackett. One he has found: Most bad hires stem from a hiring manager who gets stuck on one reason to hire, which has nothing to do with being successful in your environment and indeed might be counterproductive. His example: Hiring high-energy people for an organization where people have little freedom.
- Mary Parker Follett, the influential 1920s writer on management whose wisdom is still celebrated, said “the best leader does not ask people to serve him, but the common end. The best leader has not followers, but men and women working with him.”
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