The Damage of FOMO to Your Success
May 9, 2022

The Damage of FOMO to Your Success

by Brian de Haaff

You probably know the top 10. Spiders, snakes, heights, needles, and public speaking all make the list of the most common fears that people have. I feel fortunate that none apply to me. Although heights are not my favorite, I do not crumble when I encounter a precipitous edge. However there is a phobia that I frequently see from folks in all types of leadership roles — from early-stage startup founders to established senior managers.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is very real for many leaders. They think they should be involved in everything always, or else they will miss out on some opportunity.

It actually is one of the biggest problems that startup leaders face. FOMO is not something that you consciously choose. It is a visceral response to your environment. Like any phobia, this one is usually borne out of past experiences, panic about the unknown, and even as a learned response from others.

You may have seen company leaders act this way and follow suit as you assume more responsibilities over time. Or maybe the fact that a lot is out of your control is triggering. So you are hypersensitive to what might happen if you are not involved in a project or attend a trade show or meet with a VC — so you aim to always be there.

If you are in a leadership role you might even see FOMO as an advantage. After all, folks on the team need your perspective, guidance, and feedback. If you are deeply enmeshed in every detail of the work from the start then you can do an even better job as a coach. But there is a serious problem with this kind of thinking. You will be pulled in every direction. And when you are involved in so many things you will find that you cannot do any one thing well.

There is an alternate approach that is the exact opposite of FOMO. I call it FOBI — the “fear of being involved.”

FOBI is an always-on condition and just as visceral as FOMO. Both are rooted in a fear of failure. The nuance is in how you respond to that fear. FOBI is about being concerned that you will not be able to focus on what is most important — if you are scattering yourself across everything, your concern is that you are giving time to things that do not need (or deserve) your attention.

Most people naturally gravitate towards FOMO. But I believe that FOBI generally has a healthier outcome for the individual and the organization. Even if you are a longtime FOMO-er, it is possible to shift your thinking and make FOBI your default response. You just need faith and to hold that the following is true. 

It is just as important that I assiduously avoid what I deem to be noncritical or distracting as it is for me to embrace what I believe can bring success.

FOBI requires exceptional critical thinking skills. And there have been times when I do not get it exactly right. Rather than panic, those moments inspire me to keep my focus on the overall strategic direction for the company — setting tangible goals that people can understand and reference daily. With clear goals and a talented team of people who are energized by the company’s mission, you can unleash folks to achieve together.

Sustainable and healthy organizations thrive on clarity of purpose. Remember that the behaviors leaders model become the operating philosophy that powers the company. It is your great responsibility to chart a sound path that others can follow toward collective success. Change your mindset to change that trajectory.

Read more of the Founder’s Paradox.

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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