Starting your career is no easy task. We all know that college degrees no longer guarantee jobs and that the days of linear career paths and lifetime relationships with employers are just misty-colored memories (almost as dated as that reference I just made). But before you can worry about getting hired, you have to know what you want to get hired to do. Answering that question is becoming more difficult for many millennials, and even some Gen Xers. If your career is in a holding pattern because you can’t find your “perfect job,” you might be suffering from Career FOMO.
(Photo Credit: xJason.Rogersx/Flickr)
What Is Career FOMO?
FOMO, or “Fear of Missing Out,” is defined by Urban Dictionary (the obvious subject matter expert) as “The fear that if you miss a party or event you will miss out on something great.” The condition generally occurs after seeing too many perfectly filtered Instagram pictures or Facebook status updates that makes it seem like everybody you know is constantly doing something amazing while you lie on the couch refreshing your feed.
Career FOMO is a professional offshoot of the same condition. Overwhelmed by the latest promotion announcements on LinkedIn, the artsy shots of glamorous agency offices on Instagram or your college roommate’s #humblebrag tweets about long days at the top-tier law firm she’s clerking at, it’s hard to imagine that the entry-level jobs you’re considering will ever compare. So instead, you get stuck and spend too many cycles trying to pinpoint the exact job that will bring the income, fulfillment, and social accolades that everybody else seems to have.
Appearances Can Be Deceiving
Just like many things in social media, those perfect jobs are rarely what they seem. Nobody is going to put their boss on Twitter blast or share a status update about all the TPS reports they filed that day. (Or, if they do, please don’t follow their example.)
The truth is, no job is perfect. Every job has plusses and minuses, and often, early on in your career, there will be more daily minuses. So the hunt for that perfect job is doomed from day one. It’s time to shift your focus.
Second Star to the Right, and Straight on Till Morning
So what do we know so far? There is no perfect job, your mind is being warped by social media, and the more time you spend analyzing your prospects, the harder it will be to get hired in the first place. This does not mean that life is hopeless. In fact, it’s a good thing – your career will likely be a pretty exciting adventure over the next several decades. But if you can identify exactly what motivates you, you can fashion a trajectory for your career to follow. It’s the same technique that led sailors to discover new continents and got Peter Pan and company to Neverland – identify a North Star for your career goals and let that guide you through the jobs and tasks that shape your professional life.
When Wendy, John, and Michael jumped out of a window to follow Peter Pan, they didn’t have Google Maps to tell them the fastest and most efficient route to Neverland. They just had a kid in green tights telling them to follow a star, and it mostly worked out in the end. That’s the same way you forge a career path. Figure out one thing that really drives you and find a way to make that part of your job. The route won’t be certain, and you’ll definitely make more than one deviation, but even when things aren’t perfect, following that North Star will keep you headed in the right direction.
If this is too abstract, let me give a personal example. I graduated in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature and a sudden realization that I had no desire to go into academia or education. I did, however, know that I was a very strong writer and that I wanted to use that skill to communicate with people and influence their thinking. But nobody was going to hire me to be the editor-in-chief of their magazine or make me Content Director at a slick ad agency when I had no experience and the economy was less than ideal, so I leaned back on some basic HTML skills and found work writing content for websites. Remember, this was 2002, so that wasn’t even a real job title yet, and I had to hobble together work as a freelancer. As a result, I wrote for DUI lawyers, urologists, plastic surgeons, data security firms, and trucking companies.
It was a far cry from what I imagined I’d be doing when I wrote my senior thesis on post-colonial Latin American epic poetry, but I was getting paid to write! And learning new, valuable skills. And finding out what kind of work I liked, and what kind of work I really didn’t like. I met fascinating people who helped guide me to the next job, and the next. And eventually I was one of those people posting annoying Facebook updates about how cool my job was.
Find Your North Star
My North Star was writing, and as long as I stayed focused on that, I kept heading in the right direction. It kept me from focusing on the bad parts of job, and growing in my career. When frustrations arise, I do a quick gut-check to make sure I’m headed in the right direction, and then look at each obstacle as an opportunity. Accepting that perfect jobs don’t exist frees you from the pressure of achieving the impossible and lets you focus on following what drives you.
What were the last few projects you worked on that were really rewarding? What do they have in common? Can you find that kind of reward in the job you are hemming and hawing about applying for?
If the answer is yes, then it’s time to stop pondering and start following that star.
Tell Us What You Think
Do you have career FOMO? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.