Sunday, March 27, 2016

Joe Omundson

Fear of missing out

In my life I have sometimes felt a “fear of missing out”. If I am on a road trip, and I stay on the freeway instead of making a stop to see the sights, or if I leave a party early instead of staying to socialize, it can feel like I'm wasting a chance to do something significant. It triggers an unsettling feeling, as though I've made a mistake. Sometimes this has pushed me to do interesting things that I would have skipped otherwise and I was glad. Other times, I ended up expending more energy than was appropriate, or feeling guilty for choosing to do the more conservative and “boring” activity even though it was the best choice for me at that time.

In reality, it is impossible to avoid “missing out”. There are innumerable places that I could be at any given time, and infinite activities I could be performing; but I am limited to one body. I experience only a very small fraction of what is happening in the world, and it seems necessary to accept that. Missing out is the most natural thing in the world. The only time it becomes a problem is if I have a fear of missing out. Life is not going to be as exciting as possible at all moments. I have to spend some time meeting needs that are fairly mundane.

I found a new way to handle this anxiety on my recent road trip. Instead of feeling like I was missing out when I chose not to see something, I thought of it as saving the adventure for a future time. if I saw everything there was to see now, there would be nothing new to explore next time I came through. For example, I chose not to drive to the highest viewpoint of Death Valley. I struggled with the choice for a while because I did want to go there, but I felt more strongly that I wanted to continue on. I decided not to feel bad about missing that destination, and instead imagined coming back at some point in the future, and how exciting it would feel to turn down that road then.

It seems like identifying true motivations is an important part of the equation, too. Part of the fear of missing out is a misunderstanding of why I want what I want. Sometimes, I go to parties and I feel like I've had my fill of interaction fairly quickly, but I pressure myself to stay longer because I think that my motivations for leaving are inappropriate. I worry that if I left, they'd think I didn't value their company, and that they'd be right. But if I have taken the time to notice that I naturally tend to thrive more in 1-on-1 conversations, that large chaotic groups tend to overwhelm me, and that my social energy reserves are running low on that particular night, I can realize that these are the real reasons I want to leave. I can see it as a benign, natural thing rather than something shameful, and meet my needs confidently. If I do that, I feel less trapped, and more able to relax into the enjoyment of whatever is happening, because I know I can retreat when the time comes. Even if my time there is shorter, the quality of it is more full and present.

When we reject the fear of missing out on something great, we learn to love the more realistic experiences that happen. Fear and love are opposites. If we are afraid of our needs and motivations, then we are not loving ourselves or others. If we fear our time coming to an end, we don’t love the time that is happening presently.

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