FOPO

My brother texted me the other day about an acronym that I hadn’t heard of before: FOPO or Fear of Other Peoples’ Opinions.*

According to Dr. Michael Gervais — a high-performance psychologist who has trained the likes of Olympians, athletes of other sports, and musicians — not only is FOPO a real thing, but it “has become an irrational and unproductive obsession in the modern world, and its negative effects reach far beyond performance.”

In his Harvard Business Review article on the topic, Dr. Gervais cautions that “if you start paying less and less attention to what makes you you — your talents, beliefs, and values — and start conforming to what others may or may not think, you’ll harm your potential. You’ll start playing it safe because you’re afraid of what will happen on the other side of the critique. You’ll fear being ridiculed or rejected. When challenged, you’ll surrender your viewpoint. You won’t raise your hand when you can’t control the outcome. You won’t go for that promotion because you won’t think you’re qualified.”

Yikes (to say the least).

As someone who experiences this often, this hits, and I’m glad there’s an acronym for it. Though I like to think I am more resilient against FOPO than I was, say, a few years ago, I can still point to a handful of moments each week where the fear of other peoples’ opinions clearly gets the better of me in the ways that Dr. Gervais describes.

If you can relate to this experience, know that I’m walking the walk with you.

So how can we keep prevent our fear of other peoples’ opinions from overshadowing our beliefs, values, and capacity to grow?

According to Dr. Gervais, having a personal philosophy — a phrase or sentence that can serve as a compass to guide your actions, thoughts, and decisions — is a good start.

Here’s my tentative philosophy statement: “to discover your potential in life, walk with conviction, play and vulnerability — not fear.”

“Discovering potential” means discovering the height of one’s capabilities.

I say “in life” to emphasize that you only get one. This isn’t a dress rehearsal — it’s your one at-bat.

“Conviction, play, and vulnerability — not fear” is the way.

Conviction is about trusting in my beliefs first and foremost — even when it’s not popular opinion, or it means questioning the rules.

Play is about having a joyful and curious mindset — an asset for learning and creativity, according to research done by Dr. Stuart Brown & colleagues.

Vulnerability because it’s a fact that I’ll be wrong sometimes, and that’s okay. It’s how we learn.

This is the lens through which I will endeavor to determine what I do, how I think, and how I decide instead of leaning into my fears which is the safe route often taken when my FOPO is at its worst.

That’s it — this is my way of taking one step forward today.

I hope you find value in this exercise, and I wish you nothing but joy, discovery, and thriving along your journey.

*I previously only knew of FOMO — the Fear Of Missing Out. Or, as I like to call it: JOMO — the Joy Of Missing Out.

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William Liao

William Liao

Taiwanese American, daily blogger of ideas about impactful work in service of others, photographer (ephemera.photography)