The joy of missing out

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

Screen Shot 2013 01 15 at 8 42 00 AM

You may never have heard the term FOMO (fear of missing out), but you’ve likely felt it. If you live in a big city like New York, it’s almost impossible not to have a pang of it once in awhile. On a Friday night, after a workweek that seemed to move through me more than with me, I’ve often succumbed to its pressure, slipped on a pair of heels, and headed out to a cocktail party or event rather than curling up in an armchair with a book. It’s not rational, which makes it harder to resist. FOMO slides into spaces of longing, the gaps between our desired lives and our real ones, and sticks there, like a fish bone you ate by accident and can’t quite seem to swallow.

Social media makes FOMO worse — for some, it may even be the root cause. No one instagrams the lame party, or posts on Facebook about the fight they’re having with their spouse, or tweets that they are ordering takeout from the same Thai place for the fifth weekend in a row. Feeds are self-edited to be glittering displays of fun, adventure, and romance. At every moment, we are missing out on something, or at least it seems that way at the time.

And it’s not just fun we fear missing. Over the last few years, as Twitter’s river of news and updates has become more rapid, I find I worry about missing an article that is relevant to my work, or some piece of inspiration that could be the vital link that brings a chapter together. It doesn’t matter that I have a folder brimming with more material than I could post in a decade. I still worry that something better might slip by right on the day I decide not to log in.

But as the new year settled in to its first days, and I went down with the epic cold that’s had everyone sneezing and hacking, I noticed something. People I talked to, and posts I read, were all talking about the same kinds of intentions for the new year: to ease up and slow down. One friend wrote about going on an inspiration diet, using the time saved by reading and browsing less to make more from the inspiration he already had. Others wrote about taking time for introspection, limiting technology, and spending more time with family and friends. It was all very in sync with what I was feeling, cuddled up and coughing on my sofa. It was the complete opposite of FOMO, something more aptly called JOMO: the joy of missing out.

I can’t take credit for the term — it was coined by writer Anil Dash after the birth of his son. 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.

By the laws of physics, you can only be in one place at a time. You’re going to miss things. The question is how you deal with it. To make deliberate choices, and to revel in the ones you’ve made — that’s what JOMO is, and what I’m embracing this year.

Joy is about presence, about being in the moment and soaking in every sensation that moment has to offer you. The fear of missing out intrudes on an experience, causing you to feel torn between different moments, and lessening your pleasure wherever you are. When you adopt an attitude of joy about missing out, you let go of other possibilities, reclaim the moment you’re in, and set yourself up to enjoy it. Often, that means choosing simple pleasures over flashy ones — the ones that feel good over the ones that look good in photos. It’s a home-cooked dinner over an eight-course tasting menu. It’s a bike ride with family over an exclusive event. It’s poems over tweets. Above all, it’s savoring what you’re doing and who you’re with, immersing yourself in the real pleasures of the experience, as opposed to the imagined ones a few miles away. It’s remembering that this moment is imperfect but completely your own, and best of all, it’s happening right now.

More: JOMO! by Anil Dash

January 15th, 2013


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    Discussion (6 Comments)

  1. Mary Lou Landry on January 15, 2013

    You nailed my New Year feeling. My inner voice is screaming: “Don’t just pin it, Do it”. If 2013 is full of nothing, I will be completely happy. Thanks for the post.

  2. Steve D on January 16, 2013

    I, like many people my age, remember the days without Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and I think because of this I find it easier to shut out the noise. As you point out, people do use their feeds to (mostly) post about good things, but I think that’s part of the medium. They know they won’t gain as much feedback without either being entertaining while being snarky, or just plain happy. However the feeling many people have of a commitment to being online is something that will only rise with time.

    Everything is so transient online, we are sticking at it as a race until we find a satisfactory “meaning” in all this digital stuff. Simply put, while once we had a small layer of human emotion known to us, we are now drawn to this mass outpouring, where we can find all manner of other peoples lives and it both overwhelms and creates emotional connections to things, people and places we don’t even know. It’s a little like a drug in some senses.

    I certainly understand your trepidation in the world of work but I think the key is that you are looking at the experiences of hundreds of individuals via blogs and posts every day. Would missing one article really damage your career? In the grand scheme of things, probably not. I did a talk a few years ago about working smarter and not harder because I found much web writing to be overtly sensationalist and attention seeking, much like most online content in general. The only way to rise above the noise is to be more sensational, and the only way to avoid that is to create a personal bubble of sorts.

    his is especially true when we might have Google Glasses or devices that literally invade your personal space. So I’d go much further than not worrying about missing something, it’s about creating an even bigger disconnect to the point where you, for the most part, just go about your daily life as if and enjoy it to the maximum. That simply involves placing greater emphasis on when enjoying a moment, to simply enjoy rather than post online. True bliss in ignorance perhaps.

    Perhaps one day we will all crave the simple life more than ever. I, personally love the feeling of doing absolutely nothing, and then I really like not tweeting about it. A day sitting watching the world go by is a wonderful place to be and something more people should reserve time for.

  3. Yasmeen on January 17, 2013

    Before I relate this to myself, I just want to say it’s beautifully written. This article is something I’ve been trying to articulate to myself recently. I’ve not only been a victim of FOMO but it just about ruined my now 4 year relationship and several friendships. It’s amazing how much control you can have when you stop, step into your own mind, and think about why you do the things you do and why you want the things you want. I look forward to more from this blog.

    1. Ingrid on January 26, 2013

      Yasmeen, Steve, and Mary Lou, thanks for your great comments. It’s nice to feel I’m not alone here!

  4. georgia on February 6, 2013

    this is absolutely one of the best things i’ve read in a long time. so full of truth and sense. as a somewhat new mom to a toddler {my first and only son} in a one-car family, i find i am very home-bound most of the time, as my husband needs it five days a week for work. it’s even worse in the winter.

    i am often on facebook because i crave that social interaction {no twitter or instagram for me… yet}, and i often feel weird for the things i post… so uneventful or unexciting. same old pics of my son at home. no vacations. no trips. i can’t even post things like trips to the farmers’ market anymore like i used to be able to when we lived downtown. we’ve just moved to a house that is far from town, and on top of that, it’s winter, so we are sort of cooped up. i should be thrilled to have so much time to pop in one of my many cary grant movies or work on some diy around the house. but i get antsy instead. this has reminded me to appreciate what i have now… something i would crave if i was still a busy working professional who could never find time for anything.

    your blog is beautiful, by the way. so is the photo you’ve posted with this. and i agree with yasmeen… beautifully written. thank for sharing it.

    1. Ingrid on February 7, 2013

      Thanks, Georgia. I relate so much to what you’re saying. Sometimes I feel not just that I’m missing out on something in the moment, but that I’m missing out on some other kind of life. But celebrating your choices and blooming where you’re planted is I’m realizing the best way to thrive. Enjoy your DIY, your Cary Grant, and your wonderful family!


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