This week, Karen Richards writes about her Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) in the second in the series Losing and Lost.
Fear of missing out (FOMO) is the feeling of apprehension that one is either not in the know about or missing out on information, events, experiences, or life decisions that could make one’s life better. It was, according to Wikipedia, first identified by a marketing strategist, called Dan Herman, in 1996 and has since been exacerbated by the use of social media. But, the fear of missing or losing out is not a modern phenomenon, though it may have an acronym, now.
I have suffered from a fear of missing out since I was in my early teens. I remember being in awe of the different roads that it was possible to take in life and wanted to take them all! There were so many subjects that one could study, craft skills that could be acquired, books to be read, and careers that could be had. It caused a sort of existential anxiety that I may die not having experienced all that could be experienced: that I may inadvertently take the wrong path and end up in a dead end, from which I could not escape. I was, passionate and enthusiastic, inquisitive about many things, had a capacity for hard work, and loved to be around interesting people but alongside this passionate enthusiasm was a deep sense of dissatisfaction and an underlying fear that by doing one thing, I was losing out on another.
This often led to me taking jobs that ultimately did not satisfy me and starting projects that I would later abandon, not through boredom but because of a nagging feeling that this was not ‘it’. I remember, at the age of nineteen, when I decided to leave nursing, before completing my training, the Head of the School of Nursing told me, “Nurse, you have the capability, just not the ‘stickability’. How right she was. Ironically, her words ‘stuck’ with me. They helped me to begin questioning why I was not satisfied. So, when I first encountered Buddhism, in my mid-twenties, I was ‘ripe’ to begin discovering, for myself, the root cause of my dissatisfaction, why suffering exists, and how to be still in the midst of it. It takes a lifetime to answer these questions but being willing to meet the fear, head-on is the beginning of understanding.
Like most of us, I have had many challenges in my life, not least of which has been the restrictions that come from being a carer for my invalid husband. As his illness and disability have progressed, both his world and mine have reduced, in the physical sense, to the extent that he is all but housebound and within the house, his world has been reduced to the few meters of space between his bed, the bathroom, and his chair, in the living room. As his carer, this has reduced my world, too. There have been times when that early existential fear of losing out on life has risen within me. The dreams and ambitions of my youth, are still there, in some measure or other. At times, I have been gripped by the claustrophobia of not being able to leave my house and simply walk as long as I wish to, jump on a train, or take a holiday. But this is a distorted view of reality.
Whilst any of these activities can be vehicles for training, they are in no way the goal. They are not the ultimate experience and cannot of themselves bring true satisfaction. The practice of meditation and Buddhist training provides the remedy for existential panic. The medicine for dissatisfaction is to meet life right where it is.
As the late Thich Nhat Hanh has said, ‘The way out is in’. The reality of this is that no career, hobby, or visit to far-flung countries is as satisfying as the adventure experienced on the journey to meet the True self. The more I get to know myself, the wish to escape lessens and the present moment opens up and offers the True jewel.