The Teachings of FOMO

What are we really missing out on?
Photo by Mitch Lensink on Unsplash

Let’s make things clear; the act of FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out) is probably bad for you.

It’s associated with “fatigue, stress, physical symptoms, and decreased sleep” [1] while both increasing and stigmatizing loneliness, which is shaping up to be the silent killer of our times. [2]

Google defines FOMO as:anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on social media.”

Distilled, FOMO is the fear of being left out and left behind — the fear of social exclusion updated for the modern age — live, shared, and HD.

We don’t want to ‘miss out’ on the events we see around us, the parties and road trips and wedding photos. And so we ‘go along with the flow’ and (often in tragic retrospect) find ourselves making decisions we don’t fully agree with, or even understand.

6-figure college debt? Toxic relationships? Soul-draining, life-sapping, sunk-cost-fallacy jobs?

It’s this fear that keeps us locked in our paths. We generally know what’s going wrong in our lives, what we need to do but we’re afraid — of trying, and being judged, and failing.

Because when there’s no one else to blame but yourself, it’s all on you. And that’s more responsibility than most people — including, most of the time, myself — are willing to bear.

Public speaking is the number one fear of our times — greater than death itself. But fear of public speaking is really fear of public failing.

Do you see how this ties with FOMO?

FOMO, too, is driven by the fear of failing in public; the fear of being judged for others, in this case being excluded, a loner, an outsider — a loser — alone.

Fear makes us dumb. We act without thinking, take what ‘common knowledge’ and well-meaning people tell us to do; safe degrees, safe jobs, safe relationships, all built on fear.

But what are even afraid of?

The things we fear don’t usually matter in the long run. And, unlike 100,000 years ago, most of what we see as ‘social threats’ aren’t very threatening at all (Thanks Tim Urban).

We get so wrapped up in the endless cycle of small things, we lose sight of what matters. And what really matters?

Death.

The Dalai Llama has this to say:

“[the average person] lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

In life, we tend to distract ourselves from the inevitability of death. We’re uncomfortable with death. Death is uncomfortable. Death tells us the truth; that we don’t have a lot of time, and that we’ve probably misused much of the time we were given.

Instead of acknowledging of our mortality, we distract ourselves with the flash and bling of our modern lives.

Or, rarely, briefly, at a funeral, or at the end of a touching film, or in the memory of a loved one lost, we entertain the thought of our inherent fragility. It’s moments like these when we remember that life is short, and precious.

On one’s deathbed, the most common lifetime regret (among wishing to spend more time with close family and friends) goes something like this:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Damn.

FOMO; it’s the poster child of living ‘as other people expect of you’ until you yourself expect that of yourself.

FOMO; it’s so blatantly raw and self-serving, we laugh it off, when really we should be staring it down.

FOMO; we know it’s wrong. But it can lead us to what’s right.

So. What truly matters? What is worth pursuing?

If you’re not fully sure (like me), figure it out. It probably has something to do with fulfilling work, a sense of purpose, spending time with close friends and family, maintaining good mental and physical health — and cutting out at all the BS of our fast-paced, high-maintenance lives.

So the next time you feel FOMO, pause for a moment. Think it over. Follow the words of Viktor Frankl, renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor:

“Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”

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