Are You Missing Out?

The psychology of “The Fear of Missing Out,” is not new, but it may be reaching epidemic proportions thanks to modern technology. “FOMO,” (its acronym), is the belief that somewhere else, a rewarding experience is being had by others but not by you, and thus, you fear that your own life may be lacking in some way, a fear that must be as old as the human race itself. We are by nature curious creatures and our human brains posses the ability to imagine how things could be different. Both a blessing and a curse.

Capitalizing upon this aspect of human nature has fueled the rise of Social Media. Its creators openly acknowledge that their products have been designed to exploit FOMO  and therefore, they seed the rankle and discontent of always imagining a different and better scenario than the one we are living at that very moment.

Awareness of the many dark sides of the Social Media Medusa, including psychological dependence upon it, (a byproduct of FOMO) has been steadily growing and even sparking a backlash. Countless articles and books by psychologists, behavioral scientists, economists and professors of every stripe are sounding the alarm, if only to alert you to the fact that you are ultimately not the consumer but the product itself.

In 1854 Henry David Thoreau wrote about the FOMO he witnessed in his own century saying,

“Hardly a man takes a half hour nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, ‘what’s the news?’ After a night’s sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast, ‘pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe.”

Fast forward to 2017 and I can only imagine his amazement and dismay to see modern peoples’ obsession with a certain small handheld device. But possessing a keen understanding of human nature, Thoreau would quickly “get” the allure of incessant news feeds, status updates, live streaming, and the billions of “tweets and likes.”

His response today, I believe, would be the same he gave his readers in his lifetime.

“What news! how much more important to know what that is which was never old! When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.”

From his writing I glean: Seek out those things that are foundational, that never lose their value, that are ever fresh and relevant each time you encounter them. Look past the shams and delusions, the superficiality of what popular culture says is valuable. Discover, read, and study the classics in philosophy and literature. Stop looking down. Instead, look up and around and place yourself under Nature’s tutelage. Develop friendships that you maintain with the investment of your physical presence.

I know FOMO is real because I have felt its nagging prick. As a single person, without the benefit of a ready-made travel companion, I have felt it most often reading about the travels and adventures of all my coupled friends. But I shake off FOMO knowing that the life I’m living isn’t inferior, it’s just different, and it’s a great life. I am pursuing my dream of a life of Deep Work that rewards with a deep sense of well-being as I wrote about in my last post. And I’m trying to live as Thoreau suggests, consciously and with intent.

Dear Readers, when have you experienced FOMO in your own life and how have you processed through it?


“Not All Who Wander Are Lost”

Did you know that this oft quoted phrase is a line from a poem by JRR Tolkien? It appears in chapter ten of his book, The Fellowship of the Ring. If you don’t know the story, the poem refers to Aragorn, who is heir to the throne of Gondor but who cannot claim his throne until the evil Forces of Sauron are defeated. When we meet Aragorn in the story he lives as a Ranger wandering the realms of Middle Earth, gathering news of the enemy’s movements as well as protecting inhabitants from dangers unbeknownst to them. He is viewed with suspicion because he reveals little of himself, always traveling incognito and flying under the radar. By all outward appearance he is nothing more than a vagabond, but  in reality he is traveling a path toward his destiny.

green wooded path“Not all who wander are lost”- I have always loved the idea behind these words and the image they evoke. How utterly cool and confident is a person who wanders with intention. To not know your exact destiny but to know that you are consciously choosing the path you want to travel. Not aimlessly roaming because you are clueless and lost, but going forward with a sense of confidence and expectancy.

One day in a store I saw a greeting card depicting a lone dog IMGP1828-2trotting down a meandering path. The sparse photo had this caption: “Not all who wander are lost.” The card immediately caught my eye and I bought it. But as I continued to ponder the sentiment, it began to haunt me. I realized that if, “not all who wander are lost,” then the implication is that some who wander most certainly are lost. What do you do if you are one of the lost and you have no clue about where you are going? I had to admit that this was true of me. For most of my adult life I had been utterly lost.

man on pathI was raised by very religious parents in the Plymouth Brethren Church. My parents sincerely believed that all of the direction and guidance I would need in life could be found in the Bible or in church. As a consequence, I was not taught or encouraged to make independent choices. My pedagogical indoctrination was so thorough and complete that when I was told, as an impressionable young teen, that God had a very personal “blueprint” for my life, I believed it wholeheartedly. I prayed earnestly for its revelation. I read Christian books on the subject and made myself as receptive as possible for the spirit to “guide my path,” as they say in God-speak. But Guess what? No divine guidance ever came.lighted wooded path

At first I assumed that there was some error on my part, so I hoped and prayed, and waited some more. Still nothing was revealed or made clear. Meanwhile, my life was continuing with or without direction. Time was passing. Clueless as to how to define my talents, much less how to harness and capitalize on them, I fell into a pattern of wandering through my life, often choosing by default.

That is not to say that I never made any good choices, I did. And I accomplished things of value and had enriching life experiences. I do not presume that everyone raised in a similar religious environment had my same experience. But for me, the effects were to cripple and delay my understanding of what it means to live a life with intention. To think about what I really wanted from life and to make conscious choices accordingly.

Of course I eventually came to the realization that I had been mislead-no matter how well-intentioned. There never was a dawn breaking pathblueprint. Life is a mixture of what you make of it and things beyond your control. So you need to make the most of the part you can control. I remember one day stumbling upon the saying “Life isn’t about finding yourself, Life is about creating yourself.” As a person who was programmed to believe just the opposite, you can not imagine how novel the concept of self-determination was to me.

Fortunately I have always been a contemplative, analytical person with a passion for continuous growth and self-awareness. Over the years by observation and analysis as well as by falling into and climbing out of a lot of potholes in the road of life, I have come to grasp the meaning of living with intention. Now my life is about “creating myself,” and choosing what path I want to wander down without anyone’s permission or approval. I may not know my final destination but I am no longer lost.

Dear Reader, do you remember a time in your life when you felt totally lost?

Next time: How a Roman Emperor helped me discover how to live with intention.