Take a look around. If you haven’t noticed, which would probably be impossible at this point, it’s pretty evident that oh so many of us are plagued by a similar, debilitating illness. It’s an illness that prevents us from being here; an illness that makes us almost completely incapable of enjoying and appreciating that which is right in front of us. How far does the illness stretch? Across how many miles and over how many years has this state of fear that we simply don’t have enough been running rampant and leaving a path of depression in its wake?
What does the illness look like? What does “not enough” look like? In short, it means that our current life circumstances such as our jobs, locations, and relationships aren’t enough, and that within each of these categories and more, there is better opportunity out there waiting for us. And causing this is the lack of trust in that which we already have, both externally and (more importantly) internally.
Well this illness does have a name and it is called FOMO, which for you geezers out there is an acronym for Fear of Missing Out. A really funny thing about FOMO is, as a result of how widespread and infectious it is, we’re more aware than ever before about the opportunities for and benefits of FOMO’s arch rival: mindfulness.
This, that and the other guy are happy to go on Facebook, share quotes about Buddhism and call themselves experts on mindfulness. Fuck, we’re trying. We really want to get through this thing. And that answer is so close but so far. We see roads we can take to get through it, the first steps of which seem to be right there at our feet. We’ll preach about them, lead people towards them, yet it’s unbearably difficult to take those first strides. It’s a blockade; that distrust that taking the leap into a life of mindfulness will actually be worth it and allow us to function in society.
So what can we do about that? How can we really buy in to this and stop living in fear of the present? Is it as cut and dry as just committing to it and not looking back? Probably, but that is the very core of the problem isn’t it? Commitment.
How on earth can we be expected to just commit? Why has it become so difficult to say, “this is what I’ve chosen, and I appreciate it”? Enter on Greg’s seemingly-off-course-but-I-promise-this-is-going-somewhere tangent:
For as wonderful as our technological advances are, make no mistake that they come with great danger as well. I’m not talking about how time consuming they are or the fact that your six year old is hearing about eating ass on the radio. What I’m talking about is that each day, every form of media pumps the world full of options.
But aren’t options supposed to be a lovely thing? How beautiful it is to see all the jobs you can have, all the places you can work, and all the people you can date. How overwhelming it is to see all the jobs you can have, all the places you can work, and all the people you can date. To survey all these options, even briefly, is exhausting enough. The exhaustion is magnified when you consider the temptation that comes with being presented with the best versions of these options. If you’re on Tinder, you only see a hot girl who says that she likes red wine and going on adventures. She doesn’t tell you that she’s going to try to stab your sister some day. Do you see what I’m saying? We’re tricked into thinking that all these other things we could be doing are virtually flawless; unlike what we’re doing right now, just bouncing around from distraction to distraction.
So that would be the first and most obvious obstruction on our desire to commit. Simply put, the grass is always greener on the other side. But it goes deeper than that, friends.
What happens when the grass isn’t greener? What happens when it turns out your grand visions of more end up revealing themselves as realities of less? What happens when you’re…gulp…wrong?
Being wrong is a humongous part of the reason people choose not to commit, yet it isn’t talked about. It’s common knowledge that most people don’t like being wrong. Why is that? Sure, on the surface it’s because being right is enjoyable. But why? Ego maniacs aside, have you already ridden yourself of childhood memories? As children, being right was the key to a good life. Throughout all those years of school, we were taught to believe the very validity of our short and long term futures depended on being right. Get enough questions right, you get good grades, go to a college, get a good job, have a good life. Being right is planted very deep into our collective psyche. We all want to be right.
Then what of the flip side? What of being wrong? If we’re wrong, we go against the grain of that which we’ve been told nonstop. If we’re wrong, we anticipate backlash from society. We anticipate being reminded of what “the right way” is and how we’ve strayed from it. We know the world will be much happier to highlight our wrongs than our rights, so we run from it. We run from future uncertainty, we run from taking responsibility of being wrong, and above all, we run from the isolation; the banishment. Why? Because very few, if any people are in your corner when you’re wrong.
And so the plot thickens as we continue falling down the well and arrive at our next checkpoint: loneliness. You see, we can tolerate being wrong if it’s alongside a group of others. We’ll ask for, and act on the opinions of others if it means we either all rise or all fall together. After all, the more exposed we are to a group that’s on the same page as us, the more right we’re going to feel (see all things political). But in many cases, our definition or interpretation of “wrong” means not fitting in, and not fitting in means being lonely. As instinctively social creatures, loneliness is something we avoid at all costs. Though the idea of healthy social interaction is seen differently by different people, to feel lonely on ones own terms is a severe threat. To combat this threat, the majority of people feeling lonely resort to over-involvement in a myriad of ways. They thrust themselves into situations that allow for mass interaction. A lot of likes on your fucking selfie means a lot of people envying you. A lot of vacations means a lot of new potential friends. A lot of money means a lot of people wanting to learn from (or leach off) you. A lot of experiences means a lot of people who want to listen to your stories. Right?
At this point, you might expect me to say “wrong”. But, no, at face value, those assumptions aren’t wrong. They’re right, which is why so many people know and trust them. What people cease to understand, however, is the meaning that comes from all these forms of wealth. Doesn’t matter whether it’s something often vilified like money or something often celebrated like experiences. These things are not bad, but they also aren’t the answer.
People feeling lonely are prone to saturating their lives with things like these not because they’re in search of likes, vacations, money, or experiences, but because they’re in search of connection. They want to be a part of something, so they throw spaghetti at the wall. But the more doors you have your feet in, the less time you’ll spend in each one. Connection is not acquired through quantity, but quality. It comes from BUMMM BA DUM DUM DUMM FULL CIRCLE OMG…commitment. It’s only by committing to things that connection can be gained. The extras we insert into our lives are really only reserves in case that which we keep a little closer ends up failing us. The subconscious awareness of having all these other somethings to fall back on indeed lessens our commitment to that which we choose to make focal points out of, silently eating away at our level of connection with them. Our brains scatter, causing us to look for other outside sources to identify with, and just like that, a little baby named FOMO is born.
To avoid FOMO is to commit. It doesn’t mean you’re never allowed to make a conscious change in your life, but it does mean being very appreciative about that which you’ve been given and very precise about that which you choose to keep around. In spending time and attention on a select few priorities, the connection and depth we all crave will be cultivated because you will come to know them at deeper levels and bear witness to what they really have to offer. Along with this recognition will come a feeling of comfortability within you to expose more of yourself (don’t be gross). Thereby you will feel wholly accepted, the inclination to be ashamed of or hide any part of you will diminish, and you will find yourself to be truly a part of something.