Confessions of a FOMO-holic: what lockdown taught me about focus

Posted on: June 23, 2020

I have a guilty secret – I’m in my 50s and I’ve pretty much managed to avoid commitment and accountability all my life – quite an admission for someone who coaches leaders. Single and self-employed, I’ve set up my work and personal life for maximum flexibility – able to say “Yes” at a moment’s notice if offered an exotic assignment in Singapore, Havana or Rwanda and accept intriguing work projects that pique my curiosity rather than having to stick to restrictive regular commitments. I’ve prized my freedom above all else.

This all came to a screaming halt with lockdown.  On top of the draconian restrictions we all endured I realised I needed to move in with my 94 year old mum (who has mild dementia) to care for her – for who knows how long?  I’ll be honest; the prospect of doing this for months on end filled me with dread.

Overnight, my life transformed from near total freedom to revolving around 3 meals a day and medication routines, my horizons only stretching as far as wheelchair walks in the local park dodging the non social-distancing joggers. This was a commitment I could not evade.

With my freedom radically reduced I saw that to stay the course I had to focus my time ruthlessly. My activities went from, well, basically anything that took my fancy, to:

• Taking care of myself (“put your own oxygen mask on first”) – Zoom yoga, time in nature, eating well, phone calls with friends

• Taking care of my mum

• Taking care of my clients

And that was it. Anything else was icing on the cake.

With this new found clarity I found the strength to turn down tantalizing initiatives that colleagues offered me – overcoming my inner FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that I would miss out on an important opportunity. To be honest I felt like an addict weaning myself off crack, such was my compulsion to accept no limits on my choices. 

Yet as I started to focus and commit something magical happened – STUFF GOT DONE. Projects I’d procrastinated on for months saw the light of day: I completed my new website, launched the Purpose Power Presence Women Leaders virtual programme and hired a builder to renovate my home.  

I saw with blinding clarity that my old habit of spreading myself too thin meant I never made satisfying progress on the things that matter most to me – I filled my days with activity rather than purposeful action.

I also learnt that when I hold myself accountable I earn the authority to hold others accountable too – a key part of leadership and coaching, and frankly an Achilles’ heel of mine until now.  Curiosity and freedom are wonderful things, but taken too far they can become an addiction to novelty, exacerbated by our digital “culture of distraction”, and a way of avoiding being fully present in our lives. As lockdown eases I’m determined to hold on to my newfound focus.  

I’m thinking of starting a branch of FOMO-holics Anonymous. Want to join me?