A psychiatrist explains how to deal with 'career milestone FOMO' when it seems like everyone you know is getting promoted
- Gen Z is experiencing widespread "career milestone FOMO," Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn told Insider.
- The pandemic and social media have made it worse.
While some Americans are "quiet quitting" and not going for a promotion, many are grasping to reach their next career milestone — and wondering why everyone else seems to be getting ahead faster.
There is a widespread "career milestone FOMO" among young Americans, Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, a psychiatrist of college-aged students and Chief Medical Officer at LifeStance Health, told Insider.
Patel-Dunn describes this "FOMO" as "the feeling of internal criticism or spiraling fears when we compare ourselves with others and their achievements," which can trigger negative emotions about one's self-worth. She says this feeling can be set off by watching a colleague or friend get promoted or accept an exciting opportunity, or by seeing someone the same age living a lifestyle beyond what one's own career can provide them.
While she's worked with patients for 20 years and says this experience is not a new phenomenon, she believes it's "accelerated in recent years."
"The pandemic may have delayed or derailed career milestones for people who were expecting to reach a certain goal in a set amount of time or by a certain age," she said. "Social media also plays a role in the "FOMO" experience because it increases your exposure to other people's lifestyles and standard of living."
While millions of Americans have joined the Great Resignation and advanced in their careers, the pandemic has created career obstacles for others. And while most research has focused on how social media use of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat can lead to fears about missing out on fun social activities, the rise of career platform like LinkedIn is contributing to some workers experiencing a similar kind of FOMO in their working lives.
And as more Gen Zers enter the workforce, more and more could fall victim to it.
'It feels like everyone else around me is getting a promotion'
Patel-Dunn says "social media comparison" can increase feelings of "anxiety, stress, and depression," particularly when people are already feeling uneasy about their careers.
The most common phrases she hears from patients are some version of the following: "It feels like everyone else around me is getting a promotion," "I feel like my boss is always helping someone else and doesn't pay any attention to me," and "I wonder if I'm not working hard enough or just not good enough."
This "milestone FOMO" is not just a US phenomenon either.
Pragun Dua, a 22-year-old Web3 product designer in India, says the constant change in the tech industry can create the "fear of missing out on the next big thing."
"Especially on Twitter, you see a lot of people building, and many of them can be younger than you" he told Insider, adding that one's success can become "benchmarked on what people — especially of your age group — are achieving."
36-year-old Abhishek Ponia, an India-based consultant, says that many young people come to him seeking career advice, and "almost all of them" say they haven't achieved much and are "losing the race."
Many societies put "too much pressure" on kids to be high achievers, comparing them with others of the same age, Ponia adds. And with the emergence of social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn over the past decade, he says things have gotten even worse.
"Even the ones who are actually doing pretty well are now feeling they aren't doing enough," he said. "Topics like 'hustle culture', 'have a second income,' etc. may be good for few, but aren't necessarily for everyone."
Milestone FOMO can extend to marriage, having kids, and buying a home
This FOMO can extend "to every aspect of life," Patel-Dunn said, including personal life goals like getting married, having kids, and buying a home.
"Whether it's pressure from family to get married by the age your parents were married, or to have kids or buy a house before you are emotionally ready to do so or financially stable, it's common to feel like you are the only one who is falling behind," she said.
But regardless of where the FOMO is coming from, there are ways to combat it.
Patel-Dunn says it's important to remember that "everyone's timelines look different," and that social media is a "highlight reel that often doesn't depict reality." She recommends young people limit the amount of time they spend on social media to protect their mental health.
"If your career isn't where you want to be, set realistic goals for yourself to get to a place where you would feel more comfortable," she said. "It's important to also have perspective about your situation – even if you haven't hit a certain goal, it doesn't mean you are unsuccessful, and it's important to remain kind to yourself through the process."
Ponia says he shares two pieces of wisdom with young people he speaks with: "Their biggest competition is not someone else, but themselves" and "All of us have unique paths."
"No two people in the world have lived life exactly the same way, done things exactly the same way," he said. "So what applies to someone may or may not apply to someone else."
And it's important to remember, Dua says, that everyone's in the same boat and will often be open to helping you along the way.
The more he's gotten to know people in his industry, the more he's realized they are "very helpful, humble and collaborative" and "no smarter" than him. This has helped him move forward without comparing himself too much to others.
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