D. Randall Faro
Updated: Nov 12, 2022
Alistair was rather miserable. He was miserable because everybody else was smarter or richer or better looking than he. At least it seemed that way to him. He was not one of the cool group. In fact, he didn’t feel like was one of any group. He had a good, low-level management job, and he felt loved by his parents and siblings But his feeling of being so average, or rather, below average, kept him awake at night staring at the blank ceiling as a visible metaphor of his life. He couldn’t shake the feeling of being left out.
FOMO. It’s now a bona fide dictionary word. Fear Of Missing Out. Fear of not being included in something that others are experiencing; the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that your peers are in the know about something or in possession of something that you are missing. Sheva Rajaee, a psychotherapist specializing in anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder, describes it as "anxiety at the thought of not being included, not being ‘in the know,’ and a sense of or fear of not living one’s best life." Stress management Elizabeth Scott, PhD, adds that it is a “perception that others are having more fun, living better lives, or experiencing better things than you are. It involves a deep sense of envy and affects self-esteem.”
The phenomenon, and its acronym, originated with the internet social media, but has spread into the area of general mental health. While they don’t classify it as a technical disorder, psychologists recognize FOMO as a genuine mental health issue which can go from bad to worse if not recognized and dealt with purposefully.
So how does one deal with it purposefully? What are steps or techniques that will help? Websites abound with positive suggestions. (Googling FOMO brought me over 30 million hits.) Some of the most common are: changing one’s focus (rather than focusing on what you lack, try noticing what you have); digital detox (social media sites tend to engender and exacerbate FOMO); spend more time being physically together with friends, people who value and support you; journal keeping.
Undergirding all of the above is the high, really high, value of positive self-esteem. Googling that will result in almost 300 million hits . . . which says something about it being a problem for many, along with the importance of acquiring it. That can be a long process, and one which is generally not accomplished alone.
Part of the foundation for overcoming FOMO and acquiring positive self-esteem is to refrain from comparing oneself to others. To be sure, there are outstanding human beings who inspire one to greater goodness. They should be regarded as models or mentors which motivate and encourage, but not benchmarks which, if not reached, mean failure. For instance, one can aspire for the musical expertise of J.S. Bach without feeling like a dunce for reaching only a modicum of his artistic life.
The only person one should responsibly compare oneself to is the one in the mirror. Jesuit priest John Powell says in one of his presentations: “If you like yourself, you’ve got it made, because you’re with someone you like twenty-four hours a day.” That may be easier said than done, but that’s the goal. If I see something in the figurative mirror that I’m not fond of, there is always – ALWAYS – the possibility for change. It might take blood, sweat, and tears (and the help of others) to make the change, but it can be done.
Everyone is going to miss out on some things in life. That’s life. Face it. Accept it. And consciously give thanks for and enjoy what you do have. Life without FOMO is an appreciably better one.