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PETTY-PHOBIA: A Productivity Killer

PETTY-PHOBIA: A Productivity Killer

A while back I was involved in an infuriating (to me) conflict that seemed to be made up of a lot of little niggly nothings that got blown up into bigness.  It stopped me in my tracks and got me riled up…badly.


In reaction to it (and also out of my, I admit, boundless impatience), I coined a new word for a phenomenon I was noticing at the time:  PETTY-PHOBIA.

I say it means “the fear of all the little things in life”…all the myriad little concerns and dust-mote details of the World….things like whether some form was filled out properly or some rule was followed in exactly the prescribed manner or…well, you get the picture, I bet.

“Arc” by Mike Green via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]
Petty-phobics — people who are afflicted with this seemingly chronic condition — often have major anxiety attacks caused by the massive overload of petty details and the perceived importance of each and every one of the durned dingleberries.

They spend a lot of time trying to get every single little thing just right.  They insist that everybody else around them have to get the things right before anybody can move on to more productive concerns.

Another name for these guys is “Perfectionists.”  (They probably call the rest of us more doofus sorts “Scruff-balls.”)

[I’m sorry, but I have to do this.  This is a You-Tube video of the Starrkeisha Cheer Squad @TheKingofWierd by TIU Campaign.  It is just too joyous not to share….]


Meetings led to stalemates and dead-ends.  Conflicts erupted and kept erupting over and over again.   A lot of good work kept getting stalled or had to be re-done again and again.  Redundancies proliferated.  A lot of trees died and mountains of paper grew.

It caused me incredible heartburn for a while until I got my head turned around.


I finally figured out that these people were really hurting.  What seemed like a minor thing to me was, for them, something that was of apparently earth-shaking proportions.

It boggled my mind.  I thought, what happens if they have to face something that is really earth-shattering?  Yeesh!  I mean, really.  If every situation you face is life-and-death, you are going to be suffering through lots and lots of deaths.

And I thought, how often do you make it to Perfect in this life?  For me, the answer to that question is just about never.  Something is always going to go aglay.  It’s the way of the world.

I wondered, then:  How can you even MOVE in the face of that?  OMG!

“Defeat” by Andrew Yee via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]


I finally figured out that rather than trying to pound some sense into the nut-heads, I had two other choices:  I could either (a) adjust and help them feel more comfortable, or (b) opt out of the game.

I could use either one of those two choices, depending on how important it was for me to be able to get on with my own dance.

It did occur to me that petty-phobics probably rule the world.  It is my opinion that this is because people who are busy doing their own thing let the petty-phobes get away with so much nonsense rather than doing the sensible thing (which, in my fantasy world, is picking up my light-saber and whacking off their heads or something).

But, I also figured out that you really can’t go around being like the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.”  Doing a bad Bette Davis imitation all the time is just…tacky.

“Crown 2” by The Manic Macrographer via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]


So, how do you deal with all the petty-phobics littering your landscape?  Basically, it involves the same three steps you need to make every time you come up against fear or anxiety or insecurity.

ACCEPTANCE.  You can accept that this is the reality with which you are faced:  There is a petty-phobe in your face and you get to deal with that.

ADAPTATION.  You can adapt to this circumstance in whatever way seems to work best in the situation and then go on from there.  You need to help that petty-phobe feel comfortable and safe and secure.  It will not be easy.

Remember that this person is a good person trying to do the very best he or she can.  Your job, if you want to get around the roadblock in a civilized manner, is to make their job easier.

CHANGE.  If the situation becomes untenable for you, then you have two choices.

You can change your response.  (In my case I had to stop blowing my top and losing my temper and come up with compromises and suggestions and solutions.)

Or you can change your environment.  (Walking away and finding more amenable situations is better than going postal, I say.)

“Walkaway Squared Circle” by Fred R via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] Design by Banksy.


Now comes another big question:  Are you a sufferer of Petty-Phobia your own self?  Do you like it being in that space?  Do you like the results you are getting as a result of being in that space?

Would you like to move away from that?  Are the results you are getting unsatisfactory?  Would you like to change your behaviors and get different results?  For you, too, the same three steps apply.

ACCEPTANCE.  Know that you are a sufferer.  Know that you will never be an easy-going sort.  Petty-phobia and the quest for Perfection is never-ending.

Know that you’re going to worry and get anxious and afraid.  Know that other people are not going to understand your issues.  Accept that other people are going to get enraged at you for doing that thing you do.

Remember that the shlub of a wild-eyed maniac who is standing in front of you is a good person trying to do the best he or she can.  Your job, if you want to get the fool out of your face, is to make their job easier.

This does include being sympathetic about their distress.  Getting all self-righteous will exacerbate an already-bad situation.

ADAPTATION.  Notice when other people start to act weird around you.  Pay attention when things start getting hairy.

Check to see what you are doing as well as what other people are doing that triggers behaviors that seem to result in not-so-good results.

Think about how you could make things easier for other people without getting yourself too tied up in knots.

CHANGE.  If the situation becomes untenable for you, then you have two choices.

You can change your response.  Maybe you can make one or two small concessions without hyperventilating and curling into a fetal ball.  Definitely try to see the other person’s point of view.

If there really is nothing you can do about a situation and you are governed by rules that demand utter compliance, then say that and stick to your guns while helping them work through your dilemma.  Definitely acknowledge their distress.

Or you can change your environment.  Walking away and finding more amenable situations where you are not having to battle unreasonable sorts is always an option.


Notice that the advice is the same for both sides.  It’s always the same.  Humans do human things.  We work together (or not) and we’re all still trying to do the best we can.

Here’s a poem:


You are angry, you are tired,

Caught between the desire to live your own life

And the need in some other’s eyes.

A heavy burden imposed on you

By old connections, old ties, you say,

But admit it:

You chose to swallow it whole

And now the anger festers in your gut.


You say you are tired of waiting for change,

Of picking up after one who is unaware,

Uncaring of the cost.

You say you are angry at holding up one

Who makes his legs rubber over and over.

You are tired, you say,

You are angry,

Yet compassion dictates your next move.


Trudging on, carrying the burden,

You persevere and you endure.

You persevere because it’s what you do.

All the effort that went before means nothing at all

If you don’t follow it to the end.

You say you are tired,

And you say you are angry,

But you go on because you chose to do this once

And you choose again to do it

Every time you feel exhausted.

By Netta Kanoho

Header photo credit:  “Face of the Dragon” by Stuart Williams via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom):  an understanding that past mistakes have consequences and what we have been and done does not just disappear because of good intentions now.  [Sometimes it takes a long time to get back to pono.]

It seems to be a given.  We’re clumsy oafs, us humans.  Often we break things without meaning to.  Our words and our actions break hearts and shatter lives – our own and those of the ones we love.

Other times, life takes its toll.  We get lost, we fall down and we lose our way.  Bits of ourselves get lost somehow.

On the other hand, broken can become stronger and more beautiful.  It does take time.  It does take care.  It takes patience and gentleness.  It is not likely to be an easy fix.

One metaphor that points the way to repairing brokenness beautifully can be found in a Japanese pottery technique called “kintsugi” or gold-joinery.

The following video, “When Mending Becomes Art” published by Kintsugisouke, is an introduction to this ancient art form.


“Kintsugi” is an old way of repairing broken pottery developed by the Japanese using lacquer or some other resin laced with pulverized gold.  The story goes that a samurai broke his favorite tea bowl and sent it off to China to be repaired.  When it came back there were ugly metal staples all over the cup firmly holding the cracked bits together.  This was unsatisfactory.

The cup was sent to another artisan, an old Japanese goldsmith, who worked on perfecting a new way to heal the broken cup.  He made each crack in the cup a thing of beauty.  He honored and emphasized every flaw.  And the gold in the cracks caught the light and threw it back each time the old warrior drank his tea.

 I got to thinking about kintsugi and about all the ways we humans get broken.  I ended up writing a poem about it.  Here it is:


 ‘Kay.  Try this:

Take this clay tea bowl.

Now throw it on the ground…HARD!

Go for it!


Look at those clay bits scattered all about.

Is it still a bowl, do you think?

Sure doesn’t look like it, huh?



Now, say “sorry” to it.

Go on.



Did it go back to the way it was before?

No, huh?

Come on…

Put some SINCERITY into it.

LEAN on that remorse.

Say, “PLEASE forgive me.”

Say, “I didn’t mean it.”

Say, “It was an accident.”


Try pulling out the big guns.

Say, “I LOVE you!”

Yeah, really…

Say it from the heart.



Did all that saying work?

Not really, huh?

Broken’s broken, ain’t it?

And words don’t do a thing.


The pieces are still lying there,

Looking all forlorn.

They will not hold together.

The integrity is gone.

When you try to make them fit,

Try to press them into place,

The pieces fall apart.

Sad, huh?


Try pouring some tea

On all those broken bits

And the wet just runs down

All over your feet.



Now, what?

Oh, wait…

Here’s some sticky resin stuff.

And, look at this:

There’s this shiny golden powder sitting there,

Right next to you.


Let’s try something.

Here, take this brush.

Now pour a dollop of that goopy stuff on this plate.

Swirl it around with the brush.


Now mix in some of that powder.

Just stir it right on in.

Slowly, slowly, slowly.

Mix it all up.

No lumps, no bumps.

Mix it all up smooth.



Now, grab up one clay piece

And turn it so the broken edge faces up.

Brush the glop – all golden now – along that ragged edge.

Carefully, carefully…no slopping allowed.

Then grab up a second clay bit

And fit together the edges.


Resin oozes out of the crack, huh?


Run your brush along that golden bleeding line

Along the front, along the back.

Make it smooth and smoother.

Gently now, like a dream.

Now…repeat, repeat, repeat.


You will mess it up, you know.

You’ll get impatient and you’ll push too hard.

The glop will spread and splotch

And you’ll have to start it over.


Again, again, again.

You’ll have to keep on mixing,

keep on brushing,

keep on smoothing,

On and on and on

Until each clay edge is touching a matching other

And every crack glimmers golden.



There’s one piece missing.

(It probably got pulverized,

Or maybe it got lost.)

No matter.

Glop some of the gloop into that empty

And smooth, smooth, smooth it on out

Over the edges, front, then back.




Now, set it aside.


It’ll dry in the bye-and-bye.



Oh!  Will you look at that!

The bowl is resurrected,

But it really is NOT the same.

Oh, no.

Now it’s something other.

Now it’s something more.

It gleams now in all the broken places.

Gold shines in all its cracks.

When you pour some tea in it

None of the wet runs out.


And when you hold what once-was-broken,

Healed now after all your gentle care,

Maybe then you will understand:

Fixing what you break

Is not supposed to be easy,

And words alone won’t get you there.

By Netta Kanoho

The following video about Kintsugi and the philosophy behind it was published by The School of Life in collaboration with Mad Adam Films and is part of a weekly series of offerings.

The School of Life is both a YouTube channel and a real-life school for adults that focuses on how to live wisely and well.  They are bent on asking the important life-questions that you never got to ask in regular school.  There are ten physical hubs in cities around the world including London, Melbourne, Istanbul, Antwerp, and Seoul.

Picture credit:  Sunrise Over Maui by April Schultz via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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Apparently there is a fairly new form of social angst going ’round, a mind-set gone viral in the past decade or so.  The people- in-the-know call it “FOMO.”  The acronym stands for the “Fear Of Missing Out,” it says here.


From where I am standing, FOMO looks like an upgraded, updated version of the old “keeping-up-with-the Joneses” syndrome, a new twist on our very human impulse to measure ourselves against our perceptions of the tangible and material successes of all of the other people in our lives and finding our own lives or our own selves depressingly inadequate.

It was in 1913 that cartoonist Arthur Momand began poking fun at our propensity for checking out what the neighbors are doing and trying to copy or, better yet, to top them.  The strip ran until 1940 in The New York World and various other newspapers of the time.

In one of the earlier strips, the main character Aloysius P. McGinnis ends up sitting in a bar wearing a ridiculous outfit his social-climbing wife forced on him because, as his wife says, “we will show that Jones woman that her husband is not the only Adonis that can wear pink socks and a fuzzy hat!”

Momand called his comic strip “Keeping Up With the Joneses.”

Ten years later, when Mark Twain decried the faddishness of the times with an essay entitled “Corn-pone opinions,” he used the by-then well-known Smith and Jones competition to illustrate his point:  “The Smiths like the new play; the Jones go to see it, and they copy the Smith verdict.”

Jealousy, envy and feeling left out fueled the movement to keep up with the Joneses, and the whole thing got a leg-up when the advertising and marketing industry joined in the chorus, encouraging consumer discontent in order to encourage their potential customers to buy-buy-buy.

The me-too, me-too moves morphed with the dawn of techno-advances that were not even a glimmer in the eye of those old hard-sell guys.

The biggest difference between FOMO and KUWTJ (besides the fact that the Jones one doesn’t make a really great mouth-byte) is the added electronical enhancements of modern tech – mobile phones and smartphones and the social networking services like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.

We are now bombarded with all the cool stuff all of our friends and acquaintances are doing and getting.

They’ve got the latest and greatest gadget.

They’re winning all kinds of awards and promotions.

They’re partying down (without me).

They’ve met their One.

They’re getting engaged and married.

They’re having beautiful babies.  On and on and on.

And me…MEH!  All I’ve got is slog, slog, slog….ARGH!


The origin of the term “FOMO” has been tracked down.  Ironically, it was another McGinnis – Patrick – then a Harvard Business School student, who wrote, in 2003, a light-hearted article in the school newspaper outlining the various ailments suffered by modern-day students.

McGinnis was apparently the guy who coined the FOMO acronym.  The Fear Of Missing Out, he said, leads to a state of over-commitment in which people pack a single evening with nearly a dozen events, from cocktails to dinners, parties and after-parties, and assorted gatherings and social events.  It eventually culminates, he said, in a drunken email at three in the morning to a jilted friend:  “Sorry I missed your 80’s theme party at Felt – you know that you are totally in my top 15.”

According to McGinnis missing out on a truly awesome event (despite the jam-packed schedule) caused people to become hesitant about committing to anything for certain, always holding out for the “better option.”  This syndrome he dubbed as FOBO:  “The Fear of Better Options.”

This video features an interview on London Real with Patrick McGinnis describing how he came up with FOMO.

(You can get the free full interview by clicking HERE.)

In his student article, McGinnis posits that while full-on FOMO takes a tremendous amount of energy and is terribly wearing after a while; aggressive FOBO alienates your friends.

(Keep telling your friends that their “do” is only a possible good option often enough, and your friends stop asking you to come hang with them.)

Yo-yoing between the two extremes eventually leads to what McGinnis called FODA, “the Fear of Doing Anything.”

Over the next decade or so, McGinnis’ seed-concepts and his acronyms took root, and grew and grew.  They even sprouted new FO-acronyms.

Meanwhile, McGinnis went on to become a venture capitalist, private equity investor and the author of THE 10% ENTREPRENEUR:  Live Your Start-Up Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job, where he shows you how by investing ten percent of your time and energy, you can become an entrepreneur without losing your steady paycheck.


Folks who pooh-pooh this phenomenon argue that FOMO is a “first world problem.” The people afflicted by it have to have some degree of social mobility, at least some discretionary spending, and the leisure time to actually worry about this kind of social comparison.

If you’re busy worrying about where your next meal is coming from, you’re not going to be too concerned about all this stuff, they say.

This doesn’t make the effects of the syndrome any less real for the people who are suffering behind it.

The “reasonable” voices made no headway against the excesses that keeping up with the Joneses brought on.  They make none against the ones evoked by FOMO and FOBO and FODA (and all the other FO-acronyms) either.

Social psychologist Andrew Przybylski and his colleagues defined FOMO as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent, FOMO is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.”  Their 2013 study apparently cemented the legitimacy of the complaint.

Other, subsequent studies pointed out that not only do sufferers of FOMO need to stay connected, they also get to feeling like they want to be doing whatever the ones they’re connected to are doing.

They start thinking that maybe what they are doing in their own lives is unsatisfactory.

Dissatisfaction becomes the order of the day.

Status anxiety runs rampant.

It seems like any time we start comparing our circumstances with the typically rosy picture others present of their own lives on any social media, ours comes off looking worse in comparison.  Every time one of our besties does well we get to feeling like it sucks to be us.  ARGH!

Then comes the part where you feel like a turd and a bad person because you just can’t-can’t-can’t be happy for your own dearest friend one more time.


According to one mind-game theory, human motivation comes from three things: (a) autonomy (the need for self-direction), (b) competence (the need to feel effective), and (c) relatedness (the need to feel connection with others).

All three of these are powerful, fundamental needs that every one of us requires to feel good about ourselves.

If one of the three is out of whack, we are very likely to feel lessened and our motivational power takes a nose-dive.

Social media postings about our triumphs and the resultant validations can be a major high point for each of us.  They make us rev our engines, help us maintain our momentum, and keep us trucking onward.

The problem is most of us don’t just go from triumph to triumph.

All of us have down-times and off-days and downright horrid stuff dumping on our heads at any given time.

We tend to forget that what is true for us is probably true for all the golden people and social media bright-lights as well.

Then all that glowing good jazz that’s happening to Other People can really be a downer when you’re in the middle of a cycle of suck your own self.


Much of the speculation about FOMO and its effects on chronic sufferers seem to conclude that the condition is curable.

Often suggested are things like going cold-turkey and taking a rest from all the social media surfing, developing an attitude of gratitude for life as you know it, and spending some time hanging with and appreciating your own self and your own life and your own accomplishments.

In other words, the way to balance an out-of-whack need for connection is to go back to validating your own self – finding and committing to your own path and your own direction, remembering your own competences and achievements.  Hmmmm….

Here’s another take on the issue of FOMO.  This video by the School of Life points to another way of looking at things….

And here’s a poem about a memory from younger days:


I am remembering the cousins.

We are sitting around the patio table.

The tabletop’s covered with old newspapers.

We are cracking open juicy, fat crabs

And digging out the meat,

And slurping it on down.

I am remembering the constant game we played.

“You- snooze-you-lose,” it was called.


The cousins never waited.

They always got theirs, and

If you were slow and didn’t know how,

They took some of yours too….

All of it, if they could.

And they laughed and teased the little one

Trying so hard to keep up.



And maybe that is why

When things don’t flow and things don’t move forward apace,

There is this pressure in the back of my head,

And why jogs and jigs and zigs and zags

Feel like tragedy waiting to happen,

And why the world seems to be laughing

As I keep on stumbling and bumbling.



I am wary still of the snatching hands

That seize my share of joys and prizes

When I am not quick enough, not smart enough,

Not strong enough, not anything enough.

I can still hear the echoes of the teasing

And it makes me want to run faster,

Try harder, jump higher…all that stuff.



Maybe it’s time to stop playing that game.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Reservoir Climb by Erick Gonzalez via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

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