We live in a world full of FOMO, that is, the fear of missing out. We’re afraid of missing social events. We’re afraid of being the person who hasn’t seen that article “everyone” is talking about. We’re driven by an urge to see everyone’s photos, “like” their statuses, and know what they’re doing and with whom.
This fear of missing out can even infiltrate our careers. We want to be included in every meeting, we struggle to delegate, and we feel like we have to be available at all times. As executive coach Kristi Hedges says in a Forbes article, “We like to blame our work cultures for forcing us to always be available on email, but in my experience, it’s more often a choice the person makes. After all, we train people how to treat us.”
The culture and the tech aren’t to blame. Our choices have led us here. The sad part is that we are so afraid of missing out that we actually do miss out. We run ourselves ragged, and our fears come to life. What we’re missing isn’t a brunch or a day at the beach that someone else Instagrammed. What we’re really missing, or rather denying ourselves, is the opportunity for joy—more precisely, the joy of missing out. JOMO.
In the introduction to her book The Joy of Missing Out, Christina Crook writes, “Our energies, creativity, and time—perhaps the best of us—are being spent committed to screens.” Technology is a valuable tool. But we shouldn’t let it, or our fears, dictate the way we spend our time.
I first encountered JOMO while participating in Infomagical, a weeklong challenge designed to help people unplug. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I had just spent two weeks keeping track of my time on a chart, and I was becoming more aware of how I spent the precious hours in each day. I started making time to write, and I was more intentional about getting sleep and exercise. I didn’t like writing down “putzed around online,” so I started to cut back. When I had five minutes to spare, I tried to do housework, read, or do something else productive.
Despite my best efforts, mindless screen time still made an appearance in too many of the slots on my chart, especially when I was tired or stressed. I tried to justify it. I told myself I was just checking in with people, or trying to stay caught up on news, or that it was good for me to be more connected. And the more time I spent doing who knows what on my phone, the worse I felt. My motivation dragged. My creativity lagged. The minutes ticked by, and I had nothing to show for them.
On top of feeling guilty for wasting time, I also felt the weight of another round of the comparison game. I wasn’t using social media to be social. I was using it in a mindless, habitual way. Instead of feeling joyful about the exciting things happening in my friends’ lives—especially having children and buying homes—I started feeling jealous. It’s an ugly feeling, one I’m ashamed to admit I’ve harbored. But it’s true. That use of time kept me from being grateful for all the blessings in my own life. It also kept me from doing what I really wanted to do. I was watching other people’s adventures instead of living my own.
I was a lot less plugged in than I had been before charting my time, but I still had a long way to go. So when I heard about Infomagical, it seemed like the perfect next step in what I now call my “time management makeover.”
After my first taste of JOMO, I decided to delete the Facebook app from my phone. It was time to say goodbye to the jealousy trap. Now when I check Facebook, I do it intentionally. Instead of popping open the app out of habit ten times a day, I make the decision to visit the website every few days, and I enjoy the experience a lot more.
I’m also choosing to spend more time with friends in person. I don’t know what their lunches look like or how their workout regimens are going because we don’t talk about the kinds of things we post on social media. Face to face, we go deeper. I’ve heard a lot of happy news that I’m glad I got to rejoice over with a squeal of delight instead of the click of a button.
In addition to cutting back on social media, I’ve learned to be more selective with the other information I take in. I don’t have to read every article or stay up to date on every topic. And if I miss out on a viral post, it’s not a big deal—it’ll be replaced soon, anyway.
There are times to miss social events, too. I’m an extrovert, and I love a good party. But we don’t have to say yes just because we received an invitation. It’s OK to say, “I’m sorry, but I won’t make it,” or even just, “I can’t.”
Because it’s true—we can’t do everything. We can’t read every article or see every photo. We can’t chair every committee or go to every party. Our inability to do it all doesn’t make us inadequate. It simply makes us human. We have to make choices. And in choosing what we’re not going to do, we make decisions about what we are going to do.
When I say no to Twitter first thing in the morning, I say yes to journaling. When I say no to checking my phone before bed, I say yes to reading a book. When I say no to an event, I say yes to an evening at home with my husband.
Entrepreneur and tech writer Anil Dash points out that there are always going to be things we miss, and we should embrace our choice to do so. He writes: “There can be, and should be, a blissful, serene enjoyment in knowing, and celebrating, that there are folks out there having the time of their life at something that you might have loved to, but are simply skipping.”
Athletic brand Under Armour is incorporating the concept of JOMO in its latest ad campaign, titled “Rule Yourself.” In a push against instant gratification and FOMO, the campaign focuses on hard work, sacrifice, and all that athletes choose to miss out on as they devote themselves to training.
As Oliver Burkeman writes in The Guardian: “Staying aware of what I’m not doing enhances my sense of actively choosing what I am doing. Dinner at home with friends is fun. But it’s more fun when you know you could be schlepping across town to a crowded performance space or a restaurant that won’t seat you before your whole group’s arrived.”
There’s something life-changing about having the freedom to decline and the confidence to know it was the right decision. The joy of missing out doesn’t come from what we miss—it comes from investing more in ourselves and what we love to do.
Photo Credit: Andrea Rose Photography