Career & Money

How To Beat FOBO: The Fear Of Becoming Obsolete In Your Industry

We've all heard of FOMO (or fear of missing out), but there's yet another concerning trend in the workplace streets. FOBO, or fear of becoming obsolete, is real, and it's affecting women professionals in significant ways. According to a recent report, 22% of professionals believe advances in technology will make their jobs obsolete, reflecting a rise in concerns compared with 2017. Women were found to be more concerned than men, and the worries hit those ages 18-34 much more than other age groups surveyed.

Why does this matter? Well, the rise in the use of AI in the workplace (yeah, hey, ChatGPT) has been found to disproportionately affect women, especially since many of us hold jobs expected to be affected the most by automation (think retail workers, administrative assistants, healthcare professionals, and finance personnel, to name a few). And though Asian and White professionals have a higher percentage in this category, 15% of Black professionals face high "levels of exposure to AI."

So, how do we combat FOBO? Here are a few tips in case you're facing this very real, justified fear:

1. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

While tech has had its fair share of layoffs, bias challenges, under-representation in tech roles specific to AI, and employment woes, there's still room for women to thrive in tech and learn innovative ways to use AI in their workplaces. One CEO suggests that companies empower their teams by getting them into programs to help them "feel empowered and inspired by AI and its potential." On the flip side, as an employee, find ways to advocate for yourself and fellow women in your office by talking with your manager about such programs, requesting that they finance and offer training, and online courses, or demanding other ways your workplace can support your understanding and knowledge about AI and other tech advancements.

Another good idea is to connect with the tech department or others at your company who are savvy. Have coffee with them. Sit in on meetings if you can. Ask them to show you a few things when they have the time. Request to assist managers in strategizing tech-related budgets or other areas of the business that involve leadership in that area.

(This is one way I learned about digital media before a company I worked for even started monetizing it--before social media became what it is today. It led to expanding my skills, and when my previous job indeed became quite obsolete, I was already on to a different aspect of journalism, and I'm still here almost 20 years later.)


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2. Find ways to update your soft skills and/or get new training that adds to your credentials and ability to be the best at what you do.

It's always good to be a lifelong learner, and if there are certifications or other ways to get more experience and education to help you advance, go for it. Don't think of it as being the leader of Team Too Much. Think of it as becoming the highest version of yourself and keeping the fire alive in what you're spending time doing to make a living. Nobody likes to get bored with work, and a great solution for avoiding a rut is to stay ahead of the game by boosting your knowledge, qualifications, communications skills, and tech proficiency.

3. Network and authentically connect with amazing people in your industry.

Whether you decide to do this across or above, building relationships with great people doing creative, innovative, or disruptive things in your industry is essential. And you don't have to fake it or force it, and it doesn't have to be the so-called "leaders," or "40 under 40" listers either. (No shade, but there are indeed so many folks out there who have unique and progressive vision, know how to effectively solve problems, or have knacks in skills like salesmanship, presentation, spiritual actualization, or motivation.)

When you're able to relate with others authentically (and when it makes sense), you're better able to enjoy a fulfilling, long-term career and find opportunities for promotions or partnerships. There's always an opportunity out there for you.

Sometimes, it's not just about who fought their way to the top, having lunch with the CCO, or being part of the cool crew at work. It's about people saying your name in rooms that you're not in, advocating for you to remain on staff even when layoffs are unavoidable, recommending you for other opportunities if you indeed end up on the chopping block, or finding ways to use your skills in other roles so that you're never really without a job.

And you don't have to be the "boss," per se, to be a leader. Simply be sure you're offering real value in whatever position you're in and that you're putting your own authentic stamp on the projects you work on to positively impact the people you work with or serve.

4. Always have a real exit strategy, even if your job is a "dream" one.

Every successful person knows how long they'll stay at a company, they know when it's time to move on, and they know how they'll strategically level up. Sometimes, becoming obsolete in a job is directly related to staying in a position too long or getting stagnant at one organization instead of elevating either via the roles you go for or the companies you work for. You don't have to be stuck to one position, role, or job for a decade or more. You should be challenging yourself at each level to outgrow it and move on---make room for the next person who's trying to elevate in their own right.

Pay close attention to where things are going in your industry, what companies or leaders are innovating, what's trending, and how you can use your skills to transition into something or to somewhere new when it's the right time. Don't wait until there are rumors of layoffs, you're burned out or disgruntled, or that moment when there are sweeping layoffs in another department to put a plan together as to how you'd like to drive the ship that is your career.

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