How to Overcome FOMO

You may know FOMO, or fear of missing out. It’s that feeling you get when a friend suggests that you take a trapeze class. It sounds horrible to you and you dread going, but you don’t want everyone else to do it without you and the fear of missing out wins over your fear of falling off the trapeze.

fomo fear

FOMO is a strong force in me. (If you’re not sure, you can take a quiz to rate your FOMO too.) I worry about missing out on a lot of things– from the regular friend dinner on a Tuesday evening, to big life things, like getting married and having kids.

Travel is a particularly FOMO-fraught topic for me. When I hear of others that have spent months as a nomadic globe trotter, it looks glamorous and exciting to me. There is so much to explore, exotic locations to see, and many delicacies to taste. I want these experiences, and I want to be the type of person that can leave everything behind and live simply out of a backpack. While I’d like to think of myself as someone that doesn’t need too much, the truth is that I love my comfortable bed, being able to cook for myself, and nest in one place.

FOMO was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.
FOMO was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013.

FOMO is born out of the fact that there are so many things to do in the world, and a sense that other people are doing more of them. This stabs deeply at the way I am and what I chose to do with my time and value in life.  FOMO shifts my focus away from what I have to concentrate on what I’m missing. The glass is always half empty– or, more accurately, everyone else is drinking out of it except for you!

This is not an ideal way to go through life. So as an antidote to FOMO, I’d like to present:

introducing

POMO started as a joke. My friend Amanda, Leda and I were hiking in a small park Sonoma, and found ourselves on the Pomo Trail. We laughed about the idea of POMO as the Pleasure of Missing Out, but the idea sunk in.

We’d recently discussed an episode of the Dear Sugar podcast about the decision whether to have children (an ultimate FOMO-laden decision). The hosts, Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond, who both have kids of their own, spoke with “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert, who chose not have children. They agreed that for most people either choice could lead to a wonderful and full life, but because we don’t get to have both, it is easy to feel regret about the road not taken.

Whether it is a big decision like whether to have children, or a small one, like whether to go to a friend’s wedding that is far away and you won’t know anyone, or even whether to go out for the evening with friends or stay in a write a blog post– we don’t get to select multiple options. We are forced by the physics of time to choose.time

By definition, we miss out. But the fear of missing out (that puts the F in FOMO) bubbles up from a worry about whether we are making the “right” choices. The choices that will lead to a happy life, connection with the people around us, excitement, comfort, fame, fortune– all of the things we might desire.

As Dear Sugar expresses it, the goal is not to have everything, but to reconcile our decision “to a point of calmness.”  This is POMO, the pleasure of missing out. Sometimes it will be a real pleasure in getting to do the thing you want, and other times it will stem from the recognition that we had the choice, and we picked what was best for us.

POMO hinges on our ability to know ourselves, our values and our limits, fully. As much as I might idealize those worldly backpackers, I know that building deeper roots, close friendships and a community in one place, is more important to me. Hearing tales of other people’s amazing trips doesn’t always feel good to me, but I accept it with more pleasure because it comes from a place of knowing myself and what I truly value.

POMO is a muscle that needs to be built up and constantly maintained. POMO is not a magical answer to our fears about being left out, of missing things or falling short. There are plenty of things that we are truly sad to miss out on, that we need to grieve or feel sad about. POMO is a simple recognition of what we did instead, and our agency in making the choices we did.

 

pomofinalimage

 

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13 Comments

  1. Amanda

    So glad POMO got its day on Small Answers! Thanks, Steph :)

    For me, though, POMO is less useful during the times you recognize that someone else’s experience would be great if you were the person you sometimes think you are. I’m referring to the traveling example: sounds thrilling, but it actually conflicts with your goals of home and nesting and stability. Knowing yourself is a real pleasure, but not quite POMO to me.

    Where POMO has resonated more for me are the times when the two choices are actually things I think I would both really want! The solution is not recognizing some deeper truth about myself to decide, as you did with the travel example, but to accept that I deeply want both but I can’t have both. As you say, the laws of physics prevent it.

    And you may never know if your choice was the right one, but that’s OK too. Ultimately we choose the best we can, and we learn to accept there was this alternate other life for us that we won’t have. POMO, for me, is getting to be OK with that knowledge – and the many pleasures of fully living and engaging with the life that you do choose, rather than looking over your shoulder at what you did not.

    The Cheryl Strayed phrase that most encapsulates this for me is the ending to her column about a man deciding if he wants kids: “We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

    (That whole column is here and highly worth a read: http://therumpus.net/2011/04/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-71-the-ghost-ship-that-didnt-carry-us/)

    Amanda

    • steph

      Great additions Amanda! I love that Dear Sugar column- thank you for sharing.

      I do think that all FOMO arises from an idea that you really do want to do both. We develop preferences and learn how to make decisions that come up more frequency (e.g. travel, or social plans), so the FOMO has a different quality than the big life decisions that we really only get to make once, like having children.

  2. Meredith Watts

    This gets easier when you are older, unlike many other things, which get harder. There are things that I could have potentially done that I am not now going to do because of the realities of my level of energy, limited time, and best of all, because I know myself so much better! I no longer fear missing out of things that I used to think I SHOULD want to do because others enjoyed them. Now I can make more-informed choices, which makes it easier to experience POMO.

  3. Emily Taylor

    FOMO! I so appreciate this post.

    I often find that my FOMO is laced with tinges of jealousy..

    For me, FOMO is the fear I’ve made the “wrong”decision – that I could have been having more fun/success/opportunity if I had chosen the other option. And then sometimes, if I convince myself the other option truly was the better choice (as compared to my present state), that can lead to some jealousy.

    I blame social media for so much of this! It’s a FOMO-machine!

    I completely agree that POMO takes training – when I feel FOMO coming on (and maybe some jealousy too), I have to really settle my mind and – exactly – take pleasure in what I’m doing and be comfortable and confident with my decision. It’s been a great and important exercise, because there is always a reason I’ve made the choice that I have. It’s just easy to let the mind wander,,,,

    Thanks for the great topic!

    • steph

      Yes! Social media is definitely a FOMO machine! Thanks for your comment– and wonderful to see that you have such an active POMO practice =)

  4. Harriet

    One more thing about getting older — you sometimes get to do some of the things that you missed the first time around. I always felt that I missed out on that year abroad during or after college. But in my 50’s, I got to live abroad twice, once for a year and once for 2 1/2 years. Doing this later in life for work is a different experience from doing it as a student, but I can’t say that one is better than the other.

  5. Hana Marritz

    Thanks for a thought-provoking column and lovely drawings!

    One problem for your generation is that young people have sooooo many choices open to them, it’s sometimes pretty stunning. Older generations had fewer choices.

    And the older I get the more I realize that life is a long collection of choices, which get easier to make as you go on. I am mostly comfortable with my choices now, and realize that the ones I have regrets about were an important learning for me at the time.
    above all it is critical to be grateful for your ability to have choices; just imagine those who cannot
    choose. Then it is easier to see that choice is about creating our life.

    • steph

      Hana- wonderful point about being grateful to have choices. It can feel overwhelming and FOMO-ridden, but it certainly is a luxury as well.

  6. Thanks for sharing this. Lots of good food for thought. I absolutely blame social media as part of it…and sometimes feel like I am always filled with FOMO – in every part of life (should I be in this job? Should I go travel? Should I go shopping after work or should I go home?..from big to small).

    I took a sabbatical a few years ago and in the process of working myself up to it, did a lot of soul searching. One of the quotes that was written across my notebooks was “make your decisions and accept them”. Sometime easier said than done, but just deciding and accepting and letting go can be comforting!

    • steph

      Thanks Jenny! I agree that social media fuels a lot of discontent. I love the quote you shared– it’s a great goal! Sometimes letting go is more of a process than a single act.

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