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How to stop career FOMO from influencing your decisions

When your career choices deviate from what your peers are doing, you might question whether you’re on the right path. Here’s how to learn to trust yourself.

How to stop career FOMO from influencing your decisions
[Photo: William Stitt/Unsplash]

How do you make decisions on when it comes to your career? Do you take into account what you want to be doing in the long run, or do you focus on what others are doing and where they are as a result?

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Many of you probably don’t like the idea that you might fall into the latter category, but that mind-set is probably more common than you think. The good news is, there are some things you can do to prevent career FOMO from taking over your decision-making process. Fast Company spoke to Tiffany Flomo–career coach and associate director of experiential learning at NYU Stern School Of Business–to find out how.

1. Accept that you might be prone to career FOMO

It took Flomo many years of jobs that weren’t quite the right fit before she landed on something that she felt jelled with her. And while many of those years were trial and error, Flomo acknowledged that when she was younger, she felt that she let what others did influence her a little too much. “It [was] like, this is my timeline, this is what my peers are doing.”

It’s a pattern that she sees among young people. “Young people in the industry, they don’t know what they don’t know,” she says. After all, when students are in college, they will often get advice on shaping their careers based on someone else’s path. They put emphasis on “studying other people,” Flomo points out. As a result, those early in their careers might not realize the negative impact of being too externally focused, and find themselves going down a rabbit hole of planning their next steps based on other people’s journeys.


Related: The most common advice that graduates should ignore (and what to do instead)


2. Get introspective

Flomo believes that when it comes to career development, there isn’t enough emphasis on looking to yourself. As a result, people are more likely to make decisions based on what they know–which are of course, based on what others in their lives have done (or are doing). “I see it in my clients when they don’t necessarily know what they want to do and they haven’t been intentional about being introspective, so they then rely on other people because they think that other people have the answers.”

Instead of looking to other people, Flomo advises that it’s important to be introspective. People “need to ask themselves and be honest about what opportunities they want to pursue.” Some questions that are worth asking yourself include, Is this something that I feel would give me a sense of purpose?” Is this an area I want to master? What am I curious about? If you find that those answers aren’t aligned with what you’ve found from others, you might want to think twice about following their paths.

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Related: These are the six red flags that you’re getting bad advice 


3. If you’re going to look externally, be wary of their biases and assumptions

You probably already know that often, your loved ones aren’t the best source of unbiased advice. As Alison Cardy pointed out in The Muse, they tend to project their experiences onto yours, and because they want to protect you, they’ll probably encourage you to go to a safe career path.

Unfortunately, your parents and relatives aren’t the only ones who will give you career advice through a subjective lens. For example, if you’re speaking to someone about changing careers, the person who is still in that career you want to leave might look at you and think that you’re taking a really big risk, Flomo says. It’s not necessarily bad to study people’s experiences, but Flomo cautions that you should be aware of their preconceptions. “They might have a certain way of approaching a career change, and they may tell you their story, but [make sure to] question, Is that the only approach you can take?”  If you’re reaching out to a group of people, Flomo advises, think about how diverse they are. That way, you can get many perspectives and see if there is more than one approach.


Related: I changed careers repeatedly in my 20s–here’s what it taught me 


4. Learn to let go of the fear and your inner critic

Ultimately, being unsure of taking the path you’re taking because it’s different from others comes down to fear. It’s really about the “inner critic” that we have, Flomo said. “At the end of the day, it’s a safety mechanism and it wants to protect us. Once we try and do something that’s ambitious that’s going to push us out of the comfort zone, it’s going to be risky because we’re opening ourselves up to potential feedback that we might not feel prepared for, but we have to make that next step to elevate ourselves. It’s about not listening to that inner critic.”

Flomo acknowledges that this is easier said than done, and that this is a skill that people have to build up over time. To be able to “politely reject” someone else’s journey and prioritize their own journey, Flomo said, “Your faith needs to be greater than your fear. Your belief in the idea that things will work out in the end needs to be greater than [your fear that] if you make this change, the world is going to fall apart.”

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After all, there is often no one way to get to your end goal. So next time your inner critic tells you that you shouldn’t be doing something because so and so became “successful” by doing something else, remember–you’re not beholden to act to that voice. So don’t let it stifle you.

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About the author

Anisa is the Assistant Editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She covers everything from productivity to the future of work

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