I was an active kid, running at the speed of sound and light, rarely stopping to catch my breath. I attribute part of that to a diagnosis of asthma that I would not allow to slow me down. I felt a need to prove that I could keep up with my peers, not wanting to be thought of as weak. School, swim team, Girl Scouts, Hebrew School, volunteering, youth group as well as time with friends, kept me busy. Seems it was preparation for my current lifestyle.
Nearing 60, I work as a therapist, journalist, minister, editor, teacher, speaker and facilitator. Add to it various volunteer activity, and a full, rich social life with family and friends and I sometimes feel like that wild child who had what is now referred to as FOMO.
In a study called Motivational, emotional, and behavioral correlates of fear of missing out, it is defined as: “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent, FOMO is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.”
Not wanting to demonize social media, since it has benefits of keeping people connected to the world around them and people with whom they might not otherwise speak or even meet, it can be a source of additional anxiety if users perceive others as having a more fulfilling life. Hard to tell, though whether accurate life events and emotions are portrayed online, or as an attempt to present a fantasy version of themselves. It may tie into the concept of impostor syndrome in which one believes that no matter how successful they are by worldly standards, they fear they will be found out as the emperor/empress who has no clothes, so they embellish profiles which become fodder for others’ envy of their seemingly exciting lives.
Frequently checking social media to see who has responded to posts and accumulating “likes” as if they are gold nuggets can distract people from fully living the experiences to which they aspire. Comparison is at the root of such behavior. The feeling of being “not enough” is common. A story that speaks to this comes from the wit and wisdom of Wavy Gravy. Those of a certain demographic will remember him as the emcee at Woodstock who is also a clown. He coined the phrase, “We are all Bozos on the bus.” I share it often with clients (adults and kids) who fear that they will never be enough, have enough or do enough. They believe that there is a cool kid’s table (or bus) where everyone else but them gets to sit. These folks have more money, get better grades, wear more stylish clothes, are more popular, smarter, more talented, thinner, more attractive, more adept at whatever it is to which they aspire. The truth is, according to Wavy, these folks are Bozos in drag whose masks slip at times to reveal the vulnerable being beneath them. When I speak with clients about this, I encourage them to fully embrace their Bozo-hood. Be wildly weird, uniquely themselves. They laugh at this and nod knowingly since they are acutely aware that their therapist embodies this herself.
Psych Central composed a quiz that could determine how large FOMO looms in your life. By way of being self-disclosing, I took it and was not surprised at the outcome, that I am at risk for it. Social media is a massive part of my day. I use it for networking, but also to remain aware of what is going on in the world in a macro and micro way. It allows me to learn what people are up to, whether they need prayer support, are having fun, or are looking for partners for various projects. Do I feel envy at times when I see that happily partnered people are traveling to exotic places or authors and speakers get gigs that I would love to have? Yes. Do I begrudge them their exciting adventures, and worry that I will never have that in my life? No. Instead, I design the details of a life that feels fulfilling for me. This past May, I went to Ireland with a tour group of folks I didn’t know until we connected on Facebook, but who now feel like my family of choice. Social media was a means of taking my at home and online family and friends along with me.
I found this piece of writing from a year or so ago that speaks to this concept. Since 2013, I have had a series of health crises that included shingles, a heart attack, two bouts of kidney stones, adrenal fatigue and pneumonia. They were wake up calls that reminded me to pace myself. I used to run around like a madwoman, wanting to take it all in at once… sensory overload, people overload, play overload at times, thinking that if I slowed down, I would miss something. (FOMO)
The truth is, now that I am compelled to slow down, I am drinking it all in, savoring it, appreciating it. Leisure suits me. I thought that if I eased back, I wouldn’t get as much done and then I would think of myself as lazy or a slacker. How silly is that? I am actually getting more done, fulfilling agreements and my own wishes and neither at the expense of the other.
I was afraid that I would never be enough, have enough or do enough. The cosmic joke is that once I stopped seeking, life found me and all that I worked and strived for, is showing up gracefully. So grateful for it all.