Ever since I was a little boy, I have had FOMO, the “fear of missing out” syndrome. It manifested itself in a number of ways. I was in just about every scholastic club possible in high school, and tried virtually every sport. I even usually had a hard time falling asleep, not because I had that much on my mind, but more because I didn’t want to miss out on anything my family was doing while I was sleeping. My FOMO fed a kind of fluttering attention span, quest for knowledge, and general curiosity. No one was more annoyed at my FOMO than my mother who said I “always needed to be doing something”. She wasn’t wrong.
Once I was older and started traveling, my FOMO doubled. If there was a huge staircase to a castle far away, I was climbing it, no matter how tired I was. If there was something mysterious and foreign on a restaurant menu, that is what I was ordering. If there was an old winding lane, I had to walk down it. You get the picture.
Later in life I started thinking that perhaps my FOMO was a bad thing. Was it ripping me away from the present moment? Did it give me some anxious dependency and reliance on things that I didn’t necessarily need? It definitely didn’t keep me relaxed and at peace, and indeed, some of those winding lanes that look charming at first, end up at a garbage dump or lame dead-end.
I started to admire people who didn’t seem to have any FOMO. These people could just sit back and chill while others ran around seeing the sites, hell-bent on not missing a thing. It sounded relaxing and peaceful. For the most part it sounded kind of pleasant, without this urgency to see and do. Plus, how many times have I left a pleasant moment to quell my FOMO of something else.
Then again, my FOMO has brought me to adventures and experiences all over the world. Just recently I was in the Art Institute of Chicago. I was walking around with a friend, and noticed a sign for Middle Eastern textiles and ceramics in the lower level of the museum. My friend and I went there straight away, because of course I was fearful that I was going to miss something. While there, a security guard told us about a really incredible exhibit of African-American story quilts. Of course I had to see that. My FOMO wouldn’t allow otherwise. So, like dogs seeing a squirrel we zoomed to the quilt exhibit, and we were both rewarded with one of the most incredible museum installations we have ever seen. It is days since I was at the museum and the art that I saw is still circling in my mind. I still am feeling inspired.
As we left museum that day my friend turned to me and said “wow, just think, if you wouldn’t have wanted to see that Middle Eastern exhibit, we would have missed the exhibit we just saw”. At that moment I realized that my FOMO can really be a good thing, and it truly has led me to some incredible experiences. The more I thought about it, I reflected that there have been times when I have regretted not listening to my FOMO. There was that time that I was on safari, and one early morning told my FOMO to shut up so I could get more sleep instead of going on the game drive. Well, that was the morning that they saw a lion in battle with a warthog… I missed it.
One thing I know for sure is that I am not alone in my FOMO. For a living, I take groups of gay men (mostly, but our groups are mixed) around the world, and I see FOMO all the time. There are times when it’s fantastic, such as when FOMO led my group to a special dance party on Ipanema beach in Rio. And then there are times when it is not so great, so as when my traveler almost missed the train to Machu Picchu in Peru because there was an outdoor market he needed to see.
So what’s the answer: is FOMO good or bad? Like many things in life, it’s good, but in moderation and when in balance. The thing to realize if that even when you heed your FOMO, you’ll still be missing out on something. That day I missed the lion and the warthog, had I gone on the morning game drive, I would have missed the beautiful morning I had at the lodge, having it all to myself. Plus sometimes the thing we fear missing out on may not be so great in actuality. We have all gone to an event that didn’t live up to its expectations.
The reality is that any time you choose something, you are missing out on something else. Every time. The key to finding peace with our FOMO lies in not being attached to the outcome of what we choose. None of us has a crystal ball, so we will never know what the outcome would have been, had we decided to do (or not do) something. We control our FOMO: our FOMO doesn’t control us. Embrace it. Celebrate it. But don’t be slave to it.