The #FOMO Epidemic

You wake up in the morning and the feeling is electric. Last night’s dream promising everything you ever wanted is still imprinted vividly in your mind. You leap out of bed, ready to tackle the world.

You wake up in the morning and the feeling is electric. Last night’s dream promising everything you ever wanted is still imprinted vividly in your mind. You leap out of bed, ready to tackle the world.

Feeling fleet-footed, you throw on your sneakers and head off for an early morning run. You smile and wave at your neighbours as they frantically pull out of their driveways in lieu of the early shift.

Each step feels lighter than the next. Miraculously, you’re running faster than ever! You arrive back home and give yourself a pat on the back. Congratulations — you just ran a new personal best!

You hop in the shower to get refreshed. The steaming hot water soothes your skin as the intoxicating smell of lavender fills your lungs. You hop out, get dressed and hop right into the kitchen. A full English breakfast with all the trimmings sits right there on the breakfast bar prepared by none other than your significant other. The bacon has the perfect amount of crunch and the eggs are just that little bit runny. It’s just the way you like it.

You arrive at work and your colleagues greet you with smiles that only best friends are supposed to give. You join them in the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee and share all the great things that happened over the weekend. Everyone laughs at your jokes and envies your stories. You’re radiating positivity and your colleagues are lapping it up.

You make your way over to your desk and switch on your computer. It takes a little while to load so you figure that it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick look at Facebook on your mobile phone. It could also be an opportunity to tell everyone about how great mornings are and that you created a new personal best!

A flick through the first few status updates causes your smile to vanish and heart to sink.

One of your best friends just climbed Mount Everest, an ex-colleague just launched their new company and someone from your high school who you never talked to just posted a photo of themselves drinking cocktails on the beaches of the Maldives.

Sure, you feel happy for all of them and give them a “like”. After all, they are your “friends”. But you can’t help resist feeling a little…jealous, inadequate and lacking in your own achievements.

You throw your mobile phone in the drawer and get to work. Maybe if you work a little harder then you too will be climbing Mount Everest, launching your own company and sipping on cocktails on the beaches of the Maldives. Imagine how great it’d feel to do all of those things and then post them on Facebook for everyone to see.

But is that really what you want?

Since when did smashing personal bests, devouring delicious breakfasts and cheery banter become not enough?

It looks like FOMO has set in.


FOMO, the abbreviation of the “fear of missing out”, has become so rampant in recent times that it was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2013. Here is their definition.

“Anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

While it’s great that social media enables us to keep in touch with our loved ones no matter where we are in the world, it can often leave us comparing our lives to those of others. This has had widespread effects as recent studies have shown that people who suffer from FOMO are likely to be less competent, less autonomous and less connected with others.

The idea behind FOMO isn’t a new thing though. Many a man and woman has yearned for the grass that is supposedly greener on the other side, only to find that they had everything they ever wanted all along.


The last company that I worked at was packed with movers and shakers from all around the world. Whenever a colleague left we’d always speculate as to what they would do next and where. Some stayed in Southeast Asia to launch their own businesses. Others returned to Europe or the US to join emerging digital behemoths such as Uber.

Every week LinkedIn would send me a new email update congratulating one of my ex-colleagues on their awesome new job in some awesome new part of the world. I was happy for them but watched on in discontent. I was still in Kuala Lumpur working on many of the same things as when they had left.

Seeing my ex-colleagues progress in their careers motivated me to work harder. “If they can do it, why can’t I?” I’d tell myself. I wanted to catch up. I dreamt of starting the “next big thing” as I too felt that I needed to start a company to build an entrepreneurial legacy.

I chatted with friends who had the same idea. I don’t remember how many business ideas were thrown around and planned out but none of them eventuated. It was never about solving problems in society or even achieving financial freedom. I think that the real reason why we wanted to start a company was FOMO. It was a case of keeping up with everyone else. It was the rat race disguised in entrepreneurship.


When my time came to leave the company, I removed myself from everyday society. I needed to think about who I was and what I actually wanted to do next. It took a few months to shed the layers upon layers of bullshit that I had been fed consciously and unconsciously over the years but my true colours slowly started surface.

The funny thing that I discovered was that I had no desire to replicate my ex-colleague’s successes. Even though they were doing cool things in the world, that didn’t necessarily mean that I wanted to follow in their footsteps.

I realised that I didn’t want to be them. I just wanted to be me to the best of my ability.


There’s over 7 billion people living on Earth and each of us is treading along our unique path. Some will be entrepreneurs, others will be artists and teachers. Some will be celebrities, others will be perfectly fine living in anonymity.

Although the media portrays success as being rich, beautiful and famous, while social media tells us it’s all about travelling the world, there’s no right answer. Like beauty, success lies in the eye of the beholder.

Chasing after what other people perceive as success is dangerous. Why? Because what they want may not align with your vision and values. Even if you achieve it, will you be happy with something that doesn’t resonate with you to your core?

One suggestion to overcome FOMO is to avoid social media as a whole. This could work but there are a few things to consider: 1) Not everyone on social media is affected by FOMO, 2) status updates can give you new ideas and motivation, and 3) cutting off social media deprives you of benefits like organising events or landing new jobs.

Social media isn’t the problem. It’s just a platform that amplifies deeper societal problems such as our lack of self awareness and feelings of inadequacy.

A much more effective way to overcome FOMO is having an idea of what success means to you. Forget about the fame and the riches. Forget about the friends climbing Mount Everest and sipping on cocktails in the Maldives. What makes you feel fulfilled? What makes you feel alive?

Interestingly, what seems to make us happy, makes other people happy too.

[Photo credit: Joshua Earle]

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