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Moving Beyond 'Fear of Missing Out' in the Job Search

Whether you’re looking to take your next career step or are a first time job seeker, there can be a lot of fears about making a professional move. In my practice as a career coach and psychotherapist, FOMO—fear of missing out—often comes up.

It’s not uncommon for me to see clients paralyzed from moving forward because they’re looking for the perfect job. Or they’re fearful they might choose a position or company that is worse than their current job. Even while holding these negative emotions, I’ll hear clients say, “I’ll just apply for everything because I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity.”

The fear of missing out is a part of our social culture that has seeped into the career development journey. Yet, our indecision will not lead to the happiness and success we’re often aiming for. But letting go of FOMO is easier said than done. Here are three facts to keep in mind when you find yourself ruminating on your fear of missing out professionally.

You will likely have more than a few jobs in your career trajectory.

In today’s world, it’s unlikely that you will stay in one job for 40 years like generations past. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that the average person changes jobs an average of 12 times in their career and that the average median employee tenure for women in 2018 was 4 years (4.3 years for men). These facts might bring consolation when you consider that you don't have one shot to "get it right" and that there will be more transitions up ahead. Don't get too fixed on figuring out your entire life in one job move that it paralyzes you with indecision. Think of career moves as one pivot after the next to gain new skills and experience that give you more insight into how you want to evolve.

These statistics about career moves are also an indication it might be time to change how we view the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”In her new memoir, Becoming, Michelle Obama illustrates this point by describing her own winding career path. As a child, she says, “I was ambitious, though I didn’t know exactly what I was shooting for. Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—what do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” She goes on to share all the career switches she’s made, “So far in my life, I’ve been a lawyer. I’ve been a vice president at a hospital and the director of a nonprofit that helps young people build meaningful careers.”

As a career coach I’ve worked with clients who have switched from the movie industry to nonprofit, from working in biotechnology to running their own health and wellness business, and from engineering to consulting. There are many possibilities and you get to decide what kind of life you want to design.

Applying and interviewing doesn’t mean you have to commit.

Follow your intuition as you research, reflect, and start moving forward in applying. Applying is not choosing, interviewing is not choosing, getting an offer is not choosing. Allow yourself to get as far as applying or interviewing in the process before you choose to close the door on a career you are curious about.

There is a lot to gain in the application and interview process, too. You might find that a job that looked interesting on paper is not at all what is being described in the interview. You could discover that the person who you would report to has a personality you wouldn’t jive with. Remember, you’re “interviewing” the employer as a good fit for you, too. You could find that a job on paper sounds much more exciting when you hear the expectations and meet the team you’d be working with.

Committing to a job allows you to learn more about yourself, a company, and an industry.

Yes, there is an element of loss in narrowing choices down. It’s not possible to have 30 different jobs at once, it’s true; you do have to choose one at a time (or maybe a couple part-time jobs).

But there is also great freedom in choosing because it means movement. It's like dating. In dating, you commit to spending time with a person to discern whether you’re a good fit for each other. Accepting a job means you commit to trying it, and you get to discover if it’s a company you want to be with longer. You get to experiment and explore how you can grow in that position, if you choose it again and again.

And when you’ve chosen, remember that you get to choose again and that there are many pivots ahead in your career. Some pivots you will choose deliberately and others may come in unexpected ways. Moving from the fear of missing out to the joy of missing out will give you a new perspective as your progress in your career journey and become the person you hope to be personally and professionally.

Originally published in Verily Mag

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