FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out

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I consider myself a somewhat indecisive individual.

Many people that know me on a moderate to intimate level would also consider me somewhat indecisive.

Individuals who don’t know me at all, but who are in positions where they are asking me to make a decision (anyone asking for my food order) would probably consider me fairly anxious and very indecisive.

This quality of myself is something I have been reflecting on a lot over the last handful of months as I look ahead to May, when I will officially graduate with my undergraduate degree and move on to…

… Something.

FOMO (or “Fear Of Missing Out”) is a term I was introduced to during my time as a Residence Advisor, when I was advised not to do every activity available during my 4-day training retreat. FOMO, I was told, would make me feel like I should and could burn me out. I took this to heart, and rested when I needed to and indulged in activities when I wanted to. However, since then, I have experienced many moments of FOMO wherein I have struggled to make decisions because I am afraid that the number of good things I could miss out on in one opportunity by taking another opportunity instead. Whether it is making a decision at a restaurant or taking a job offer, I have recently struggled a lot more with choosing a path because I fear the missed opportunities of other paths. This has felt very heavy and real as I consider what my next steps will be following graduation.

I was watching Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, and in one episode that highlighted a difficult relationship decision, the following quote from Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar was referenced:

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

This resonated with me, as the timeliness of the reference was opportune. I am constantly getting caught up in my thoughts about the future and how I don’t want to decide to do something that will “lock me in” to one thing. However, what I am realizing is that my FOMO is getting in the way of me pursuing something. I can still enjoy many other things that I won’t be actively pursuing in an educational or career sense, but I am ultimately not able to enjoy any of them as much as I could because I am so afraid of choosing one thing to focus on (e.g., through getting a degree in it).

A supervisor of mine described my way of thinking as “comparing lists of checkmarks and trying to decide which thing has the most checkmarks (i.e., good things) when, in reality, they ALL have a lot of checkmarks*” (*paraphrasing). I try to keep this in mind as I look ahead to this somewhat more significant, but not necessarily life-path-deciding decision. I know that I am probably going to hold multiple careers over my lifetime – likely in slightly different fields, too! However, the decision to embark on a particular path feels like a heavy one, and I am working on coming to terms with the ways that any decision will benefit me and that I can acquire skills to pursue other careers if I so desire.

If you, too, struggle with FOMO, try to reach peace with yourself by knowing that any decision with many “checkmarks” is going to be helpful to you. It might teach you what you love, what you don’t love, or it might reveal an unexpected source of enthusiasm! Choose with thoughtfulness, but don’t be so thoughtful that your options pass you by as you try to understand which one is the “best”. You can always learn new things later, but you can also start learning something right now.

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