On The Fear of Missing Out (FoMO)

My generation loves abbreviations and acronyms.  I don’t know if it’s because we’re efficient, lazy, creative, or if we just want to see how far we can push the limits of our language before we can no longer communicate.  Maybe it’s just to make ourselves appear cool and trendy.  Knowing what a bunch of letters jumbled together stand for means you’re one of the cool kids right?

Whatever the reason it’s part of our culture.  Can’t change it. It’s in our DNA (see what I did there).  Some acronyms are useful such as AWOL.  Some not so much -looking at you AMOG.  Some even worm their way into our hearts in an ironic way, #YOLO. Over the course of the past few months the one that has been stuck in my mind has been FoMO. (The linguist in me hates that I just added ‘FoMO’ to my word dictionary but what can you do, some battles must be lost to win the war.)

This isn’t a new term.  I’m in no way trying to take credit for its existence or popularity.  But for those of you who don’t know what FoMO stands for it’s the Fear of Missing Out.  This is a concept everyone who has ever made any kind of decision can identify with.  I’ve written before about making choices.  With every choice you make you lose an opportunity.  After all, it’s the basic definition of the word.  To move forward you must make decisions.  Wanting multiple things but only being able to have one makes life hard.  But it’s through these choice we shape who we become.  Even those of us with the strong minds who are steadfast in our decision making allow our minds to wonder about what could have been.

I’ll be the first to admit one of my flaws (apart from my terrible eyesight, difficulty opening doors, potential bee allergy, and dire desire to spell everything phonetically) is I tend to be an over thinker.  Being an over-thinker is a vicious cycle because in the end the only way to stop over thinking is to think about not over thinking which inevitably leads to more thinking.

Just writing that gives me a headache let alone trying to put it into practice.  Add to the fact that it’s really hard to control thoughts as they unwelcomingly manifest in your mind and you can see the potential for disaster.  The slippery slope my mind has already laid on the path to FoMO anxiety.

The point is, I’m as guilty with the concept of FoMO as anyone and honestly more so than most.  Creative people have a ‘gift’ for imagining things.  For turning nothing into something. This is both a blessing and a curse.  One the one hand we are able to mold our futures simply by thinking outside the box allowing ourselves a path most people would never have seen.  But on the other, we torture ourselves wondering, in the words of Voltaire,  if we have created the best of all possible worlds for ourselves.

In the shallow definition, most people in their 20s use FoMO as the agonizing decision between staying in or going out.  They check their Twitter stream while on a date, because something more interesting or entertaining just might be happening.  Even ‘swiping right’ just in case the person behind the pixilated photo did the same.  Not wanting to miss an opportunity.  It’s not “interruption,” it’s connection. But wait a minute… it’s not really “connection” either. It’s the potential for simply a different connection. It may be better, it may be worse — we just don’t know until we check.

That’s the biggest problem with FoMO.  It causes us to miss the present by thinking of the past and what could of been.  We lose an appreciation for the here and now.   More than that we lose perspective on the future we’re trying to build for ourselves through the choices we already have made and can’t take back.

***Quick Tangent***

I’m 87% sure that FoMO has always been a thing.  Since the dawn of time humans have wondered if they’re making the right choices.  This is especially common after you realize you’ve made the wrong choice.  We cast our imagination back hoping to find the cause for our current predicament.  Wondering which decision(s) led us here and where we went wrong.  Over the last decade or so the FoMO epidemic has gone viral. The main culprit?  Our advancements in technology, more specifically social media.  It was one thing when you imagined what life would have been like had you made a different decision on a different day.  But in today’s world, thanks to snapchat, instagram, facebook, twitter, foursqaure, etc, we are seeing the real time ‘consequences’ of our choices.  Even for me after all this time nothing makes me more homesick than snapchat of random moments back home. It’s an interesting concept that technologycan unite so many people while isolating us at the same time.

Through these social media apps we see exactly what we missed. Snapshots of ‘what could have been.’  Chose to stay in, wake up the next morning with regret.  Choose to go out, wake up broke and hungover.  Choose to be single and see everyone’s happy relationship pictures cultivating your loneliness. Choose to be in a relationship, feel trapped and not fun.  Choose to move away and be bombarded with your old friends moving on without you. Choose to stay and always be stuck wondering what else is out there. There are days when it seems like whatever decision you make you’re f*ck*d. 

My solution?  Remove the tumor.  Unfollow and disconnect with whoever inspires envy.  Get rid of the people who don’t motivate you to be better but merely increase your anxiety and stress.  Yes, that means the gorgeous girl you don’t know who apparently spends all her time in a bikini lounging around the beach eating fruits and berries.  The billionaire who spends all his time with models, cats, and firearms.   Whether you realize it or not these types of images affect you.  They impact your mood and how you feel about your life. They feed our insecurities and jealousies.   If something isn’t adding to the person you want to be, be done with it.  No excuses. 

***End of Tangent***

Months ago I made a decision to move to Melbourne.  First off, Melbourne is a great city.  If you ever get a chance to visit or live here do it.  I’ll admit it hasn’t panned out as I thought it would.  But what in life ever does?  Rarely have I been unable to turn a situation in my favor.  But after months of struggling to get by, barely paying rent, working two jobs with inconsistent hours,  and honestly just being unhappy and unfulfilled. I asked myself ‘what’s this all for, why keep going?’

I couldn’t answer the question.  I had no tangible reason for being here and realized at this point in my life Melbourne wasn’t for me.  My friend Mac pointed this out when he said that I was making life unnecessarily hard on myself for no real reason. I was a square peg and was unthinkingly trying to put myself in a round hole just for the hell of it.  To prove that I could overcome anything and never accept failure regardless of the effects it was having on me.

I wasn’t making good money, falling in love, working toward my career, or having any luck finding my passion.  So I’ve decided to leave.  Back to the States.  At times, in life, some things are just outside your control.  In this instance, visa complications, an unfriendly Australian economy, a bit of homesickness, and a lack of helpful connections all proved too much for my current force of sheer willpower and arrogance to overcome.

You can want something with all your heart but sometimes it’s just not worth the opportunity cost.  Doing something just to do it isn’t the best course of action. Choosing to walk away in one piece is the only way to ensure you’ll be able to fight another day.  Quitting isn’t always failure.  This simple concept was really hard for me to understand.  Like understanding string theory difficult. 

The real sign of maturity is to understand not all defeats are failures Sometimes you lose. It’s as simple as that.  The key is to never beat yourself up for trying something different.  Never feel like a failure for putting yourself out there and experiencing the unknown.  It doesn’t matter if it’s in your love life, career, location, friends circle, or even trying a new food.  Take chances. Exploit opportunities. Put yourself in a position to grow and learn.

I’m the first to admit that in life simply “trying” isn’t enough to make you successful.  I’m not a fan of the ‘participation ribbon.’  I hate that the YMCA stopped keeping score in certain sports.  I’ve always believed that becoming a winner is a process not something you magically achieve; (fun fact you can’t know if you won or not unless there’s a score, but I digress.) No matter what your goal is in life showing up it is the first step to success.

The simple act of trying something can significantly decrease the FoMO anxiety.  You stop wondering “what if” as much because you at the very least made an attempt and that is a huge burden lifted.   Just the attempt in itself gives you peace of mind and a sense of accomplishment no matter how small it’s enough for validation.

My original goal was to live in Melbourne for a year.  It’s not going to happen.  I knew before I left that I’d regret not coming down here because I’d always be plagued with the “what if” question and that was something I just couldn’t live with.

My reasons for the move were wanting to challenge myself and experience a different culture with the hopes of meeting new people.  In the time I’ve been here I’ve been able to do all of those things; perhaps not to the extent I’d hoped, but still I’ve made multiple friends and those are relationships I plan to carry with me.  I’ve even gotten a better understanding for Australian culture and why my Aussie friends are the way they are.

You can’t stay in a place (metaphorically or literally) where you see no future or present value.  When the cost of staying outweighs the benefits, when you no longer feel like you’re working towards a goal it’s time to move on.  Cutting ties with someone or something doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t worthwhile it just means it’s time to go your separate ways and leave it in the past.  Staying here just because would go against my biggest life rule-  never waste time. It’s too precious.

As I sit at my desk enjoying the amazing view of the Yarra River and the Melbourne skyline, looking at flights back to the States I’m hit with an overwhelming anxiety only FoMO can bring. What possible opportunities am I missing by going back home?  What friends will I never have the chance to meet? What moments with my friends down here will I never have? What if I’m one Seek application away from finding the perfect job or from turning one corner into the love of my life?

Those types of questions will destroy you.  They paralyze you and annihilate any chance at happiness you may ever have.  They keep you stranded in the past constantly thinking “what if.”

It feels like I’ll regret leaving as much as I’d regret staying. What do I do?

Simple.  Turn off the “what if” voice.

Focus on the future.

Focus on building new goals.

Focus on enjoying the moments I have left with my friends down here.

Instead of wondering what I’ll miss out on by leaving it’s vital to focus on what I may find by coming back.  At this moment, for all I know, I may need to come back to find my passion and to get hired for my dream job.  The love of my life may be waiting for me in Connecticut or Idaho for all I know.  There will be countless memories with my American friends waiting for me back home as well.  In any situation it’s of paramount importance to never let your memories be greater than your dreams.

I once read ‘it’s better to have a life of oh wells than what ifs.’  Unthinkingly it became a motto I began to live by.  I’ve spent the better part of two years taking chances and traveling the world.  No things didn’t always go as planned, but there is true beauty in imperfection.  Each experience taught me something different.  Working on the cruise ship taught me to get out of my comfort zone.  Teaching English/backpacking in Europe taught me how just go with the flow and live in the moment. Moving to Melbourne with no real plan showed me the value in taking chances and there’s always a lesson to be learned.  I wouldn’t trade the places I’ve seen or the people I’ve met for anything in the world.  Coming back to the United States doesn’t mean my adventures are over.  It just means I’ll be sharing more of the daily ones with more of the people I love.

Every so often in life you make a decision and you know it’s a complete life changer.  Things will never be the same.  You can’t go back.  Nor should you want to.  You’ve put yourself in a position to make a life changing decision.  That’s exciting.  Don’t fear it.  Enjoy the power.  Embrace the uncertainty.  Go and seek a great perhaps.  After all, the world never made a success of someone who hides in their house and dreams without taking risks.  The next time FoMO creeps into your mind silence it by taking pride in the choices you made and knowing that the ghosts of “what if” can’t hurt you unless you let them.

Stay Gold.

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