FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out

Last year, one of my best friends at McCombs (McCombs Full-Time MBA Profile) introduced me to the concept of FOMO. In common parlance, it is used as a noun. For example, one might say: "I am having major FOMO about going out of town this weekend." FOMO stands for Fear of Missing Out. Once I learned the concept, I realized I was a lifelong sufferer of FOMO. Like many MBA-types, I sign up for more things than I can possibly attend and wish I could be everywhere (except maybe at an advanced accounting course) because I'm always worried I'll miss out on something.

While FOMO has been a constant companion of mine, it has never been as powerful as it is right now. Most of my MBA colleagues agree that the first semester of the second year of business school is by far the busiest and most stressful. A lot of this stems from the fact that we now hold ourselves to a higher standard. As second years, we have leadership obligations to the program. First-year students are counting on us to plan competitions, social events, and treks to continue the legacies of our student organizations and to provide advice and mentoring, just as last year's second years did for us.

We have completed our required courses, and we are now in the classes we were most excited about when we first considered applying to business school. During the first-year core semester, you don't feel nearly as guilty about doing the bare minimum for a class that you're not passionate about. Now, all of our classes are important, because this is the stuff I came to business school to learn. As a result, it's much harder to skip the optional reading materials or to breeze through a case. I always feel guilt and regret when I leave a class knowing I didn't get as much from it as I would have if I had been better prepared.

Onset of Nostalgia

From a social perspective, everything has become a tradition, even though we've only done it once before. Each event becomes the last. For instance, I just went to my last International Night, attended my last Halloween party, and helped set up my last football tailgate. Nostalgia set in at the start of November. When this desire to "Carpe Diem" of every aspect of business school is coupled with the fact I have only a few months left to find a job, the result is major FOMO.

In a bad economy, I have been forced to be more open-minded and look beyond what is readily available in my program. As a result, I've discovered some opportunities I didn't know existed and have explored positions I might have written off in a boom year. In addition, I have conducted a lot more informational interviews than I would have in a good economy, which has greatly expanded my network and long-term view about my career.

Though I am less certain about the exact position I am after or the specific name of the company I hope to work for, I now have a more focused idea of my unique strengths and how I can use them to make an impact. The net effect of all the interviews and conversations with fellow students, alumni, and faculty is that I have a clearer vision of the type of work I want to be doing and the kind of company I want to be a part of.

Job Anxieties

This is not to say the recession hasn't caused numerous freak-outs. It is alarming to hear the statistics coming from the Career Services office and to see so few full-time positions posted in our on-campus recruiting portal. I certainly have had my share of doubtful moments. My family and friends, both at school and outside the MBA bubble, all deserve gold stars for the support they have provided. No one likes uncertainty, and for most MBA students, it feels like the big gamble we took in coming back to school is not likely to pay off in the short term.

There is a silver lining to the bad economy, however, that I find particularly relevant for MBAs, especially in the long term. Throughout our careers, we will need to be creative and to figure out what is needed and how to meet that need. Ironically, this is a similar process to what we experience when companies that used to hire five MBAs a year decide to hire one … maybe (they won't know for sure until they see next quarter's numbers).

Another silver lining is the bonding element. There's something about getting on a plane at 6 a.m. with a few of your peers to fly to a city you didn't think you ever wanted to live in to interview for a company whose business model you have only just begun to understand that brings people together. Especially when, on the flight home, you can talk frankly about the trade-offs you're willing to make and what really matters to you with people who are in the same boat.

In fact, missing out on this bonding opportunity is the main complaint I hear from all of the lucky MBAs who have already accepted full-time offers. "It's sort of bittersweet," said a friend who accepted a full-time position in September. "On the one hand, I have nothing to worry about, but on the other hand, all of you are going through it together, and I'm not a part of it. Plus, as the economy gets better, some of the companies that were on the sidelines are starting to come out of the woodwork, and I'm a little envious that you get to explore those opportunities." Sounds like major FOMO to me.

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