Do You Suffer from FOLS?

You may have heard of FOMO: fear of missing out. It’s often caused by social media posts promoting a flurry of happenings you can’t attend.

There’s another kind of anxiety that plagues bright business professionals like engineers, scientists and other technical professionals. I call it FOLS: fear of looking stupid. Do you suffer from FOLS?

Here’s how to tell. First, you are extremely intelligent and can connect the dots quickly.

Second, you cannot tolerate being wrong. You are very competent and worry about being seen as incompetent. If you are having trouble admitting to this, do you agree with any of these statements?

I avoid speaking because I am afraid I will say something stupid.
I don’t speak up in meetings because I am afraid of looking stupid.
I don’t want to be asked to share my thoughts because I may appear to lack knowledge in my subject matter.
I share as much information as possible to show how much I know.
I avoid asking questions because others may think I am incompetent.

Those who struggle with FOLS may have difficulties dealing with change, adapting to new ways of thinking and demonstrating vulnerability. They may have what author Carol Dweck (in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success) calls a fixed mindset, instead of a growth mindset.

A fixed mindset comes from the belief that your qualities are carved in stone – who you are is who you are, period. Characteristics such as intelligence, personality, and creativity are fixed traits, rather than something that can be developed. Criticism is seen as an attack on your character, and to be avoided.

A growth mindset comes from the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through effort. Yes, people differ greatly – in aptitude, talents, interests, or temperaments – but everyone can change and grow through application and experience.Criticism is seen as valuable feedback and openly embraced.

If you have a tendency toward FOLS, just a small shift in the way you view your abilities can have a significant impact on your ability to learn from others, accept new ideas and create new solutions to problems. Moving toward a growth mindset could keep you from being the bottleneck in a new process at your workplace. It could also be the key to growing and thriving in your career field.