CoachingEmotional intelligence
Is FOPO messing up your life & career?

Have you ever wanted to make a big change in your life, or boldly step into a new opportunity, but didn’t because of what other […]

Have you ever wanted to make a big change in your life, or boldly step into a new opportunity, but didn’t because of what other people might think?

We all have.

The reason behind it is FOPO – Fear of People’s Opinions.

Everyone is affected by FOPO.

It shows up almost everywhere in our lives—and the consequences are significant. We play it safe, and we play it small because we’re afraid of what will happen on the other side of other people’s judgement of us.

“We surrender our viewpoint. We trade in authenticity for approval. We don’t raise our hand when we can’t control the outcome.

We laugh when it’s not funny. We bite our tongue when someone says something offensive.

We pursue power rather than purpose. We please rather than provoke. We chase the dreams of others rather than our own.

We externalize our self-esteem, our sense of value. We see ourselves through the eyes of others.

We look outside of ourselves to determine how we feel about ourselves:

If people approve of us, or the choices we make, we feel great. If others disapprove of us or the choices we make, we feel terrible.

We scamper around the world trying to please others and being who we think people want us to be, rather than who we are. We are unaware of our own needs or we dismiss our needs as we hustle for our self-worth.”

But as Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism said, “Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner.”

FOPO is part of the human condition because we’re operating with an ancient brain. A craving for social approval got hardwired into our ancestors because belonging to a tribe where they were accepted and valued guaranteed their survival.

Unfortunately, this old system hasn’t had an upgrade in about 100 000 years, and it’s causing us no end of pain, anxiety and suffering in our modern times.

“Like applications that quietly run in the background of a computer and consume memory, processing power, and battery life, and ultimately slow down the performance, FOPO burns a lot of our internal resources.

Controlling the narrative, managing the perception of others, suppressing our own opinions, being overly apologetic, agreeing with others to avoid appearing disagreeable, going to great lengths to please, the self-deprecating humor to play down our strengths and positive traits, contorting and conforming, overcompensating for perceived shortcomings, seeking validation, the increased heart rate, the muscle tension, the nervousness: FOPO exhausts our system.”

If that’s you, here’s what you can do about this:

First, understand what activates FOPO, and then what are the typical responses.

There are two things that drive FOPO:

  1. A weak, unhealthy sense of self – when we lack a clear, stable and positive understanding of who we are, we rely on others to provide signals of approval or rejection.
  2. A performance-based identity – making self-worth dependent on performance and achievements rather than on core values and purpose.

There are 5 typical responses to FOPO and the risks that they bring:

  1. Trying to fit in.
    Risk: by pretending to be someone you are not you constantly feel the pressure to maintain the façade. This can intensity the feelings of insecurity and fear of exposure.
  2. Conforming to social norms
    Risk: this limits our ability to think and act independently.
  3. Confrontation:
    Risk: This way to face the fear of rejection and avoid vulnerability of expressing a genuine desire for acceptance might result in rejection because it brings on conflict.
  4. Disconnecting from relationships
    broken or sabotaged relationships, job-hopping, feeling of not being worthy of connection and belonging
  5. Response based on your own internal standards
    Risk: People might not like it, but the big gain is that you focus more on who you want to be, than on who you think they want you to be.

OK, now that you have awareness of FOPO, what it is, what drives it and what are the typical responses and risks they bring, the biggest question is what you can do to reduce the FOPO’s impact on your life.

“Rather than running away from or ignoring FOPO, choose to see it as a learning opportunity, a stepping stone to unlocking your potential. Use it to discover aspects of yourself that have remained hidden. When FOPO surfaces, lean in to discover what’s underneath the fear.”

There are many ways to do this, and you can find many field-tested suggestions in the book “The first Rule of Mastery: Stop Worrying About What People Think of You” by Dr. Michael Gervais, which I’ve liberally quoted in this newsletter. I really recommend this book if you want to work on your FOPO yourself.

Other things, depending on how bad it is for you, will require professional help:

Coaching to improve your self-esteem, to optimise your self-dialogue and to develop effective ways to reduce FOPO and respond better when it strikes.

Therapy to deal with the intense form of FOPO – SAD (Social Anxiety Disorder). Therapy can help build awareness of the underlying reasons and develop psychological skills to deal with the paralysing stress response that fear of being judged can release in your body and mind.

I know that you are affected by FOPO, because everybody is affected.

But as a manager or business owner, you might be affected even more. The higher you rise on the career ladder, the more susceptible you are to scrutiny and public opinion, and the more the FOPO responses get activated.

As always, if you feel you need help, or if you have questions or comments, just get in touch  and let’s talk. In coaching, there is no FOPO, because there is no judgement. Try it for yourself 😉


With leadership greetings,

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