FOMO: FEAR OF MISSING OUT

FOMO: FEAR OF MISSING OUT

Apparently there is a fairly new form of social angst going ’round, a mind-set gone viral in the past decade or so.  The people- in-the-know call it “FOMO.”  The acronym stands for the “Fear Of Missing Out,” it says here.

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES-PLUS

From where I am standing, FOMO looks like an upgraded, updated version of the old “keeping-up-with-the Joneses” syndrome, a new twist on our very human impulse to measure ourselves against our perceptions of the tangible and material successes of all of the other people in our lives and finding our own lives or our own selves depressingly inadequate.

It was in 1913 that cartoonist Arthur Momand began poking fun at our propensity for checking out what the neighbors are doing and trying to copy or, better yet, to top them.  The strip ran until 1940 in The New York World and various other newspapers of the time.

In one of the earlier strips, the main character Aloysius P. McGinnis ends up sitting in a bar wearing a ridiculous outfit his social-climbing wife forced on him because, as his wife says, “we will show that Jones woman that her husband is not the only Adonis that can wear pink socks and a fuzzy hat!”

Momand called his comic strip “Keeping Up With the Joneses.”

Ten years later, when Mark Twain decried the faddishness of the times with an essay entitled “Corn-pone opinions,” he used the by-then well-known Smith and Jones competition to illustrate his point:  “The Smiths like the new play; the Jones go to see it, and they copy the Smith verdict.”

Jealousy, envy and feeling left out fueled the movement to keep up with the Joneses, and the whole thing got a leg-up when the advertising and marketing industry joined in the chorus, encouraging consumer discontent in order to encourage their potential customers to buy-buy-buy.

The me-too, me-too moves morphed with the dawn of techno-advances that were not even a glimmer in the eye of those old hard-sell guys.

The biggest difference between FOMO and KUWTJ (besides the fact that the Jones one doesn’t make a really great mouth-byte) is the added electronical enhancements of modern tech – mobile phones and smartphones and the social networking services like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.

We are now bombarded with all the cool stuff all of our friends and acquaintances are doing and getting.

They’ve got the latest and greatest gadget.

They’re winning all kinds of awards and promotions.

They’re partying down (without me).

They’ve met their One.

They’re getting engaged and married.

They’re having beautiful babies.  On and on and on.

And me…MEH!  All I’ve got is slog, slog, slog….ARGH!

THE RISE OF FOMO

The origin of the term “FOMO” has been tracked down.  Ironically, it was another McGinnis – Patrick – then a Harvard Business School student, who wrote, in 2003, a light-hearted article in the school newspaper outlining the various ailments suffered by modern-day students.

McGinnis was apparently the guy who coined the FOMO acronym.  The Fear Of Missing Out, he said, leads to a state of over-commitment in which people pack a single evening with nearly a dozen events, from cocktails to dinners, parties and after-parties, and assorted gatherings and social events.  It eventually culminates, he said, in a drunken email at three in the morning to a jilted friend:  “Sorry I missed your 80’s theme party at Felt – you know that you are totally in my top 15.”

According to McGinnis missing out on a truly awesome event (despite the jam-packed schedule) caused people to become hesitant about committing to anything for certain, always holding out for the “better option.”  This syndrome he dubbed as FOBO:  “The Fear of Better Options.”

This video features an interview on London Real with Patrick McGinnis describing how he came up with FOMO.

(You can get the free full interview by clicking HERE.)

In his student article, McGinnis posits that while full-on FOMO takes a tremendous amount of energy and is terribly wearing after a while; aggressive FOBO alienates your friends.  (Keep telling your friends that their “do” is only a possible good option often enough, and your friends stop asking you to come hang with them.)

Yo-yoing between the two extremes eventually leads to what McGinnis called FODA, “the Fear of Doing Anything.”

Over the next decade or so, McGinnis’ seed-concepts and his acronyms took root, and grew and grew.  They even sprouted new FO-acronyms.

Meanwhile, McGinnis went on to become a venture capitalist, private equity investor and the author of THE 10% ENTREPRENEUR:  Live Your Start-Up Dream Without Quitting Your Day Job, where he shows you how by investing ten percent of your time and energy, you can become an entrepreneur without losing your steady paycheck.

AWWW…QUITCH’ER BITCHIN’

Folks who pooh-pooh this phenomenon argue that FOMO is a “first world problem.” The people afflicted by it have to have some degree of social mobility, at least some discretionary spending, and the leisure time to actually worry about this kind of social comparison.

If you’re busy worrying about where your next meal is coming from, you’re not going to be too concerned about all this stuff, they say.

This doesn’t make the effects of the syndrome any less real for the people who are suffering behind it.

The “reasonable” voices made no headway against the excesses that keeping up with the Joneses brought on.  They make none against the ones evoked by FOMO and FOBO and FODA (and all the other FO-acronyms) either.

Social psychologist Andrew Przybylski and his colleagues defined FOMO as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent, FOMO is characterized by the desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.”  Their 2013 study apparently cemented the legitimacy of the complaint.

Other, subsequent studies pointed out that not only do sufferers of FOMO need to stay connected, they also get to feeling like they want to be doing whatever the ones they’re connected to are doing.

They start thinking that maybe what they are doing in their own lives is unsatisfactory.  Dissatisfaction becomes the order of the day.  Status anxiety runs rampant.

It seems like any time we start comparing our circumstances with the typically rosy picture others present of their own lives on any social media, ours comes off looking worse in comparison.  Every time one of our besties does well we get to feeling like it sucks to be us.  ARGH!

Then comes the part where you feel like a turd and a bad person because you just can’t-can’t-can’t be happy for your own dearest friend one more time.

THE SHADOW-SIDE OF SELF-VALIDATION

According to one mind-game theory, human motivation comes from three things: (a) autonomy (the need for self-direction), (b) competence (the need to feel effective), and (c) relatedness (the need to feel connection with others).

All three of these are powerful, fundamental needs that every one of us requires to feel good about ourselves.  If one of the three is out of whack, we are very likely to feel lessened and our motivational power takes a nose-dive.

Social media postings about our triumphs and the resultant validations can be a major high point for each of us.  They make us rev our engines, help us maintain our momentum, and keep us trucking onward.

The problem is most of us don’t just go from triumph to triumph.  All of us have down-times and off-days and downright horrid stuff dumping on our heads at any given time.  We tend to forget that what is true for us is probably true for all the golden people and social media bright-lights as well.

Then all that glowing good jazz that’s happening to Other People can really be a downer when you’re in the middle of a cycle of suck your own self.

COUNTERING FOMO

Much of the speculation about FOMO and its effects on chronic sufferers seem to conclude that the condition is curable.

Often suggested are things like going cold-turkey and taking a rest from all the social media surfing, developing an attitude of gratitude for life as you know it, and spending some time hanging with and appreciating your own self and your own life and your own accomplishments.

In other words, the way to balance an out-of-whack need for connection is to go back to validating your own self – finding and committing to your own path and your own direction, remembering your own competences and achievements.  Hmmmm….

Here’s another take on the issue of FOMO.  This video by the School of Life points to another way of looking at things….

And here’s a poem about a memory from younger days:


YOU SNOOZE, YOU LOSE

I am remembering the cousins.

We are sitting around the patio table.

The tabletop’s covered with old newspapers.

We are cracking open juicy, fat crabs

And digging out the meat,

And slurping it on down.

I am remembering the constant game we played.

“You- snooze-you-lose,” it was called.

 

The cousins never waited.

They always got theirs, and

If you were slow and didn’t know how,

They took some of yours too….

All of it, if they could.

And they laughed and teased the little one

Trying so hard to keep up.

You-snooze-you-lose.

 

And maybe that is why

When things don’t flow and things don’t move forward apace,

There is this pressure in the back of my head,

And why jogs and jigs and zigs and zags

Feel like tragedy waiting to happen,

And why the world seems to be laughing

As I keep on stumbling and bumbling.

You-snooze-you-lose.

 

I am wary still of the snatching hands

That seize my share of joys and prizes

When I am not quick enough, not smart enough,

Not strong enough, not anything enough.

I can still hear the echoes of the teasing

And it makes me want to run faster,

Try harder, jump higher…all that stuff.

You-snooze-you-lose.

 

Maybe it’s time to stop playing that game.

By Netta Kanoho

Picture credit:  Reservoir Climb by Erick Gonzalez via Flickr [CC BY-ND 2.0]

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20 thoughts on “FOMO: FEAR OF MISSING OUT

  1. Hi Netta!

    Your post is so true. How many times I got myself comparing to other people or not being able to decide what I wanted to do because I kept thinking I was not able to choose it “right” or something better was waiting to happen around the corner. What a waste of time and energy!

    I have to say I only stopped doing that few years ago; I am not even in my thirties anymore. I am still working on it.

    The way I found to do it is very similar to what you wrote in your post: I started listening to positive talks or interviews from people, who are really well known for being in line with themselves some traditional masters like Dalai Lama or more modern like Brendon Burchard. Have you heard of this last one? He is a business guru, but a good one.

    Emerson

    1. Hey Emerson….

      Thanks for the visit and your comments. Thank you, too, for the heads-up about Brendon Burchard. I’ll check out his stuff as well. Please do come again….

  2. Hi Netta,
    FOMO, I know some of my friends have this syndrome and I personally think they really should do something about it. I do not have time to worry about missing out on what’s going on or where or the why. I have to focus on me and what’s going on with my life and that’s enough. If you always worry about what you are missing out on then you just miss out, on life. Thanks, Netta great article, and poem. I love your site. Have a Happy and Healthy New Year and continued success!!!
    Carol

    1. Welcome back, Carol. Thanks for your visit and your comments. Please do come again….

  3. I work at a childrens hospital now. Some of the patients’ problems are not bound to the feelings that you describe here, but I believe most are these kids who are raised from an early age of want and what they do not have compared to others so they get very depressed and want to commit suicide.

    It is sad but depression and anxiety are on the rise in young children and adults,and shows no signs of slowing, just getting worse. I think the best thing for parents to do is to spend time with your kids away from social media and just explore the wonderful world around you, instead of watching TV all day everyday.

    1. A truth, Rick. FOMO and the comparison-making engenders so much pain and sadness especially among the young ones who have nothing to hold onto except want and more want. The antidote that seems to work best is to hold your loved ones close and to let them know they are cherished. We do forget that in our striving for different sometimes.

      Thanks for the visit and your comments. Please do come again.

  4. Excellent post! I knew about FOMO, but I didn’t know about FODO and FOBO. It is most definitely a problem and I don’t think it is limited to people who have access to social media. I see this in my 3 year old which started around when she was 18 months. There seems to be something hardwired in us around this issue and I think your poem at the end of this post summed it up nicely. I am constantly trying to tell my daughter that it’s not about winning and finding ways where she can appreciate herself and not compare herself to others and to appreciate what is in front of here. She is naturally a happy and chirpy character-but could this change when there is more social pressure-especially in mid primary school where it really starts to kick in… I worry about the world she is going into where social media will be part of her future. I guess the main thing is to keep working on her own self esteem…And it is interesting-I actually don’t use my personal profiles that much and look at what my ‘friends’ are doing and use my business profiles more. But even that is a stress because there is a tendency to compare how well my business is going compared to how well someone else’s business is going in relation to the amount of engagement someone else might be getting. So, it seems no-one is immune. Living in the present moment has become a real skill that everyone needs to work on I think.

    1. Hey Liz:  

      Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  

      You’re right.  Comparing ourselves with others is an insidious habit.  We never seem to get away from it entirely no matter how long we live.  

      The killer habit is when we compare our novice efforts to somebody’s masterly ones and start beating ourselves up for not “measuring up.”  And then we give up.  This is not a good thing….

      Please do come again!

  5. Nowadays, fear of missing out is also used as a sales technique all around the world. And it’s pretty effective as well. Thankfully, for the most part, I have beat that fear. I don’t care about what other people have, I don’t care about keeping up with them, I don’t care if they think I am not cool, I don’t care if they ridicule me for my point of view, I really don’t care…

    I usually have things to do which I consider greater than competing and trying to keep up with others such as building my business, working out, being with my family, meditating, etc.

    Let me tell you, that if you beat that FOMO, you are one step closer to freedom.

    Thank you for that!

    1. Good for you, Harry.  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your story and your thoughts.  As you say, if you can beat that FOMO, you really are one step closer to freedom.

      Please do come again….

  6. Aabidah Ahmed says:

    I know some people or shall I say I’ve met some people that are FOMO. As you’re explaining I have an idea on how to notice someone is FOMO. I mean at least there’s another word for Copycats or that’s what I call it. 

    At times I do feel I don’t want to miss out on something someone else will be doing, but I never act on it. Now the people I know act on this. 

    Thank you for the article on FOMO people and all the best.

    Aabidah

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Aabidah.  You’re right:  “copycats” is a good other name for people suffering from FOMO.

      Please do come again.

  7. Dave Sweney says:

    Ahhh FOMO, the acronym that has grown legs and grown-up all in the span of my lifetime. Of course, this is one of many, but it has most definitely taken on a life of its own from its beginnings. I hear and read about it quite often these days and in different market segments, and even in the church blog posts (yes you read that right!)…

    You have taken this obsession with the term to its next logical level, which is creating a poem that encapsulates the phenomenon in a witty way that we can all appreciate a bit – a lighter take on things is never a bad thing in my opinion, as there are more than enough that take everything so seriously…

    The final line is perhaps the most telling and is a truism from my perspective. Perhaps it IS time we stopped playing the game (this version or any version!)? You have a very valid point!

    1. Hee!  Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts on it, Dave.  

      Please do come again.

  8. Oh, the fear of missing out, will you never leave me? 

    The fear of better options leaves me out of work

    While the fear of doing anything just makes me lazy

    What a wonderful story of the FO acronyms. When I look back at my life I think of when my parents were at one time KUWTJ or at least trying until they came to the decision that they instead would be the Joneses.

    A much better life was had by all. Thank you for writing about this.

    Derek

    1. Hey, Derek:  

      Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts and the story about your parents.  Hee!  I love that they decided to BE the Joneses instead of trying to play catch-up.  A great strategy, I say!

      Please do come again.

  9. Wow, this was a very interesting and enjoyable read.   Educational too.   

    I am not certain that I’ve really thought about the acronym FOMO.   Yet, the meaning behind the idea of the “fear of missing out” was immediately obvious.  

    In my opinion, the ability to take pictures and video with our phones and quickly post them to social media has contributed to the overall “fear of” syndrome.       

    Ultimately, I would like to think that some people are better at capturing the great, fun looking snippets of life better than others.   As such, many of us do not take the time to notice all of the great things that we have going on in our own lives.   So, we have this fear of missing out.  

    By the way, thanks for sharing the story of how the phrase, “Keeping up with the Jones’s” came to be.

    1. Sondra, thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts.  You are probably right, you know.  Some people are just noticing when something great is happening in their lives AND they actually know how to work the camera doo-dad on their phones!  

      It has been said that if we all started noticing the great things happening in our own lives and worked on being grateful for them, then FOMO would never darken our minds.  That is a good thing to remember, I think.

      Please do come again.

  10. I read and enjoyed this post, but I do not find myself in the text.  On the contrary, I am completely the opposite of what is written and I only recognize those whom I want to help.

    Such texts touch deeply and make you think “where did I go wrong”. The text inspires and motivates you to start working on yourself and bring to the surface the best of yourself.

    Wonderful. For the second time I enjoy your written word.

    Congratulations With much Respect

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Emaku.  I do appreciate it.

      Please do come again.

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