Why Do We Fear Missing Out?

Why Do We Fear Missing Out?

An analysis of FOMO
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This past Thursday, I sprained my ankle at club soccer practice. I assumed I could continue with my daily schedule until I woke up the following morning and was unable to walk. As I forlornly typed an email to my Writing 1 professor to cancel a meeting, I realized that I would be confined to my dorm for the entire day: no classes, no appointments, and no social outings. I cleared my calendar and hopped down to the lobby, where I hoped I could at least be around people. I learned I have an incredible support system; I lost count of all of the people who have helped me these past few days. (Example: my friend Bilal sat me on his bike and wheeled me to the student health center a mile away, and Natalie, my teammate, picked me up from the health center to drive me back to my dorm. So many people have volunteered to make me an icepack, spend time with me, carry my stuff, etc. Friends visited me from other dorms and made me feel special, and even my dad flew up from Santa Monica to check in on me.)

But, as great as the people here are, it was difficult for me to be stuck elevating my foot on a couch while my friends went to Stories of Sustainability, dinner off-campus, and a Mardi Gras party. I pledged and fundraised to dance in a 24-hour Dance Marathon, but the trek was too far to make on crutches. And, of course, I missed my soccer game at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Even with the excess time I gained, I couldn’t concentrate on my work because I knew I was missing out and wanted to make it up by spending time with other people. The picture that accompanies this article happened when Rachel, a friend from my hall, saw me slugging through my chemistry problem set at an astonishingly slow rate and requested that I keep her company while she baked rainbow cookies. For the first time in two days, I felt useful. I rely on being busy to keep myself grounded and efficient, and I felt lost in the vast sea of unplanned hours that seemed to stretch endlessly before me.

And yet, I still felt like I was missing out, even as I was kneading blue dye into cookie dough and listening to a 2000s summer hits playlist on Pandora with Rachel. When I caught myself wondering what it would be like to dance for 24 hours straight, I asked myself why I was incapable of fully embracing the moment. The feeling isn’t unique to this injury; I find myself struggling to truly be present in situations when there are other, equally attractive options occurring. I know I am not the only person experiencing this; I hear the acronym “FOMO,” or “fear of missing out,” tossed around conversations on a daily basis.

Why do we feel this way?

According to its Wikipedia page, FOMO is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent,” a sophisticated way of wording anxiety that an exciting event may be occurring elsewhere. The key words here are might and may; these modal verbs simply suggest possibility, though in the moment they seem definitive. Etymologically speaking, FoMO had an alarmingly high usage around 1800, though a quick search of Google Books suggests “fomo” back then was probably (definitely) defined differently.

Numerous online and newspaper articles – and even scientific journal entries – have analyzed the phenomenon. Frequently explained using self-determination theory, the psychological investigation of the acronym suggests “the FoMO phenomenon can be understood as self-regulatory limbo arising from situational or chronic deficits in psychological need satisfactions.” In short, people can choose to adjust their actions to fulfill their desires of competence (usefulness), autonomy (self-freedom), and relatedness (connection with others). This explains why I, and other people, feel antsy in situations when we feel like we’re missing out on other events; knowing that we control our decisions and fearing that we chose incorrectly results in anxious feelings and a longing to be a part of the excitement. After all, some events are unforgettable and beget lifelong memories, and it is often difficult to reconcile missing one such occasion for another one (that is significantly less exhilarating).

FOMO is especially potent at Stanford; the phrase is so commonly used on campus that it is not unusual to express regret at choosing to attend one occasion as opposed to another. There is so much happening all the time that is almost impossible to feel bored, and the sheer number of opportunities available to us is a bit overwhelming. I appreciate all of the choices– this is a great problem to have—but that does not dull the effect that many students here feel. Triple, my first sexion leader in band, offered this piece of advice in a letter to his freshman self: “You must learn to choose.”

I have struggled with learning to choose this entire year, and though it was almost freeing to suddenly have my decisions made for me after I injured my ankle, I simultaneously felt more chained. External conditions aside, it is clear that the solution to FOMO is to be grateful for having so many choices, to fully embrace one decision, and to be present in that moment.

Yet, despite knowing this, it is still extremely difficult to rid ourselves of those anxious feelings. The quote “Don’t miss all the beautiful colors of the rainbow looking for that pot of gold” rings true, but we will probably continue searching for the gold. There are always more things to do, and many of us will keep choosing to fill our time with as many activities as can fit in a schedule.

So, will we overcome FOMO? Some people definitely will, and perhaps it will get easier as time passes. But, for those of us who are unsure, it is important to note that we are not perfect. We will miss out. And that’s okay, because FOMO goes both ways; while it is impossible to be at every exciting event all of the time, it is highly unlikely (while putting in an honest effort) that we will miss out on every single exciting event. Life does not behave like an optimization problem, especially when there are so many variables at play. If we do not accept that we will miss out, then we are setting ourselves up to be unhappy. There are always silver linings, and while some silver linings are shinier than others, they are silver linings nonetheless.

As I’m lying on the floor of my hallway with my leg up against the wall, typing this article and mixing metaphors with an ice pack bandaged to my swollen ankle, I can’t help but chuckle. I’m encouraging everyone to be optimistic and to attempt to overcome FOMO when I spent a good chunk of this weekend wishing my foot would miraculously recover so I could go out. Though this weekend wasn’t the most exciting, I definitely had fun. Three friends brought me dinner on Friday night. One of my RAs taught me how to make a Google form for a dorm-wide kudos program we’re starting. My dad bought enough Chinese take-out for ten people last night. Quite a few people gave me piggy-back rides. My hallmates wheeled me to a Chinese New Year gathering in an office chair. And rainbow cookies! (And chocolate chip cookies that I accidentally let burn… sorry Rachel)

This experience didn’t help me overcome FoMO, but I still managed to have fun. Hopefully, I’ll reach a point in my life when I can consistently devote myself to individual moments. But, if not, at least I won’t miss out on everything.

Cover Image Credit: Janet Coleman-Belin

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To The Girl Who Had A Plan

A letter to the girl whose life is not going according to her plan.
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“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” - William Ernest Henley

Since we were little girls we have been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We responded with astronauts, teachers, presidents, nurses, etc. Then we start growing up, and our plans change.

In middle school, our plans were molded based on our friends and whatever was cool at the time. Eventually, we went to high school and this question became serious, along with some others: “What are your plans for college?” “What are you going to major in?” “When do you think you’ll get married?” “Are you going to stay friends with your friends?” We are bombarded with these questions we are supposed to have answers to, so we start making plans.

Plans, like going to college with our best friends and getting a degree we’ve been dreaming about. Plans, to get married as soon as we can. We make plans for how to lose weight and get healthy. We make plans for our weddings and children.

SEE ALSO: 19 Pieces Of Advice From A Soon-To-Be 20-Year-Old

We fill our Pinterest boards with these dreams and hopes that we have, which are really great things to do, but what happens when you don’t get into that college? What happens when your best friend chooses to go somewhere else? Or, what if you don’t get the scholarship you need or the awards you thought you deserved. Maybe, the guy you thought you would marry breaks your heart. You might gain a few pounds instead of losing them. Your parents get divorced. Someone you love gets cancer. You don’t get the grades you need. You don’t make that collegiate sports team. The sorority you’re a legacy to, drops you. You didn’t get the job or internship you applied for. What happens to you when this plan doesn’t go your way?

I’ve been there.

The answer for that is “I have this hope that is an anchor for my soul.” Soon we all realize we are not the captain of our fate. We don’t have everything under control nor will we ever have control of every situation in our lives. But, there is someone who is working all things together for the good of those who love him, who has a plan and a purpose for the lives of his children. His name is Jesus. When life takes a turn you aren’t expecting, those are the times you have to cling to Him the tightest, trusting that His plan is what is best. That is easier said than done, but keep pursuing Him. I have found in my life that His plans were always better than mine, and slowly He’s revealing that to me.

The end of your plan isn’t the end of your life. There is more out there. You may not be the captain of your fate, but you can be the master of your soul. You can choose to be happy despite your circumstances. You can change directions at any point and go a different way. You can take the bad and make something beautiful out of it, if you allow God to work in your heart.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Patiently Waiting With An Impatient Heart

So, make the best of that school you did get in to. Own it. Make new friends- you may find they are better than the old ones. Apply for more scholarships, or get a job. Move on from the guy that broke your heart; he does not deserve you. God has a guy lined up for you who will love you completely. Spend all the time you can with the loved one with cancer. Pray, pray hard for healing. Study more. Apply for more jobs, or try to spend your summer serving others instead. Join a different club or get involved in other organizations on campus. Find your delight first in God and then pursue other activities that make you happy; He will give you the desires of your heart.

My friend, it is going to be OK.

Cover Image Credit: Megan Beavers Photography

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It Took Me 4 Years And $100K To Realize Why Poor Kids Like Me Don’t Go To College

But now that I know, I can't get it out of my mind.

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I grew up poor.

There, I said it. It's out in the open now—I don't come from a family that has a bunch of money. In fact, my family doesn't have much money at all. My single mother works in fast food and does a DAMN good job trying to support herself and the rest of us. A lot of the food my family gets comes from food pantries. We have received government assistance before. I grew up poor, but I haven't let that define me.

Especially when it came to going to college.

I didn't want to let my economic background hold me back from my potential. I wanted to be the first person on both sides of my family to receive my college degree. I wanted to get a better paying job and moving up in socioeconomic status so I don't have to be the "poor" girl with the "poor" family all my life. I'm not really ashamed of coming from a poor family, but I also don't want to be poor my entire life.

For a majority of my college career, I wondered why there weren't many poor students around me at college. I go to a public university, and it's just the same price as any other state school really. Coming from a lower income home, I did receive a lot of assistance, and without it, there's no way in hell I could be here. I know that many other lower-income students can get this same assistance, which really made me wonder why there was such a lack of other poor kids around me.

I mean, everyone posts videos from their nice, upper-middle-class homes on Snapchat over holiday breaks while I go back home to the trailer park.

Everyone can call mom or dad and ask for money when things get rough while I pay for 100% of the things I own because my mother simply cannot afford it.

Everyone walks around in their name-brand clothes while I'm rocking Walmart knockoffs. It's not something I thought about for a couple years in college, but once I noticed it, I couldn't think of anything else.

It took me nearly all four years of college to realize why there's such a lack of poor students at my average, public university. Poor students are set up for failure in college. It's almost designed to be a survival of the fittest when it comes to us lower-income students, and those of us who are deemed the fittest and do make it to graduation day are typically stuck with a lot of debt that we don't have the financial intelligence or support to even think about paying off.

Poor students are in the minority in college, and when you're in a minority anywhere, surviving can be difficult. When it costs $100 just for a 5-digit code to do your homework, it can be hard to stay in school. When the cost of living on campus is $10,000 or rent for an apartment is nearly $500 a month, it can be hard to stay in school. When you don't have a car because you can't save up the money for one and your parents can't help you, it can be hard to stay in school. When you're forced to get a minimum wage, on-campus job that limits your to twenty hours a week, it can be hard to stay in school. When all of your friends don't understand why you can't go out to eat or to the bar every weekend, it can be hard to stay in school. All of these reasons add up to the main reason why poor kids don't go to college—the odds are stacked against us.

I never had shame in my socioeconomic status until I went to college. In my hometown, I wasn't much less than the norm. Now, my home life is drastically different than that of all of my friends. I know that this is something that is never going to change because when I enter the workforce in less than a year, I'll be going in as the first member of my family with a college degree. People will treat me differently when I tell them this, even if I don't want them to. People will treat me differently when they ask where my parents work and I tell them McDonald's. It's an unfortunate reality that I cannot control.

It took me nearly all four years to realize why poor kids don't go to college, but now that I know, I can't get it off my mind.

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