Is FOMO impeding your progress?

Photo taken at Bighwan Lake, India by Prateek Kumar Rohatgi

#ConsciousApproach, #progress, #focusonwhatmatters, #MakingBetterDecisions, #Careers

Welcome to this week’s blog where I attempt to instigate your attention to a regressive trend of FOMO coming in the way of progress for many.

FOMO = “Fear of Missing Out” — I have come across this acronym during a Himalayan trek in the fall of 2019. A fellow trekker spoke about FOMO only to realize that I was dumbfounded with its meaning or significance. She explained what it meant and from then on, confirmation bias has been in fifth gear — I have been coming across FOMO everywhere.

I understand FOMO to be the act of engaging in activities that others are indulging in, for fear of missing out of value from that activity.

There seems to be a universal urge among us, humans, not to miss out on anything that others may be partaking of. Perhaps it has to do with our evolutionary susceptibility for herd behaviour and social proof. Perhaps something else.

Just like with many other dimensions of our lives, social media has multiplied the instances of FOMO.

A few recent examples that I have come across:

  • Many people changing jobs to capture value from rapidly rising salaries in the job market. I have personally known people taking up jobs with salary hikes from 40% (most common) to 200% (not entirely uncommon). This reflects FOMO on the part of candidates looking to change jobs and also FOMO on the part of employers not wanting to miss out on talent. I do think it is a smart strategy to get your salary corrected, particularly in buoyant markets but outpricing oneself could result in eventual stagnation or even layoffs
  • Rapid rise in the number of people investing in equities from mid-2020 until early-2022. Stock markets went up secularly across the world creating an environment primed for FOMO. Similarly after markets started creaking and later crashing from the beginning of 2022, many investors seem to have abandoned the markets making good their paper losses — again FOMO
  • Visitors thronging to popular tourist sites like Goa, Maldives, Himalayan weekend treks etc and in the process, these tourist spots get overcrowded and do not end up providing fundamental vacation value — peace of mind and relaxation
  • Perhaps one of my biggest personal brushes with FOMO is something I have started to experience after moving to Hyderabad six months ago. Most people around me talk real estate. Many out here are extraordinarily clued in on real estate developments around the city. Hyderabad is a large city by any standard — with population well over a crore (10 million). Encircled by a 158 km long (~100 mile) outer ring, it has decent infrastructure and large number of job opportunities but a decent house (landed property) costing anywhere between Rs 2.5 Crore and Rs 7 Crore rupees (US$300k-1Million) and a decent ready-to-move-in apartment costing over Rs 1.5 crore (~US$200K) rupees. Are these cases of FOMO that can set one back by an entire life’s net wealth?
  • With FTX collapsing in the last few days, it may seem unreal now but even until 8 months ago, cryptos were all the rage. Everyone and their father-in-law were egged on to invest in Cryptos and many did too
  • Latest devices — mainly mobile phones and fitness watches: Every time, a new version of iPhone or a fancy Android phone hits the market, there is tremendous pressure on general population to acquire the latest model. I can’t imagine that too much additional value is created by the incremental additions to the devices. As far as fitness watches are concerned, 10,000 steps a day seems to have become the de-facto standard everyday fitness and people have to have watches to track their steps

My intent is not to express what may seem like a personal tirade against the latest and the greatest. Also, I recognize that there are factors other than FOMO in play in these examples.

If you look at these examples, the real cost of FOMO seems to be real progress on the ground.

When it comes to investments, experts keep saying that impending retirement crisis is a ticking time bomb and I subscribe to this sentiment — perhaps a crisis already. I understand that many are being forced to work well into their 60s and sometimes into 70s to cater to their daily living needs, particularly in the developed economies. In countries like India, the present generation is taking care of their parents financially but would the future generation take care of their parents — is that even a fair expectation on them? So, there is a clear need to generate wealth to take care of future needs. FOMO on investing in hot trends (whether in equities or in real estate or cryptos or something else) takes capital and time away from making practical investments that have a real chance of generating wealth. FOMO is actually at odds with what really works — disciplined investments into classes dictated by a suitably designed asset allocation strategy.

In the world where work life balance has become a common buzz phrase, I do see a real need for people to be able to take regular meaningful breaks from an otherwise fast paced, highly stimulating life. I think these breaks should result in recharging the mental batteries which I can’t imagine happening in heavy foot fall tourist destinations.

A career punctuated with too many job changes could suffer from not enough capability building and hence limited long term growth. If one is changing jobs to seek better and bigger challenges (and hence growth) or because one’s compensation has fallen too far below market rate, there is a higher chance for long term consolidated growth.

Bottomline

It is my strong belief that adventure, satisfaction and growth are all essentially personal in nature. What is adventure for one, what satisfies someone and how one defines growth — these change from person to person. While the path to all of these seem to be powered by common factors such as discipline, preparation, learning etc, the yardstick to measure what you get out of life is personal. This implies that by design, fear of missing out (FOMO) cannot lead to enduring progress except when the fear in FOMO is driven by what you want out of life as opposed to what others are engaged in. The starting point is to discover/understand what you want out of your life.

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Thanks for taking time to read this article. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that could help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals and desires. I share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile, please do share it with others — of course, only if you do not mind it.

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