By Louisa Foster, PsyD, RDT/BCT
I am a recovering sufferer of FOMO. To the uninitiated (and it seems highly unlikely in contemporary American culture to be uninitiated), this stands for Fear Of Missing Out, a clever acronym to explain a compulsive need to overdo and forgo rest.
Yes, I was the kid sitting at the top of the stairs when my parents entertained craning for a glimpse of a guest’s outfit, straining to hear snippets of “grown-up conversation”, the idea of restorative sleep easily sacrificed in order to be part of the action. As I got older and opportunities for new experiences became more accessible, I never really learned to consider my limits of time or energy in the equation. I just said “yes” before consulting my gut AND listening to my wiser, inner self.
When I agreed to something, my enthusiasm was genuine. I was so excited and honored to be thought of and included. I was authentically curious about how I could participate and lend my voice to a project. I wanted to play. And even though I may have had too much on my plate and my self-care was precarious, I would say “yes” almost automatically, and with vigor.
Fear Of Missing Out is about just that – missing out. I imagined and worried that, if I said “no”, the person I am meant to meet at the venue, the opportunity that I may have encountered if I don’t do the thing, the connection or skill that I could only gain in this way, will be forever lost to me. What if the very thing I needed to learn that will change my life is only accessible by doing this project? I might not get this chance again. So I said “yes”.
I fully subscribed to the axioms “Life is short. Sleep when you die” and “Say yes to everything. You never know when the Universe is guiding you to your destiny”. I found that my seemingly boundless energy was rewarded by my environment, offering me even more opportunities to do even more things. I became the “go-to girl” when you need something done.
It was exhausting.
Naturally, this kind of living has an expiration date. Wisdom and experience have helped me understand the value of discernment as I decide where to put my precious energy. I also had a little help from a healthier adage that I adopted a few years ago: “What is meant for me will not miss me.”
This lens involves a bit of trust and a surrender of control. I don’t need to remain ever vigilant for the experiences I’m “supposed to have” to enrich my life. If I can trust that I am right where I am meant to be, then whatever experiences I am intended to have to step into fully becoming myself will present themselves again and again. Until I am ready to say “Yes”.
This may sound familiar if you’re conversant with the model of The Hero’s Journey. The Hero can refuse the call to adventure as much as he or she wants, but what is destined is persistent and will not give up on us so easily. It’s not just a single shot and a lifetime of regret for having not taken it.
Perhaps you’ve had the experience of saying “no” and having the opportunity come around again at a time that was perhaps better suited for you? Or perhaps gaining more from an experience because you were more mature and ready for the teachings it had to offer?
When I can remember that life is not linear but a cyclical co-creation between my readiness and the opportunities that arise, I can release my fear that I will be missing out. An important reminder as we head into the chaos of the holiday season. While it’s problematic to let every opportunity pass us by, it can be just as fruitless to engage in them all.
I’ve also learned how to really enjoy my sleep.