The Panic of Possibility

- in Column, English

Are you constantly racked with indecision about where to go and what to do? Do you ever feel like wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, there’s somewhere else and something else that’s infinitely more engaging and fun and cool that you are, at that very moment, missing out on?

The Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is a particular breed of indecisive anxiety associated with the Millennial generation. It’s not an exclusively Millennial affliction, but it is an especially Millennial one: what other generation has been so constantly exposed to all the exciting things others in their generation are up to?

As a student, there are tons of triggers for this feeling. Let’s use parties as an example: say there are two parties you want to go to on the same night, and you’re trying to choose between them. In my experience, the worst of it isn’t when you’re at home, still trying to decide; the worst of it comes when you’ve picked a party to attend and you’re there, maybe even enjoying yourself, until you start thinking, well, hey, I wonder what’s happening at that other party, the one I’m not at? You begin imagining that whatever you’re not totally happy with at this party – the music, the bad breath of the person who’s decided to lean in really close and talk to you – is much improved at that other party. So, unable to stop yourself, you head to the other party, and soon after you arrive you realize the music is just as bad and the close-talker’s breath is just as smelly. Suddenly there’s a message from your friend saying there’s this other party down the way… so on, so on, until all the parties are over. You’re on your way home and all around you are other students who are coming from that party you were looking for but couldn’t find. Look how happy they are! And it makes you a little frustrated, and a little sad.

But the party thing is just a helpful example. In its deeper and more sinister permutations FOMO can be an inability to live in the present moment, an impatience with the here and an irrational, desperate optimism for the right over there, just around that corner.

I wish I could offer some kind of solution, but I can’t. I suspect the remedy has to do, as cliche as it sounds, with self-knowledge and experience: to be able to more realistically, less idealistically estimate what that metaphorical party will be like, and to hold that up for comparison against who you are (I warned you it would be cliche) and what you enjoy. In other words, using the logical side of your brain instead of the imaginative, optimistic one. And if you manage that, please tell me how.

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