Until this past December, I didn’t even realize that the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) was a thing.
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Not only is it recognized by the Oxford Dictionary as an actual term, there are over 400,000 Google Search results for the specific term. Huffington Post has an entire tag category dedicated to articles on it and the Wall Street Journal is devoting Sunday edition print real estate to it.
The (now official) Oxford Dictionary definition states that FOMO is “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.“
Basically, it is regressing back to 4th grade when that she-devil Suzy Jones didn’t invite you to her 4th grade sleepover party, even though she invited every single other girl in your class.
Except, it isn’t.
See, Suzy Jones is a banshee of a malicious little human being who pointedly invited every single other girl in class but you to her party. Your parents will try to convince you she must have just forgotten about you, but they are doing their best to raise a child who doesn’t turn into an axe murderer over the childhood trauma of missing out on an invite to Suzy Jones’ 4th grade sleepover party. The reality is, that little witch just didn’t invite you.
Which makes us acutely aware of the fact that the world is not fair and people are mean and we are being left out of fun and exciting events specifically as a slight against our very being. That stings, even at the tender age of ten.
Maybe it wasn’t Suzy Jones’ 4th grade sleepover party, which I apparently still haven’t quite gotten over, but we all have these moments from our childhood when we started realizing that society has a structure of power and hierarchy built into it. Whether we weren’t sitting at the lunch table or being picked last in gym class or not having a full cable package, we immediately learned who the cool kids were and who they weren’t.
At the cool kids table the infighting and social climbing was even more vicious than a cursory shunning in the hallway. Those folks are playing for keeps. The movie Mean Girls isn’t fictional for a number of teens.
As we get to be adults we assume that we will mature and grow out of these silly childish games, but the games continue and the stakes are raised. No longer is it about school lunches and slime time, it is about keeping up with the Joneses and a rush to chase the dream script that outlines what a “perfect adult life” entails. Hint: This usually involves a spouse you are madly in love with, an upwardly mobile career at a solid and growing company, a couple kids, a sprawling house to raise your brood, a car not more than 2-3 years old, 401K and savings accounts with six-figures each (seven, preferably, in the 401K), and no debt.
When you don’t have any of these things, or worse only manage to kinda have them, you are roadkill on the path to adulthood. You can’t even keep up with the Joneses. You are failing at all the important stuff, and it is making you sad and anxious. You are feeling left out of the life the rest of the Joneses are living.
It hasn’t been easy to avoid the harsh realities of your inadequacies, but many people have managed to do it.
With the exploding popularity of social networking sites and mobile-instant-updates, the foods and experiences and milestones that we are missing out on us seem to be peppering us like machine gun fire each time we log into a site.
Remember Suzy Jones and her stupid little party with all those other dumb girls in 4th grade? That was on purpose. The people sharing their lives on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, and blogging about every moment, in general aren’t trying to lay some awful siege against their friends with seemingly unfulfilled and inferior lives.
Still, we scroll through our news feeds and accounts, seething with jealousy and worrying that we are somehow missing out on the best of what life has to offer. Our worlds could be perfect IF.
The problem with continuing to give credence and value to a concept like FOMO is that by empowering it, we in turn embrace it. Facebook is now just a site that is filled with engagement and wedding and baby updates. LinkedIn is a constant reminder that we are not doing the job we really want. Instagram is a new Chinese Water Torture that drips beautiful holiday vacation destinations and delicious perfectly put-together plates of exotic dishes.
It places the power of ambition and drive outside our grasp and compels us to believe that we are inadequate and there’s nothing we can do about it. There’s no way anyone can be expected to be successful, personally or professionally, when we convince ourselves that our all our c-circumstances are beyond our control.
If FOMO begins to infiltrate your thinking, try these things:
- You Are Seeing A Fraction Of A Reality - No one is posting the bad and boring stuff in their lives, because before there was FOMO there was YABAH and YADAH (I may have just made that one up) which is simply “You Are Boring/Depressing As Hell.” No one wants to be boring and depressing, and we were trained early on in social media that the people who posted about their breakfasts were lame and should go stand in a field to think about their use of public sharing.
- Repeat After Me: The Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side - As a person who travels frequently, writes for a living, and has very few responsibilities outside my own obligations, many people think I have some sort of idyllic life. Or so I can only assume from their passive-aggressive replies to things I share. You know what triggers me though? Reminders that everyone else is having fun without me. Pictures of happy families and updates of love between spouses are the things that send me tumbling down the FOMO rabbithole.
- You Have A Lot In Life To Be Grateful For – Sure, you might not have the life you thought you were going to have when you were eighteen or even a year ago. Sometimes the universe doesn’t quite manifest on our timeline or with our plans. Take some time to acknowledge the things that you are grateful for and that have manifested for you. The more you focus on the good things in your world, the easier it is to re-frame the other stuff.
- You’re Supposed To Like These People – Remember when you followed or friended that person? It was likely because you wanted to know what was going on in their lives. You connected, on some level, to something with these people. And now you are jealous because they are in love and starting a family or globe-trotting the world? Congratulations, you just won the Worst Friend Of The Nano-Second award. Instead of succumbing to the fear and envy when you see their happiness, how about trying to be happy for/with them? Similar to finding the things in your life that you can be grateful for, being happy for others will nearly guarantee a feeling of happiness in yourself. If you can’t find a way to be happy for them, stop following them. It’s the least you can do for the world to remove your negativity from it.
- If Something Makes You Feel Like You Are Missing Out — DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! – No, you likely will not be able to jump on a plane to Prague this afternoon or be making six-figures by next week. That doesn’t mean you have to stay in a state of stasis and complacency. Want children in your life? Offer to watch your friends’ kids for an afternoon or even night (you just might realize how grateful you are to NOT have them yet, according to my friends with kids!) In love with France but round-trip flights & hotels aren’t a part of your budget this year? Save up and splurge on a French cooking class. There’s lots of things you can do to start getting in with the dreams you are so jealous of, even if you aren’t able to fulfill the dream quite yet (or ever.)
In 2014, if you make any resolution, it should be to Forget FOMO. Wipe the entire syndrome from your mind when using social media sites and attending baby/wedding showers and it is snowy and cold while your friends are posting their Hawaiian getaway pics. Kick the green-eyed monster to the curb and make this year the year you take-back your perception of the world around you.
You’ll find a much happier, and in turn successful, year when you stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and start focusing on what you are doing – and then start doing it.
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