FOMO. Have you heard of it?
Coined by jealous friends, relatives, and coworkers, the acronym stands for Fear of Missing Out, or the feeling you get when you don’t attend or do something awesome that other people you know did.
You might think the FOMO phenomenon just relates to parties you wish you had gone to and marathons you should have run. Wrong.
It permeates all aspects of life and apparent necessary milestones that one can enter in adulthood.
Social media makes you question what you’re doing with your life. It’s as if this made-up rat race of life accomplishments had a scoreboard and Facebook is it.
Guess what––it always feels like you’re losing. So, the question is –– how to beat the rigged system?
The Game We Signed Up For
There is a pressure to announce all life changes, milestones, and bowel movements for the world to see online. What’s worse is that if your life isn’t in order, you’re left feeling like you’re behind, like you’ve failed, like somehow you passed on winning at life while everyone was busy doing it right.
I will admit that I –– not infrequently –– fall prey to this phenomenon. And not just on social media, either.
While on my Metro commutes, I find myself studying those around me: people wearing snazzy suits and shiny shoes, parents with squirmy children, tattooed lone wolf artists, and slurping couples in the midst of a makeout session.
I think about each person’s individual story… how they got to this Metro today, where they’re going, what they’re thinking about.
I’m always curious about how many people feel satisfied with the path they are on in life, with the places they’re headed, with the choices they have made.
Because nearly every day I find myself questioning. Am I doing the right thing? Am I working the right job? Am I making the right connections? Am I advancing? Am I moving forward?
Is everything going to work out for me?
The Baskin Robbins Problem: Making Decisions in the Internet Age
I imagine that, to a degree, this is a product of my twentysomething age and the society we live in. Now, our options are seemingly unlimited. Yet, this doesn’t comfort us. Because unlimited options is overwhelming!
You can’t make a decision when you have seemingly unlimited options (have you been to a frozen yogurt shop?). Yet, we have to.
Apart from this, I also wrestle with these questions because I have taken a somewhat alternative route. Post-college, I didn’t race right into a full-time job with benefits and a 401(k), and not just because none were available.
No, instead I chose to take two years of volunteer service with AmeriCorps –– in Florida and Boston.
After that, I did one year of office life + salary.
Then, I skipped down to South America to begin my most recent personal/professional adventure, where I have been for the last year and a half.
Now, I am in my fifth year of post-collegiate life, and I am nowhere near being closer to that normal life that I think I’m supposed to have by now. I teach English and work remotely, and am set to start full-time remote work in January.
My workplace is my laptop. My office is my lap.
Most of the time, this is the most freeing feeling in the world.
I can live anywhere.
I can travel anytime I wanted to.
I can set my own rules.
Then other times, this feeling comes crashing down. This one that says I’ve wasted my time. I should be several steps up the corporate ladder by now. I should be stable enough to start a family. I should be lots of things that I’m not.
Even though I am overall, very happy with the choices I have made, I still wonder if I’ve done this thing all wrong. Am I simply paralyzed by too many options? Is my life a Baskin Robbins?
That could be part of it.
But I believe it has more to do with FOMO.
What We Think We Should Be Doing
Even though technology has given us more options than people have ever had before in terms of work, life, and love, we still feel drawn to the roads that have been traveled before. We want to know that things are going to work, that things will be good, and that we will be happy.
In following along with what has been done before, we feel as though we are somehow insuring our future against calamity. We hopefully plan these lives of low-risk, careful choices as though they can safeguard us against life’s twists and turns.
And sometimes I want that perceived safety. Sometimes I want that assurance, even if it is mostly fake.
But I also want something else more than I want that. I want a remarkable life. I want a life wherein every drop of juice has been squeezed, every stone has been turned, every sunset enjoyed, and every moment cherished.
I want a life where I do something big. Where I use my brain and my two hands to build something incredible that changes the world, and that improves the lives of others. I want a life that I can look back on and smile, and know that I did everything that I wanted to do. I want a life lived to exhaustion before I take the Long Nap. I want a life that I created.
The realists here reading are probably saying, “You will never reach that goal. No one can.”
But I’m going to try.
Of course, this comes with my usual disclaimer that, you don’t need to be a world traveler or a daredevil to achieve these kinds of goals. You don’t have to make it in the history books (tablets, holograms…) to have lived. You’re face doesn’t need to have been on television, nor your name a trending topic.
You don’t have to do a single damn thing that I’m doing or that anyone else is doing to live an amazing existence.
Follow Your Why –– It’s Much Better Than Passion
What you have to do is follow your compass, which is not to be confused with your passion. Axioms like "follow your passion" and “live every day like it’s your last” are actually terrible pieces of advice.
They aren't realistic or sustainable.
I think it’s much more useful to go out and pursue your purpose. Pursue what gives you meaning. Don’t just chase what makes you happy. That might satiate you day to day.
But if you chase your purpose, now that’s how you create an amazing life––one that you love, and one that you’re proud of.
I, like you am figuring out how to do that as I go along. I certainly don’t have the guide to life in my back pocket, but there’s one thing I know:
You have to let go.
Let go of the need for approval, for likes, for ‘atta girl, for pats on the back, or thumbs up.
You are the only cheerleader you can count on. Stop waiting for other people to tell you your life is going well.
Just go. Walk your path. Make your journey as you go.
Do that, and you will not miss out.
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.