Are You Suffering from FOMO? Five Steps to Restore Margin in Your Life

I was feeling stressed and overloaded last week. I had too many important things to do and the lack of margin (time & space) in my life was causing tension and anxiety.

There was the training class I was observing and co-facilitating, the important meetings with colleagues to figure out solutions to significant organizational change issues, last-minute details to iron out for my global team meeting of 50 staff members next week, the online college class I’m in the middle of teaching, the pending deadline for a magazine article, an upcoming client training event to prepare for, and as President of my local youth baseball league, getting a season’s worth of games scheduled and helping my 19 year-old son get the snack bar operation up and running.

It’s all good stuff that I enjoy doing and feel blessed to have the opportunity to participate in, and I have no right to complain since I made the choice to accept these various responsibilities. Many of these obligations are temporary, and once taken care of, I’ll have a healthy amount of margin restored to my life. Yet for many people, living life with no margin is a daily reality. Consider these statistics:

  • 26% of adult Americans report being on the verge of a serious nervous breakdown
  • 53% of employees would opt for a personal assistant rather than personal trainer
  • Compared to 1970, American managers are working an additional month per year
  • Americans are working more hours than any time since the 1920s. 63% of Americans log more than 40 hours per week at the office, and 40% log more than 50 hours per week
  • 62% of workers routinely end the day with work-related neck pain, 44% report strained eyes, 38% complain of hand pain, and 34% report difficulty in sleeping due to work-related stress
  • 66% of people read email seven days a week and expect to receive a response the same day
  • 61% continue to check email while on vacation
  • 26% of Americans take no vacations at all
  • 88% of employees say they have a hard time juggling work and life
  • 70% of working fathers and working mothers report they don’t have enough time for their children

The sad thing is that many of us bring this problem on ourselves. The reason we have no margin in life is that we suffer from FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out. Whether it’s our own competitive ambitions, workaholic nature, or the fear of economic uncertainty that drives us, we often feel the need to accept every opportunity that comes our way.

One of the biggest causes of FOMO is social media and our hyper-connected world of technology. I’m an advocate of the power of social media and the use of technology to improve our lives, yet it also has the ability to become a digital leash to work and rob us of margin. Daniel Gulati’s HBR blog article, Facebook Is Making Us Miserable, discusses how social media can create a culture of comparison which is a key driver of unhappiness. We see the posts  of our friends and colleagues (which are almost always positive in nature) and feel that if we aren’t experiencing the same level of success or happiness then something must be wrong with us. So FOMO drives us to keep up with the Jones’ and we cram more stuff into our already hectic lives.

Succumbing to the dangers of FOMO reminds me of the airplane scene from the movie Jerry Maguire. Single-mother Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) is in coach-seating, sadly gazing at Jerry (Tom Cruise) in first-class who is engaged in spirited conversation with a beautiful woman colleague who seems to have everything in life that Dorothy doesn’t. Dorothy’s toddler son asks “What’s wrong, Mommy?” She replies “First class, that’s what’s wrong. It used to be a better meal, now it’s a better life.”

So what can we do to help restore margin in our lives? Here’s five steps:

1. Be clear on your purpose and priorities — If you don’t have a clear purpose and priorities that guide your decisions, then other people will determine your course for you. Our current position and condition in life is the result of a series of small decisions we’ve made over the course of time. Sometimes there are big, life-changing experiences that cause stress and anxiety, but usually our feelings of being overloaded result from the accumulation of little commitments and obligations we’ve taken on without thoughtfully examining if they fit into our overall purpose and goals in life.

2. Say “no” — This is extremely difficult for many people! Most of us want to be helpful and serve others, yet every time we say “yes” to something, we are in effect saying “no” to other potential opportunities. Sometimes we say “yes” out of ego or pride. We think we can do the best job so we take on the responsibility. Saying “no” to opportunities that don’t fit your overall purpose and goal can give other people an opportunity to step up to the plate and experience growth and success.

3. Learn to be content with your limitations — We all like to think we can do anything we set our mind to, and it’s almost counter-cultural to suggest otherwise. The reality is that we can’t do it all. Those who are happiest in life are those that have learned to accept their strengths and weaknesses for what they are, and to focus their time and energy in areas where they perform best. There’s a tremendous amount of relief that comes from being able to say “You know, I’m not the best at doing that. Why don’t you give someone else the opportunity?”

4. Plan for problems — One of the reasons we are over-stressed is that we don’t plan for problems. So when problems inevitably arise, we don’t have any margin to deal with them. We’re always under the stress of deadlines, limited budget, and few resources. When accepting responsibilities, we should plan for contingencies. What if it takes longer than expected? What if I don’t have all the right resources? What if the budget dries up? What if the client changes her mind?

5. Take your vacation days — This may sound mundane, but it’s a practical strategy to prevent burnout. If you’re fortunate enough to have paid vacation days, take them! Vacation days are part of your paid compensation, and neglecting to use them is giving away money that you’ve earned. You don’t have to wait for that dream vacation to the Italian Riviera to manifest itself before you take time off work. Make the effort to intentionally plan time away, and when you do go on vacation, leave the smart phone and laptop at home.

Relationships are developed in the margins of life, and leadership is about developing people. If you don’t have margin, you probably don’t have time to be a leader.

12 Comments on “Are You Suffering from FOMO? Five Steps to Restore Margin in Your Life

  1. This was an awesome post! I really like the fact that you backed up your position with statistics. I agree that Facebook is making us miserable. There are people that experience depression because it looks like others are having a better life. Great advice as well (I am still trying to encourage my spouse to say no). May I repost this?

  2. Randy,

    This is a great post. I suffered from FOMO for years. I wanted to (and tried to be) in two or three places at a time. Even when I was away from work at one of the kids sporting events or concerts I had Blackberry in hand answering e-mails (always multitasking). I’ve learned to slow it down a bit over the past couple of years.

    In addition to the great advice above, I would add one additional tip. While it may sound crazy since we’re already all too busy, find something you enjoy outside of work and family and spend a few hours a week on your own. For me, it’s a few hours at the gym. I leave my phone behind and when I walk through the doors I forget about everything else for a little while. Amazingly enough, when I’m done and head back outside I find that the earth has continued to spin without me. It’s not easy but it’s important to find a little balance in life.

    • Great advice Frank. Finding “me” time is something I need to develop. I don’t mean that selfishly, but more in the sense of what you mentioned. A hobby, activity, etc., that provides some healthy time not driven by an agenda.

      As always, thanks for your insightful comments.


  3. Insightful post, Randy. We all, I believe, have felt overwhelmed by all the activities happening at once. Your 5 steps are essential to re-capture a sense of purpose and, ultimately, leadership in work and family. All in all, it is about being comfortable with yourself, how you use your time, and what you are doing that is truly meaningful in life. We cannot get FOMO or envy; we should get focused on what matters most to live purposefully.

    Appreciate your insights. Wonderful post.


    • Thanks for your comments Jon. True contentment does come with being comfortable in your own skin and knowing that you’re living on purpose.

      Take care,


  4. Randy,
    This is a fantastic post! I absolutely resonate with every word. Often, I find myself saying, “I’m so busy…but it’s all good things!” as if to justify the lack of margin in my life and pep-talk myself about being more grateful for the many blessings. Yet, at the end of the day I’m ultimately responsible for my choices, and agree that maxed-out people simply cannot lead people effectively. They (I) can try, but it’s really through the calm, contented (sometimes considered “not super productive”) moments in life that meaningful conversations can occur, authenticity and trust can develop, relationships can flourish, and leadership can be made possible. I also agree wholeheartedly that we must have purpose in our lives, otherwise the opinions of others will dictate our every action and we will never be ourselves. I am constantly learning this. We will never be able to please everyone all the time. All we can do is stay true to ourselves, our purpose, and what we know is real…margin included.
    Thank you for your insightful words!

    • Thanks for your insightful comments Michelle. I appreciate your thought about how we say “it’s all good stuff” as a way to justify our crazy schedules. I find myself doing the same thing and will think differently about that from now on. Sometimes less really is more.

      Take care,


  5. Great Blog – I will definitely pass on to others who I know suffer from FOMO, as I do myself 🙂

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