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A FOMO Variant: Fear of Losing What You Have

Five examples and possible solutions.

Key points

  • Fear of missing out can be a positive or negative force.
  • An under-considered variant of FOMO is fear of losing what we already have.
  • A change of behavior or attitude can use FOMO to constructive ends.
 Jesper Sehested Pluslexia/Flickr, CC 2.0
Source: Jesper Sehested Pluslexia/Flickr, CC 2.0

Fear of missing out (FOMO) usually is criticized when we say yes to a new opportunity when it’s not in our best interest. For example, let's say that my friends invite me to join a road trip and, although I'm really busy with more important things, I fear missing out and so I go.

There’s a less-considered variant of FOMO: the fear of losing something we already have. Here are five examples and thoughts on making it a positive.

1. Your job

In recent years, many employers have been converting jobs from full-time permanent to part-time and/or temp. That may be exacerbated by the COVID economic shutdown's remnants. So, understandably, if you’re not an irreplaceable star employee, you may fear losing your job. Might one or more of the following boost your chances of staying employed and even of getting a raise or promotion?

  • Asking your boss for clarification on what s/he’d like done. You may gain additional job security by asking your boss a question like, “I have a bit of extra bandwidth. Is there anything I could do that would make your life easier?”
  • Working on developing a skill that you know that your employer would appreciate.
  • Getting yourself assigned to an important project on which your contribution would be visible.
  • Improving your attitude: Do you criticize unduly? Play gotcha in an attempt to gain power? Do your work less diligently than do most of your coworkers?
  • Accepting the reality that security of employment is based not just on the merits but on other factors such as being liked. To that end, do you need to do a better job of creating positive feelings with your coworkers? For example, do you give them all due credit for work, perhaps praising them in front of your boss or at a staff meeting? Or should you chat with them a bit more, about professional and maybe even personal life? Conversely, do you have an enemy, perhaps a rival for a plum promotion or project, who you need to neutralize? As Machiavelli said, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”

2. Your romantic partner

You fear losing your partner, whether it's to someone else or just because s/he's tired of you. Some people, ironically, increase the chances of their partner leaving by being clingy. Might any of the following be more likely to help you keep your partner?

  • Making fewer demands.
  • Listening better.
  • Doing more of the things together that both of you enjoy, fewer of the things that you don’t. For example, one of my clients has tried mightily for a decade to improve his marriage’s sex life to no avail. Now 38, he’s decided to accept his marginal sex life as immutable and to spend more time with his wife doing what they enjoy: parenting, chatting, going out to dinner, and playing golf.

3. Hoarding

Sometimes, hoarding can be borne, in part, from fear of losing material possessions. Even if you're not a hoarder but merely like to have lots of stuff, might it help to remind yourself that much of it may not be as important as you have thought? Like all those coffee-table books and old National Geographics, or even those dishes that your grandparent bequeathed to you. And, of course, if you really need some item later, you can usually replace it, often with something you’ll like even better.

4. Food

Some people eat very quickly. That can be just an example of their tendency to do everything quickly. But eating fast could also be borne, at least in part, of the prehistoric tendency, today manifest in most dogs, to wolf down food as quickly as possible so as to avoid some other animal snatching it. Are you losing out on much of eating’s pleasure by eating too quickly?

5. Your life

As people get older, they see some of their physical or mental abilities declining. Some people get overly dispirited or worried about that, thereby, ironically, tainting the time they have left. Easier said than done, but might you find it worth the effort to focus on the positive: what you still can do, perhaps using the fear of life slipping away to motivate you to make the most of each hour, maybe even each minute?

The takeaway

Fear of missing out can be a positive force: motivating us to grab as much of life’s good as possible. But it can also lead to poor judgment. That may be especially true in this variant of FOMO: fear of losing what you already have. Does reviewing the examples in this post remind you of anything that you want to do differently?

I read this aloud on YouTube.