Does It Feel Like Everyone Is Moving Forward While You're Stuck in One Place? You Could Have Milestone FOMO

Every time you open Instagram you see a pregnancy announcement. Each visit to LinkedIn is accompanied by the sneaking suspicion that everyone you graduated from law school with it just a little closer than you are to making partner. On the seldom occasion you revisit Facebook to confirm that, no, you have not yet missed your aunt’s birthday, your eyes are hit with no fewer than four photos of happy couples standing in front of gorgeous houses with big ‘Sold’ signs (when you and your husband are convinced you’ll be renting forever). Even your trusty group chat, where you once analyzed first dates and Real Housewives plotlines, has become a veritable mecca for sharing photos of your sorority sisters’ engagement rings. (A 5-carat emerald-cut diamond, Samantha? In this economy?) And here’s the thing: You’re happy for all those people, and you’re happy with your own life, but sometimes you can’t help but feel like everyone around you is moving ahead while you’re just…not. You might be experiencing what’s called milestone FOMO, explained below by psychiatrist Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Anisha Patel-Dunn, DO, is a psychiatrist and Chief Medical Officer at LifeStance Health, a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.

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Per, Dr. Patel-Dunn, milestone FOMO is a new term for a phenomenon that has been around for many years. “Milestone FOMO describes the experience of feeling like you are behind or inadequate compared to your peers who are accomplishing milestones that you have not yet achieved,” she explains. “For example, if starting a family is important to you, you might experience this during the holidays when you are around your siblings who all have children, but you do not yet.” Another example she gives is seeing others progressing in their careers and receiving promotions or making large purchases (like a house), but you’re feeling stuck or less successful in comparison. 

Though Dr. Patel-Dunn assures us that milestone FOMO can happen to anyone, she notes that it tends to impact those with low self-image or self-worth—people whose confidence is reliant upon how they think others will perceive them—in particular. “It can also impact those who are naturally competitive and make them feel like they are being left behind because they aren’t achieving the same milestones at the same cadence or timeline as someone else,” she adds.

Though there are no quick fixes for milestone FOMO (you’re not going to propose to the next person you see on the street just because everyone in your group chat has gotten engaged in the last year, you know?), Dr. Patel-Dunn does have a few suggestions for reframing these feelings. First, she notes that especially after living through the pandemic, it’s important to be kind with ourselves and not be unrealistic about the impact the last three years had on our collective experience. “It’s important to understand that your life had a different trajectory when the pandemic began, and it’s OK to adjust your goals and practice empathy with yourself,” she stresses.

Unsurprisingly, social media plays a huge role in how often—and how severely—milestone FOMO can hit. “In my experience, social media can also trigger these feelings of comparison and low self-worth,” Dr. Patel-Dunn tells us. “Whether it’s seeing engagement announcements, baby showers or just comparing your lifestyle to others and assuming they must be excelling much more than you in their careers, it can give the unrealistic impression that others have the ‘perfect’ life.” Though by now we know social media is not reality, she explains that it can be helpful to limit your time interacting with accounts that bring up challenging emotions—or your time on social media in general.  

Finally, Dr. Patel-Dunn helpfully reminds that there’s no one “right” reason to celebrate a life milestone—no matter how seemingly insignificant. “Take time to appreciate any milestone in your life that you are proud of, even if it doesn’t feel like the same scale as other milestones that your friends and family are celebrating,” she says. “Take pride in celebrating a positive review you received at work, or a solo vacation you enjoyed so that they can share in your positive updates as well.” Hell, even if you finally got the dog you’re fostering to stop peeing in every shoe in your closet, treat yourself to a nice bottle of wine—an achievement is an achievement.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...