Monday, 4 April 2016

PhD and FOMO

Story time: a few weeks ago, one of my best friends from university came to visit. It was the first time she's visited since I started the PhD, and we had a fantastic time. There was only one thing that made the weekend less than perfect. From time to time I would get a pang of jealousy. Not a malicious one. But the sort of pang where you think, 'god I wish my life was more like that.' And I felt awful about it.

Let me tell you about said friend. She's talented. She works hard. She lives in a city she loves and owns her own home. After a few years of hard work and low pay, she's now established in an industry she loves. And, knowing what she's like, I know that she must be amazing at what she does.

And yet. Knowing all this - how talented she is, how hard working - didn't stop me comparing our lives. Unfavorably, of course. And even though I love doing my PhD, I recognise that it's the root of a lot of my comparisons.

Even though I enjoyed that weekend, I've been thinking about this Fear of Missing Out ever since. I don't know how other people cope with FOMO, but I'm trying to focus on gaining perspective. Here's how.


Most people focus on the positive.
When we meet up with people, want to be positive. We all do this: we talk about a successful conference paper we gave, not the rude question that followed it. We'll mention our new job, and focus less on our tiring commute. We'll talk about our new home, not about the cost of replacing the kitchen.

This makes sense. Most people want to spend time talking about what makes them happy and fulfilled. Most people don't want to come across as ungrateful for their successes. When you meet up with people, they're offering to share the best of what's going on with you. And that's something to be celebrated.

Success and fulfillment aren't limited commodities.
This is so obvious I feel silly typing it. But, success and happiness aren't limited commodities. Someone's career success doesn't mean everyone else is going to languish. Someone's new puppy doesn't mean there are fewer dogs out there to adopt.

This truth - while obvious - is important. Acknowledging it frees you up to be genuinely happy for the people you care about, instead of quietly resentful.

Be realistic
I find I often  like the idea of what other people have: important jobs, fancy houses. But if I'm honest? I'm less keen on the practicalities of these ideas. While I wish I could do lots of international travel, I'm quite happy not having to pack my bags every week or two. While I'd love to be able to decorate my home, I'm grateful that when my washing machine broke, I could just call my landlord.

Every success has some sacrifice involved in it. And my friend doesn't live with the idea, she lives with the sacrifices too.

Remember that this isn't a race.
I feel ancient by PhD standards. I've just started my second year and I'm 26. I won't finish until I'm at least 30. It's likely to take several years after that to land a permanent job. Whatever age you are, your friends outside of academia may well be reaching milestones that you aren't.

But this isn't a race. The age of 26 is not the finish line. Not is the age of 30. Or 40. Or 50.  There is plenty of time to buy a car, or a house, or have children, or run that marathon.


Do you get this feeling sometimes? How do you cope with a fear of missing out on the rest of life?