On a particularly clear night, Daniella and I decided to do some star-gazing. I had earlier identified the perfect spot: the roof of a partially constructed two-storey building (I trust all the weight bearing parts were in place…). On the walk there I sarcastically wondered out loud if there were any new deep insights to be gained from staring at the stars. You know, aside from Regina Spektor’s poetic understatement (“they’re just old light”), and overwhelming but clichéd feeling of smallness.
We arrive. I lie down. My eyes acclimate to reveal galaxies.
A shooting star.
Did you see it?
I break the silence to ask. She hadn’t. I’m winning 1-0 in a competition she doesn’t even know we are having. But on the walk home I was heartbroken to learn I had lost 5-3. The heartbreak came from my FOMO.
FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. I think I am still too driven by it to comment for myself, but here is a bit more about FOMO from others wiser than me:
Some ways we let the fear of missing out rule us:
- We check email, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks often, in case we’re missing something important.
- We try and do the most exciting things, and are constantly in search of exciting things, because we’re worried we might miss out on the fun that others are having.
- We constantly read about what other people are doing, and try to emulate them, because it sounds like they’re doing something great that we’re not.
- We often want to travel the world, because it seems that other people are living amazing lives by traveling all the time.
- We miss what we don’t have, miss places and people who we aren’t with.
- We work constantly, because we think if we don’t, we might miss out on opportunities other people will get.
- We feel like our own lives are poor in comparison with the great lives others are leading, and so feel bad about ourselves.
FOMO describes the feeling of inadequacy I get when I meet someone “super awesome”: the popular, athletic, well-rounded altruistic person; the young child prodigy who seems to be doing more interesting things at 15 than I’ve done at 22; the classmate that always gets the coolest jobs in the field I want to go into. These people inspire me. They also make me feel horribly inadequate and sometimes it’s crippling. So I usually resolve to work harder, waste less time, and find and do more awesome things so I can also be “super awesome” like them.
But when I get to know them, turns out the people I admire FOMO too. Hell, some of them FOMO on ME! It also didn’t take long to realize that my solution to simply “try harder” until I also got to “super awesome” was deeply flawed… the goalpost always moves and there is always someone more awesome. The super awesome is me, in this moment, right now. The sad thing is I had come to all these conclusions before the night we went star gazing, and I still FOMO’d on something as inconsequential as burning space rocks.
So my insight for the night was a reminder to be satisfied with my patch of sky, to gaze upon the sparkles of old light to the best of my ability, and appreciate fully whenever the magnificence of the universe resulted in the annihilation of space debris in a part of the atmosphere I could witness.
“We always envy others, comparing our shadows to their sunlit sides.”
(Source: The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers by Margaret George)