The thing about FOMO, FUD, and FOJI is YOLO

There’s no one right way to spend a year as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford, the program directors say. What every fellow does varies widely.

But I’ll have to admit that even as my calendar is packed every week with work on my fellowship project, JSK events, classes and more, there are plenty of days where I wonder if I’m doing it right, and if I have done enough.

Being at Stanford, a buzz of activity, I’ve realized that everyone is doing something all the time. It’s also a place with a lot of acronyms and shorthand lingo (CoHo=Coffee House, Memchu=Memorial Church, MemAud=Memorial Auditorium), maybe because people are moving so fast.

And at the risk of sounding like a texting teen, here is a series of acronyms that I am ashamed to admit I’ve adopted into my lexicon: FOMO, FUD, FOJI and how I worked through them all.

Fear of missing out

I’m living inside my calendar, scheduling things. Lots of things. This quarter, I’m scheduling interviews with scores of sources for my JSK Fellowship journalism project on how to create the best conditions for journalists of color to produce quality digital storytelling. In the Lean LaunchPad course at Stanford last quarter, class teams were tasked with conducting 100 interviews (we did a total of 148). The workload including interviews accounted for a little more than half of my time.

I’m busy not missing a single thing on the schedule.

But every Slack message, Instagram and Facebook post from my fellow JSK Fellows that pops up on my phone reminds me that they are doing things on this amazing campus that I am not! André caught a showing of “The Wiz” on one day. Then there was the “Frankenstein @ 200” event series looking at the effects of technology on society. These are just two examples in a slew of daily notifications. Each one makes me feel like I should be doing those things too. Talk about FOMO!

Fear, uncertainty and doubt

Next comes FUD — a term I learned in my brief foray into the world of cryptocurrency enthusiasts. In the Lean LaunchPad course, we were advised to find our Harvard — or a pond — to start an endeavor, in the way Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook. We asked ourselves, what audience exhibits a voracious need to constantly consume content? Outside of sports, finance and politics devotees, we, in a roundabout way, found a blazing hot channel of readers: cryptocurrency enthusiasts. They exhibit the same symptoms as other intense readers: awash in a flood of misinformation, and unsure of what sources to trust with investments on the line. Hence the term FUD, a string of feelings that I find relatable.

Although I prepared a winter quarter strategy, I ask myself: Have I made the best decisions about where and how to spend my time? I’ve had moments of doubt. After all, decisions concerning time are as high stakes as monetary investments. Like cryptocurrency investing is to new entrants, a fellowship is new territory for me.

Thankfully, second guesses have mostly been passing thoughts without financial risk. In fact, things are moving so fast it seems there is no time for second guessing. In a conversation with George John, one of four instructors in the Lean LaunchPad course, he shared an analogy of a cartoon character laying new track just a few feet in front of the train as it rolls forward. I see myself in that analogy.

As I rapidly lay track in front of my own locomotive, there’s no time to be uncertain. Yet, there’s some good to be had by living in such sharp focus. It turns out that staying busy is a great way to get out of your own way.

Fear of joining in

For some, FOJI prevents them from sharing in the fun of an activity. For me, it has been fear of sharing more of the wonderful things that have shaped my fellowship experience. I imagined coming to the fellowship and sharing so many of the amazing reports of what I’m doing that people might grow tired with all my posts. What happened was the opposite.

Admittedly I have slipped into two modes of thought: Either sharing feels like bragging, or I question if what I have to share is valuable enough. Fear of not joining in by acronym is new to me, but the concept has become familiar.

Fortunately I’ve parted with the need to play my cards close to my vest. After all, when approaching a problem or project with such passion and sureness, one is bound to have something terrific to share. With failure comes a great question. What did you learn? That’s the story — and we all have such good stories to share.

I would be remiss not to share my wonderful experience. People appreciate hearing about the journey. And most times they’re rooting for you.

You only live once

Embracing the idea of there is no one way to do the fellowship, I gave my full effort and attention to a few areas. I have zero regrets. In noting some of those things I’ve done this quarter, I actually surprised myself. In 10 short weeks I have become more dynamic in my ability to think creatively. I have also developed a much deeper specialization in user research and product design and development. Here are some of the things that influenced these major areas of personal growth:

  • At the Un-Scripted Theater Company in San Francisco, I learned to do improv through a weekend Pop-Out class called “Performing under Pressure.” It was a great way to forget the FOJI and jump into the action. Picture playing the role of an old, dirty teddy bear with an attitude in a nursery. That’s what came to mind in “furniture monologues,” a game where each person on stage assumes an object in a setting of the audience’s choice. Performing this exercise was an intentionally funny moment for me. I learned that improv can be a fine outlet for quick creative expression. The weekend helped me be imaginative, yet take myself less seriously. I liken the exercises to revving up the engine of the mind. This is great for creative types seeking to push through creative blocks.
  • I didn’t anticipate doing much design work during my fellowship year, but I was wrong. In the Lean LaunchPad course, we happened upon an idea that led to designing a really slick cryptocurrency news application prototype using Sketch, InVision and Craft. The idea was pretty darn cool (though short-lived). If I can find the right product market fit, I might actually build the thing one day. And even though the crypto app has been shelved, the project idea from which it sprang will live on as a design challenge I hope to solve later.
  • User testing and surveys can be as mundane as they sound. They involve testing hypotheses, asking questions and collecting answers. Through the Lean LaunchPad course I learned the true meaning of user interviews by “getting out the building” as lead instructor of the course, Steve Blank, would say. By talking to humans face to face, I was led down the path of true iterative design based on feedback from real users that I could hear, and whose expressions I could see with my own eyes. In newsrooms, where time is never on your side, often we don’t get to do meaningful user testing on the products we build. After 10 weeks of doing true user testing at Stanford, I now can’t imagine building anything without learning how the product will connect with and be used by real users first.
  • JSK Fellow Seema Yasmin and I are developing a card deck to help people of color navigate difficult situations in newsrooms. Also in the works is a complementary card deck by JSK Fellow Jennifer Dargan that aims to help white people be allies and understand their privilege. The independent projects became a wonderful way for the three of us to collaborate and use the same visual language in the creation of the cards.

The process of finding my feet felt aimless at first. But I learned the process can also be very productive. Now that my feet are under me, I’m more than OK with how things came together and am quite happy with where and how I’ve chosen to spend my time at Stanford so far.

As for all the text and mobile notifications that alert me to what fellows are doing, they have become welcome distractions. It’s really great to observe how my cohort is living it up knowing that I, too, am a part of that group. Besides, no one can do it all! And no one has to. That said, it’s been crucial that I avoid being trapped by FOMO, FUD and FUJI. Rather, I learned to maintain resolve in my plan that, in turn, gave me great pride in what I achieved this quarter. Now, go live your life. #YOLO

Because this post is mostly about my feelings, I had difficulty finding images to run with it. So I created my own typographical images as GIFs using Adobe After Effects and had lots of fun making them.

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