Singapore millennials say “FOMO” – the fear of missing out – is an urgent concern for their futures

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Singaporean Millennials vs Quarter Life Crisis/Youtube screengrab

Singaporean millennials have uttered, texted, typed and tweeted the phrase “FOMO is real” in countless conversations, posts and messages. But instead of having FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) about missing parties, events or good times with friends, Singapore youth have expressed crippling anxiety over their futures – their eligibility in the workforce, their career paths, and ultimately, their success as adults – in this tumultuous age.

Ng Chia Wee, 20-year-old and first-year undergraduate at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and Tembusu College, said in this commentary that Singapore millennials have “the fear of missing out on a disrupted future” with regard to career opportunities in what he calls an “age of disruption”.

FOMO was officially entered into the Oxford Dictionary in 2013, and it is not only the millennials using it. In May 2017, it was even uttered in Parliament by Dr. Maliki Osman in his response to the President’s Address, when he reminded Singapore youth that they have a “huge potential” to participate in co-creation and take ownership of their country. This involvement, he said, can help counter the prevailing mindset of uncertainty plaguing young people today.

Experiencing FOMO when it comes to social gatherings and travels is one thing. We have all felt that familiar twinge of sadness, disquiet, restlessness or anxiety about not being present for such events. But FOMO on a more serious, life-affecting scale is hounding Singapore’s young people.

In relation to the economic challenges millennials face, such as career opportunities and financial stability, FOMO is very real and very hard to get rid of.

The World Economic Forum conducted a survey in which 42,000 youths from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam were respondents. The results, which were shared two weeks ago, showed that youths in Singapore and Thailand are among the most anxious and pessimistic in the region about the impact of technology on their employment prospects and earning potential in this fast-moving age. Meanwhile, the youth of Indonesia and the Philippines were much more optimistic.

In Singapore, a low 31 percent said they believe that technology would increase the number of jobs, compared to 60 percent in the Philippines. The results also varied based on educational levels. In a National Youth Survey released in 2017, young people are apprehensive about becoming redundant and about having sufficient opportunities in Singapore to reach financial and career success.

Based on these findings, it is safe to say that there is a prevalent mentality of anxiety and fear in Singapore youths when it comes to their futures.

“Coming of age in an age of disruption, they are acutely aware that the jobs they are training for may no longer exist as they are in the future and that conventional signals of competence and potential (such as a degree, good grades or a strong internship track record) may no longer guarantee the stable employment it used to,” said Ng.

 

Faced with high levels of uncertainty, millennials are doing their best to combat it. But, like Ng said, “because there are no clear strategies or formulaic steps for doing so, and because they know their peers may be doing even more”, they start to see every course, seminar or party as an opportunity to gain more skills and advance themselves. And along with that comes more FOMO, because not everyone can make it to every event.

So the cycle of FOMO continues, bringing with it deep anxiety, sleeplessness, stress, fatigue and negative emotions that can influence young Singaporeans’ already overloaded mental states. According to a survey conducted by business networking platform LinkedIn, “Eight in 10 (82.9%) young professionals in Singapore fall victim to quarter-life crisis.”

Comments from Singapore’s young professionals on Ng’s piece shed some light on the anxieties they face.

There is a concern that being a degree holder does not guarantee a good job:

The worry of becoming redundant because of AI taking humans’ place:

The concern that local graduates are being passed over for foreign graduates when it comes to high-paying jobs:

The anxiety of applying for jobs that require years of work experience when you do not have any (yet) and of focusing on too narrow a job scope:

The irony of being young but inexperienced and having experience but then being too old for the job:

Ng ended his piece by saying, “Disruption can be scary and uncertain. However, it has also gifted us with unprecedented opportunities to find new pathways and forge fresh outcomes for ourselves, one that isn’t limited by our own knowledge and expectations at this young age.”