Reframing FOMO: 3 Ways to use it to your advantage

career fear

We know, we know. We’re not supposed to compare ourselves to others. We should be grateful for what we have. We should celebrate our own successes. 

But…. we also know that’s easier said than done. 

As women in the workplace, there’s no question that comes up more than “am I enough?” And comparison is the ultimate expression of this question. Unfortunately, whether we’re flying high after landing a promotion, or secretly rolling our eyes over our colleague’s recognition for a project (I mean, they barely did any of the work…), comparison is a force that can take hold in any situation, even when we least expect it. As social creatures, we’ve evolved to assess how we measure up; and as highly motivated career women, this radar can go into hyperdrive when we’re chasing a goal. Or are not sure about a goal. Or feel like we need a goal. Or think we want something but aren’t certain that is the thing. 

In my work mentoring and coaching women on how to build impactful careers, and in my endless journey to overcome my own comparison tendencies, I came across a little secret that can help us free ourselves from the comparison grasp: Reframing FOMO. When we reframe our relationship with FOMO and start to listen to what it is telling us, we can finally use it to our advantage. 

Here’s how we do it.  

Tune into what it is you actually want

FOMO isn’t just something social media has programmed us to have that we should avoid at all costs. It can actually be a signal of an unexplored goal that we have for ourselves. But we don’t know if it is or not until we dig a little deeper. The next time you’re scrolling and come across a post, or get that email from a colleague about their new exciting role, or whatever happens that sends you that “why not me?” punch in the gut, as yourself two questions:

  1. Do I really want this?
  2. If not, what is it I actually want?

Oftentimes, we see something someone has that we’re lacking and reflexively want it. I mean, it would be kind of cool to have that thing, right? The funny thing is when we ask ourselves this question, the answer is usually “not really.” It took me a decade to admit to myself Coachella wasn’t really my vibe, and that was ok. 

This is where the second question comes into play – because if we’re feeling FOMO over something and don’t even want that thing, we have to figure out what it is we actually want. Coachella sparked a feeling of freedom, fun, excitement. Recognizing this, I could find an infinite number of things that could achieve these sentiments without having to spring for the music festival. Asking these questions reminds us there are many ways to get the things we want, we don’t rely on only one outcome. 

new career choice

Ok, but what if I did want that?

Then there are the times that our FOMO signals something that we very much do want. Maybe your colleague moving abroad reminded you of a dream you’ve always had to live overseas, maybe your friend becoming a manager reiterated your desire to do the same. 

If our FOMO is shouting from the rooftops for us to pay attention to something we wanted and haven’t pursued yet, listen. 

I spent many years toying with the idea of becoming an executive coach, never taking the plunge to pursue it. One day, a colleague sent an email saying she was starting a coaching certification and was looking for clients, and it was like a punch in the stomach. I thought to myself “why aren’t I doing that?” “why can’t I follow my dreams?” “Why? Why? Why?” 

But recognizing this was a dream of mine, and not just something that sounded cool for someone else, I could really listen to what this punch in the gut was telling me. This feeling of FOMO signaled to me right away how important this goal had been, and was the exact thing I needed to finally kick a plan into action. 

Recognize when there’s something else you need

Then there is the FOMO that’s not about a thing, but is about a feeling. I’ve been on teams (more than a few times) where the manager adopted a “positive feedback is implicit” approach– meaning, feedback was only shared when it was something negative, and you were supposed to believe everything was going flawlessly if you heard nothing. 

For those affirmation seekers out there like myself, this didn’t work for me. And when I would hear stories from friends or colleagues whose manager was more forthcoming with praise or appreciation, it sent me right into the loving arms of FOMO. 

Again, reframing FOMO from something I brushed off to something I listened to, I realized that what I really needed from a manager was more direct feedback or insight when things were going well. Recognizing this, I could have a conversation with my manager about feedback, ask a future manager about their feedback style in an interview conversation, even find contentment in knowing this about myself and let go of the false hope that I was going to get this from my current manager who wasn’t going to offer it. Any of these routes allowed me to be in the driver’s seat, being clear about what I needed in order to feel fulfilled in a job. 

This all comes down to tuning into the reflexive instinct to compare and listen to what it might be trying to tell us. This can be hard when the voice is really loud, absorbing everything other people have as evidence of why we aren’t enough. But when we do it, we learn we have so much more power in a situation to choose what we want, and confidence in knowing we’re pursuing the most meaningful goals. 

This guest post was authored by Lia Garvin

For over a decade, Lia Garvin has explored the power of reframing to overcome common challenges found in the modern workplace as an author, operations leader, and sought-after speaker. She has worked with some of the most influential companies in tech including Microsoft, Apple and Google, and has made it her mission to humanize the workplace, one conversation at a time. 

Through her writing, leadership coaching and savvy program management skills, Garvin brings her teams an unmatched expertise and an irreverent sense of humor to help them examine challenges holding them back while focusing on what matters. She launched the world’s first holographic computer, and has led initiatives around team inclusion and organizational effectiveness. Recognized by the National Diversity Council as a 2021 DEI Champion, Garvin has spearheaded diversity and inclusion programs and has coached employees on how to drive impactful work and thrive while working in tech.  

She holds a Bachelor of Arts from UCLA in Sociology and a Master of Arts in Media Studies from the New College of California. Garvin is a Co-Active and ICF certified professional coach and a certification in Hatha yoga.

Her new book, Unstuck: Reframe Your Thinking to Free Yourself From the Patterns and People That Hold You Back is now available on Amazon.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.