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 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 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:
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.
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.
Have FOMO about missing the next Small Answers post? Just subscribe to get it in your inbox: