The rise of mental health issues due to FOMO

July 6, 2022


The covid-19 pandemic had a dramatic impact on the technology industry - one that nobody anticipated. Demand surged, as enterprises realized tech is core to sustainability. IT service companies, MNC tech centers in India, and tech startups now need people in the thousands.

At the same time, we also saw a trend of Indian Influencers/Content Creators that created videos/vlogs talking about how they or their interviewees got placed at Microsoft/Google/Amazon (all the big names), and are making 40-50 lpas.

Additionally, you have edtech platforms that sell you the dream that “do our course, our alumni are now making 30 LPA at company X”.

Along with this, we also saw a surge in people's incomes, lifestyles, and careers. To the point where it has started messing with our mental health.

We are talking about that guilty pit in our stomachs when we scroll through our LinkedIn feed and see others who are apparently “doing more” when it comes to their success and career path and “doing it better” than us.

And while there are various topics to talk about this growing trend, I really think we need to pause and think seriously about the rise of mental problems. Specifically in education/profession, due to FOMO (Fear of Mission Out).

This post is meant to illustrate the polarity, and help understand the ground reality in tech.

The Tech Trend on Social Media🌐

I’m sure you must have come across a video on Youtube titled “He earns +40 lpas as a software engineer”, or “He got placed in Microsoft with a 50 lakh package”, or something similar.

You have Youtube channels dedicated to how to get into FAANG, or how the channel creator worked in FAANG, and now the channel revolves around this one fact.

Additionally, we can even observe this trend on Instagram: posts/reels telling people how to get into tech with a X lakhs salary.

The Edtech Trend 📚

How can I not talk about the edtech ecosystem at present? I wrote an entire post on No, you don't need to pay lakhs for a Bootcamp.

In this essay, I wanted to highlight how edtech companies, too, use FOMO to get students enrolled in their programs.

Unfortunately, we think that the only way to get into tech/move up is to enroll in these bootcamps. Don’t get me wrong - company switching, upskilling, and networking are important moves. But, the idea that we should enroll in Bootcamp X because they guarantee us a X lakh job is, frankly, disappointing. We have essentially reduced the entire Bootcamp to a mere transaction:

Pay us 2 lakhs -> We give you X lakh job.

Moreover, when you visit their websites, they will highlight the fact that their alumni is now working at a FAANG company with a hefty salary. And, sure, this particular person might be earning that amount.

My question is: how many students from this Bootcamp actually make that amount? Or, how many students actually get placed? I want to see the stats. If I teach 10,000 students, and 1 of them somehow now works at Google, even I can claim that our alumni work at Google.

This is not yet another Edtech rant. My point is that students get a distorted idea about salaries and expectations due to marketing. They come to believe that making 10-15 LPA is a must, and can be done solely by enrolling in such bootcamps.

Or, worse, if their friend/colleague has enrolled in such bootcamps, that means they aren’t doing enough.

Peers moving abroad ✈️

This is a pretty common theme across our India - tech, non-tech; and has been going on for decades. What’s changed is the number and the quality of students.

Years ago, it was still uncommon for a student to move abroad. This was only reserved for the really rich, or really smart candidates.

Now, you see students with mediocre academic backgrounds move out too. Especially, after the lockdown, the numbers have gone up.

Look. I’m not trying to say anything bad about students moving abroad. No. The point of this essay is to highlight the effect this trend has on the mental health of students who are still in India. The insecurities/doubts/fear/FOMO that arises when you see your friends (probably most of them) move abroad.

LinkedIn Mania 🤪

LinkedIn is a good place to make connections and keep up with what's going on in your field. But like every other social media platform, it has also been taken over by influencers who have no problem posting some truly crazy content.

LinkedIn’s toxic positivity and hustle culture create unrealistic work expectations

No doubt LinkedIn is a great space to connect with like-minded professionals in the industry and top performers who might offer mentorship, advice and contacts that aid your climb up the career ladder.

But human instincts and mob dynamics are hard to scrub out. Similar to other platforms, LinkedIn encourages social comparisons and one-upmanship – they’re just dressed up as positive posts of career victories and “authentic” confessions of personal struggles.

LinkedIn’s feed pretty much gives users this license to broadcast and humble brag. It’s not so different from Instagram, which encourages you to show off your stay a fancy hotel, or your visit abroad.

LinkedIn similarly prods people to promote and even exaggerate their professional highlights to suggest so and so is a rockstar in their field. That includes acquiring a new certificate, getting promoted, joining a really cool company or some amazing news that makes others envious.

How does this affect us?

Thanks to social media, where everyone is posting the successful part of their story, you may think that all your high school colleagues, friends, or family members are doing better than you.

They’re celebrating promotions, enjoying a nice vacation, or bragging about new company milestones. Of course, you may end up believing that you’re the only one falling behind while everyone is living their best life.

Career FOMO will have a negative impact on job satisfaction, as you may end up feeling overlooked for the next promotion. So why should you work hard if they’re not rewarding your efforts? On the other hand, you could work too hard in a job environment with no real career advancement opportunities.

Career FOMO isn’t only affecting your job performance, as it will take a toll on your personal life as well. Constantly scrolling LinkedIn for the next career opportunity, investing too much time and money in seminars, or constantly being stressed out about your job will quickly have an impact on your mental health.

I have spoken to peers who make decent salaries, and have stable jobs. But, deep down they feel insecure - not because of their actual conditions - but because they now live inside this social media bubble, that makes them think that they haven’t achieved enough.

What can we do about it

Understand: It's the influencers, not the network themselves 👓

When it comes to social media, we need to understand the role influencers play. In social media, networks tend to be centralized: a small number of people, or perhaps just one person, at the “center” of the network, is connected to lots of other people in the “periphery.” The multitudes in the periphery of the social network have only a modest number of connections, while the few—the so-called “influencers”—at the center of the network are connected to nearly everyone. This puts these people into the powerful position of being able to exert a disproportionate level of “influence” over the group.

By contrast, the networks themselves (usually) tend to be “egalitarian” —the opposite of centralized. In an egalitarian network, everyone has an equal number of contacts, and therefore influence, throughout the network.

What does this mean? Well, consider a subreddit for developers with a strength of 100 members. Let’s assume that 60% of members earn 5 LPA, the next 30% earn 10 LPA, and the top 10% earn 20 LPA.

Now, most of us here are viewers - we read posts, not write them. So, the posters will have more influence, and they will direct the voice of the subreddit.

Let’s say that the mod and all the posts are created by the top 10% of the sub. What will that lead to? The majority audience will feel like they don’t earn enough, or that “all the others” are making more money than them.

Understand: You are already doing well 👍

The fact that you are reading this post on the internet means that you have proficiency in language and that you are internet-literate.

And, regardless of which strata you think you belong to, you probably belong to the top 10% of the Indian Population.

(If your family assets are worth 17 lakhs, you are in the top 10%. Source: Oxfam 2020).

I get it. Not everyone is currently employed. Instead of comparing, why don’t we consider the potential we have in our current role? Think about our academic/professional background. Can we grow in a way we want to at our present condition and position? What are our goals and are we on our path to meeting them?

This mindset alone can perhaps help you from falling into the abyss of despair. 

Understand: High Salary Packages aren't that high 🙅‍♂️

You must have heard a story about person X getting place in a good company with a salary package of 40 LPA. Simple mathematics would tell you that this person is probably making ~ 3.3 lakhs per month. Well, not really.

In reality, the monthly receivables would probably be around 75K per month. That’s the catch. A significant part of the package offered to the student is linked to retention. The company had added ESOP, Insurance, one-time bonus, etc., to the package to inflate it.

Well, in my opinion, a salary of nine lac per annum itself is reasonably high and enviable for many. However, inappropriate exaggeration causes more harm to society, and that’s the key concern.

Many students aspire to join the leading management institutions of the world. The objective behind this aspiration is to get a seven-digit salary and even more! The stories of a specific institution offering packages in crores make a big hype in the industry. However, the reality of these packages is not simple equations; they are pretty complex.

These stories of ‘sky-high salary packages’ become the fundamental cause of depression in most youth. Such inputs lead to the birth of an ‘inferiority complex’ amongst many students. Think of a student who may be residing next door to the above person x but may have completed his engineering from a relatively lower grade institution. Suppose this student gets a placement offer worth Rs. 6 Lacs per annum from campus. Despite bagging a very decent offer, he will still feel inferior to person x who speaks about a 40 Lac plus package! 

Understand: Tech Influencers Bias

I wrote about tech influencers and how the type of content usually revolves around high salary packages and big names.

You need to understand that there is a reason why these creators will focus on videos on high salary packages - It’s what sells. Meaning, that the creator will choose to create such videos, because that’s what drives more traffic. The creator has a bias/interest in curating such content. It’s just like how some creators deliberately share controversial topics. Oh, and some of them will also sponsor the aforementioned edtech bootcamps. Again, there is a bias/interest in promoting these bootcamps. Let me be clear: there is nothing wrong with sponsoring, but as a consumer, you need to be aware of this bias.

Do: Create a career map (and stick with it) 🗺️

It's important to reflect, think, analyze, and decide which field you want to work in. Study the requirements, and criteria for a field before jumping into it. Most students - when they want to get into a field - feel lost. There are a plethora of resources out there. My advice: Find a roadmap, and just stick with it till the end.

Roadmaps are paths that combine specific courses and tools into one experience to teach you any given skill from start to finish. Paths are aligned to an individual's knowledge level, to help you and your team develop the right skills in the right order.

Find a roadmap that is ideally free, or at least affordable. And stick with it! (check out our Atlas)

Do: Bond with your coworkers/peers 👐

If you’ve isolated yourself from your coworkers and are always completing tasks by yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll be suffering from career FOMO.

For sure, you have skills such as talking in public or keeping a straight face when negotiating that aren’t part of your CV. If no one in your workplace gets to know you better, you’ll never have a chance to showcase your unique talents.

Talk to that friend who is studying abroad. You might be surprised to find out that life abroad isn't all sunshine and rainbows. You might also realize that this friend might also be in a difficult place, mentally. And, that by connecting to him, you both find a companion to talk to, and find comfort in.

By bonding with your peers, you’ll have a sense of belonging, which can boost job performance due to better communication. Your coworkers will think of you as a team player, which may increase your chances of being considered for the next promotion or raise.