Living in the Present: Freedom in Missing Out


Photo from Flickr

Josie Schuman, Op/Ed Editor

Prom was one month away, which meant one thing — dress shopping! My aunt and I left for Beachwood Mall with high expectations and positive attitudes. After fueling ourselves with cinnamon pretzels and lemonade from Auntie Anne’s, we headed to Dillard’s, the first stop on our important quest for the perfect dress.

With every rack, I snagged a contender. I wanted to try all the different lengths, colors and styles. After finding twice the amount of dresses that were allowed in the fitting room, I went to regroup with my aunt. Before I could even show her my finds, she held up the most beautiful piece of clothing I had ever seen.

The dress was a deep purple color with rhinestones lining the seams. It wasn’t too flashy though, just enough to add something special. I was excited because the dress was a two-piece, and I had never worn something so “scandalous” before. I knew this was the dress that I had dreamed about as a little girl waiting anxiously for her senior prom. 

I tried the dress on, and it fit me like a glove. No alterations needed, which is rare for a girl who is barely five-feet-tall. I felt like a million bucks, red-carpet ready. I was Cinderella after meeting her Fairy Godmother. This was the dress. 

Before running to the cash register, I went through my checklist just to confirm that this dress met all my criteria. Did the dress fit me perfectly? Yes. Was it classy yet unique? Yes. Could I envision myself dancing the night away in it? Yes. Was it everything I dreamed of and more? Yes. But, did I have to try on a bunch of other dresses before I bought it? Absolutely. 

Even though I knew this was the dress for me, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “What about all the other dresses out there? What if there’s something I missed? Maybe there’s something better?” I not only proceeded to try on a dozen more dresses at Dillard’s, but I dragged by aunt to a dozen other stores just to be sure I had found the best one. I turned what could have been a quick trip to the mall into an all-day extravaganza. 

This is a classic case of my FOMO or “fear of missing out.” As a result of this fear, I have been plagued with a severe case of indecisiveness regarding small choices, like choosing dresses, and big ones, like choosing colleges. Before I make a decision, I must explore every possible option so I know I’m making the right choice. 

Photo from Flickr
Photo from Flickr

While FOMO seems like something silly, it has really taken a toll on my life. Not only do people hate going shopping with me, but I have let my FOMO interfere with my personal relationships. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines FOMO as “fear of missing out, an anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere.” This definition perfectly reflects my mindset. I always want to do everything, be everywhere and spend time with everyone, which, as you can imagine, doesn’t usually work out. 

Due to FOMO, I plan my days to the minute. Breakfast with my friend from high school at 9 a.m., lunch with my dad at noon, a movie with some old grade school friends at 3 p.m., which gives me just enough time to get to my friend’s birthday party before the surprise, but I have to leave early because I promised my sister we could finally start that new show. 

During these jam-packed days, I may get to see a lot of people, but I never spend quality time with them. I am constantly distracted. Rather than focusing on the conversation in front of me, I am worried about getting to the next place and meeting the next person. I tend to reduce my family and friends to another item on my to-do list. 

Instead of shoving everything I want to do into one day, there are rare occasions when I do make plans and stick to them. However, I am always unsatisfied with my decision. What if there’s something more fun or more interesting I could be doing? 

If I go home for the weekend, I miss out on Barrio runs and late-night Euchre tournaments with my friends. But, if I stay at school, I miss out on Friday night milkshakes and competitive games of Wii bowling with my little sister and cousins. I am consumed by the potential of a “better” option when I should be enjoying what I’m doing in the moment.  

Sometimes, I let my FOMO get the best of me by forfeiting all my options. If one friend asks me to see a movie and another offers to try that new restaurant downtown, I leave them hanging until they both move on without me. My crippling fear of missing out, ironically, often leads to missing out on everything. 

FOMO is also a driving force for a bad case of procrastination. How can I do my homework when my roommates are having an Oreo and “Hannah Montana” night? There’s no time to write my column for The Carroll News because my friends got tickets to the Cavs game.

I often forfeit my responsibilities in order to appease my anxiety of missing out. Even when I have no time or interest, I force myself to try that new thing or go to that event because, well, it could be fun, right?

Social media doesn’t help, and I try to avoid them, especially when there’s a specific activity going on that I know I’m missing. “It’s an impulse-control problem,” said Dr. John Grohol in an article from Psych Central about the connection between FOMO and social media. “We cannot easily control our impulse to ‘check’ the technology to ensure something ‘more important’ isn’t waiting for our immediate attention.”

Even though I know it’ll do me no good, I often succumb to this temptation and sneak a peek at the Snapchat stories and Instagram posts of my friends or family having fun without me. 

Now, there have been times when my intense case of FOMO works to my advantage because it motivates me to take risks and pursue things outside my comfort zone. For example, missing out on the unique opportunity to study abroad was a major factor in my decision to do so. (But, let’s not even mention the FOMO of being in another country and missing out on everything back in the U.S., a story for another column.) 

While it has some redeeming qualities, dealing with FOMO has been a real struggle. I have hurt many people I care about because I am always in search of someone or something better. As a result, rather than thinking about what I’m missing, I try to remember what I have. 

In an article from Psychology Today about combating FOMO, Nick Hobson, PhD, said, “Focus less on potential losses of missing out and focus more on immediate gains of what’s being done in the now.” 

Instead of giving in to the distractions of social media or my own wandering thoughts, I strive to exist in the present. I refocus feelings of jealousy or longing about something I am missing out on with gratefulness for what I am doing now. 

So, while I can’t always be doing the coolest thing ever with everyone all at once, I can slow down to live in the present moment and cherish the time spent with the people I love.