Photo Credit: Galen Crout, Unsplash.com
I was quite lonely at the beginning of high school. I spent a lot of Saturday nights sitting at the desk in my room, fantasizing about the party I was missing. It made me feel a couple variations of sadness. One, for missing out on the amazing time I was sure was happening. The other, with a bitter judgment of myself for somehow not being good enough to be part of that experience.
I’ve been familiar with FOMO for most of my life, but this handy acronym wouldn’t surface until years later.
The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) could be considered YOLO’s depressing doppelganger. It’s a familiar feeling, the melancholy pining for an experience you’re sure is real, but you aren’t a part of.
We don’t feel bad about missing bad things. We do feel bad, however, about missing the “best night ever.” Before the age of social media, our only reference for what was happening elsewhere was our own experiences and the retellings from people who were there. From our own experiences we knew not everything was the “best thing ever.” Sometimes (a lot of the times) things were spectacularly mediocre.
FOMO existed before social media, but it was like a fire that Facebook and Instagram threw gasoline on top of. Whereas in high school I had to hear people talking about a party from the past weekend, a current sophomore in high school needs only to open up Snapchat. Social media allows us to keep up with people or events, but not the real versions of them, no, only the snapshots we’re allowed to see.
We’re often found comparing our behind-the-scenes to other people’s highlight reels.
We take one snapshot and create a living, breathing person or event around it versus the reality of a person at an ordinary event posed for a perfect picture. We imagine this demigod continues living this charmed life surrounded by top-shelf events and experiences.
In his amazing book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck, Mark Manson describes how we’re normalizing the exceptional. When we scroll through our Instagram we see only the most beautiful people, the funniest jokes, the best places to eat in LA. The exceptional comes to be expected because it’s all we see. We can’t just miss out on a party anymore. Due to an exceptionally well shot picture that was captioned #bestnightever– that’s the night we miss.
And when our lives are naturally not A+ material– all the time– we feel bad about ourselves and try to find out why we don’t have that life.
Sometimes it’s because we don’t have the experience itself, like a party or beach vacation we’re imagining. However, even when we do have an experience in real life, it cant live up to the image we have in our head.
We’ve all had the awkward experience of wanting to show our friends the “funniest thing ever;” only to realize midway through the video that we’d hyped it up to the point where we set unrealistic expectations and our friends will never enjoy the video as much as we told them they would.
We do this to ourselves all the time. Going to this niche, cool bar but feeling cheated because we don’t feel as happy as those people looked in their picture
That’s the common experience now. We both have the fear of missing out of something happening and the longing for the experience to the point where, once we have it, we’re like “is this it?”
It’s a terrible feeling that robs us of living in and enjoying the moment.
So what is the solution?
The existing one’s to try to balance out your perceptions with things like, “those people have normal days, too.” This just doesn’t work. While, on a logical level, we may know they have good and bad days like us, emotionally, we’ll react to the comparison we see for them: the best thing ever. What we choose to do will never survive a comparison we make in our heads.
I’m suggesting a shift in mindset. A FOMO that cuts out the comparison altogether:
FOMO: Focus on My Own
If you had no idea what other people were doing, would you enjoy what you choose to do?
If you considered your life in a vacuum where you’re the only person doing anything, how would you choose to find enjoyment?
Forget comparing our behind-the-scenes to other people’s highlight reels. Forget comparing our behind-the-scenes to other people’s imagined behind-the-scenes. Forget comparing to other people at all. The only way to circumvent the traditional FOMO is to bring the focus back to ourselves.
Focus on My Own re-centers you on your own experience, and drives you towards activities you genuinely like doing. Not those you feel like you’re doing to “keep up with the Joneses.” It’ll lead you towards your authentic self, and you’ll find immense joy of lining up that authentic self with authentic action. Who do I want to be? The stuff you’ll do will appear naturally as a result.
So the next time you’re perusing Instagram or flipping through Buzzfeed to find the 33 Places Everyone But You Is Going This Summer and you’re agonizing over the right thing to do, take a moment to think: “If my day was the only one that existed today, how would I want to spend it?”
That’s the right answer.