The social media world is full of abbreviations and acronyms. Most of them I don’t understand. I will scroll through my students’ Twitter feeds and sentences look something likes this, “TBH, IDC wat my parents said. SMH” or “HMU tonight.” It’s seriously a foreign language that should be taught to people like me who have to wade through teen lingo on a daily basis. I totes need a refresher in cool slang.
However, there is one acronym that I do understand. I hate it, but I understand it. FOMO:
fear of missing out.
This is most commonly applied to situations, like not being invited to a party where everyone else seems to be. It also reminds me of a How I Met Your Mother episode where there’s always that one person who, when they leave a room, misses the most exciting part of the evening. Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? reflects this pervading trend of social paranoia. Social media increases this anxiety causing users to check their phones and modes of social media constantly- never wanting to miss a post, tweet, or piece of information that might keep them in the loop. I watch my students do this all day. I have to remind them that nothing exciting has happened in the last ten minutes they checked their phone. It’s a testament to how important we think we are. We seek to be omniscient and desire to have the luxury of deciding what we wish to be involved with, as opposed to accepting that the world spins on without our input.
My case of FOMO started in high school. I was a theater geek who did well in school, had a curfew, and my parents were the kind that needed to know where I was going and if other parents were going to be there (Something I’m very grateful for now). During my sophomore year of high school, my friend group started to change. I had been friends with the same girls since elementary school but now that we were getting older it was clear we weren’t on the same “social track.” Lunch became a time of sharing stories of good times over the weekend and when their eyes landed on me I felt ridiculous. They seemed oblivious to my desire to want to remain in on their plans.I thought, “If you were all together hanging out, what did you think I did all weekend?” It still stung sitting at the lunch table on Monday listening to these girls who I had grown up with talk about their weekend together and knowing I was the only one not invited.Fortunately, I started to make new friends who held similar interests and began to feel more included. However, I still felt the pain of that loss.
Once I got to college, I became more confident and was able to find a group of friends that respected my hermit like behavior, but also pushed me to have new experiences. However, there is a picture of what the college experience is supposed to look like and I began to fear I was missing that. I wasn’t looking to party my years away but I thought I would be doing more than studying and working. I was a part of one student club, but it was small. I didn’t join a sorority. I wasn’t active in a campus ministry. Actually, I began to realize I experience high levels of anxiety in large groups of people (some of you who know me might doubt this, but just because I’m loud doesn’t mean I’m social). I once went to the gym, didn’t understand how to sign up for a cardio machine, panicked in front of a large line of people (convinced they knew I was confused) and ran out. I’m very lucky that my education cohort was so close knit or I might have fallen forever into a textbook and never resurfaced. I feared I was missing what were supposed to be the greatest years of my life.
I graduated, found a job (thankfully), and began my “grown-up” life. So here I am in my twenties with a whole other host of expectations to lives up to. Things like New Girl, Girls, Friends, and the early seasons of Sex and the City create this idea that a young woman in her twenties is flitting from adventure to adventure. Every day is full of some crazy and spontaneous chain of events that teaches you a life lesson and might even land you a date. So according to those expecations: Of course I’m having all my other vagabond friends over for vegan-soy-slam poetry- Friendsgiving. Why yes, I do live in a loft over-looking the skyline of a major metropolis (and pay a reasonable rent). I frequently get in my car just to see where it takes me and wind up in a quaint little country town with the friendliest of people. I daily encounter some cutie in the grocery store who wants my number and then sets up an adorable picnic lunch date.
I live a very routine life in the suburbs of a small midwestern city. I go to my job, come home, attempt to get more work done, ignore the housework, maybe read, and then go to sleep and do it all over again the next day. I get this constant nagging sense that I’m missing my life. Social media does not help this feeling. Every day there are more posts and pictures of people who are living this seemingly exciting, spontaneous, magical life and I think “How do I make that happen for me?”
This fear is only compounded when I begin to look at what God expects me to do. I have a healthy respect (*cough* fear *cough*) of authority figures and want to please those around me with high expectations. So, I constantly struggle with trying to figure out how I can please God, how I can achieve the honor of being called “good and faithful servant.” I know and understand that I should not be tethered to this world. I should not let what it deems important dictate what I deem important. I am to be in the world, not of it. I believe this and I do try to avoid putting too much stock in earthly materials and honors. It’s an enormous amount of pressure, because this is more than missing fun or spontaneous opportunities. It’s the weight and worth of my soul. It is the question of whether or not I’m fulfilling my God-given purpose in life.
So if we are keeping a tab, I am trying to balance three different life experiences.
- The experience the world puts on me.
- The experience God puts on me.
- The experience I’m actually having.
I’m sure some of you have already caught on to the problem this anxiety causes me.
By focusing so much on the fear of missing out, I begin to miss out on what’s happening in my life. By paying so much attention to what others are doing, by putting so much weight on their accomplishments, I stop paying attention to what is going on right in front of my face. I miss out on the ways I’m already living and pursuing God. I focus on how the teacher next door is engaging her students and I miss the revelation happening with a student in my own room. I see friends on exciting weekend trips hiking through beautiful woods, and as I lust for the freedom and beauty they are experiencing, I forget that I hate camping and bugs. While I’m scrolling through Instagram, I miss experiencing the beauty that doesn’t need to be captured and filtered and hashtagged.
I have been blessed with many adventures in my life. Heck, my job is a daily adventure. Perfect example, I had to explain to some visitors yesterday why our senior boys were wearing dresses and skirts. This fear will only be conquered by daily choices to focus on what I have set before me. If any of this sounded familiar, let’s make the conscious effort to stop comparing our adventures to others. Let’s not let the fear of missing out shadow the moment we are experiencing right now.
*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/15/2014