Since I opened this page to start writing this post, I’ve checked my Facebook notifications twice. I check my phone for emails and messages as soon as I wake up, even before I have my first cup of tea. The fact that I’m checking them minus my essential morning caffeine boost is an indicator that I have no actual intention or urge to reply especially quickly; rather the aim is simply to read them and check I’m absolutely in the loop. I justify this with the fact that I have clients spread across multiple time zones, so it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about missing anything during my night-time/their day-time. The reality though I suspect is less altruistic. I just don’t want to miss anything. And this anxiety has been given its own acronym; FoMO or Fear of Missing Out.
Where does FoMO come from?
Fear of Missing Out has been mainly associated with a rise in the use of social media. We can see pictures of our friends (and acquaintances) having the time of their lives every minute of every day, and this can throw our own present experiences into sharp relief. How many of us were having a perfectly lovely relaxed day doing nothing very much when a quick 5 minutes on Facebook has convinced that we are wasting our lives and missing out on more meaningful activities? A group photo of friends out at a meal suddenly makes us feel lonely, and a travel photo makes us feel parochial, stuck at home and unadventurous – or just plain too poor to share in these experiences!
However, I have also heard of (and experienced myself) the wonderful impact of social media; families reunited, friendships maintained despite distance, and communities of supportive acquaintances carrying each other through hard time. So I do tend to start twitching when I hear social media blamed outright for our current social challenges. In truth, I believe that social media only offers us the opportunity to magnify our own tendencies towards dissatisfaction with our own lives and experiences. And we often grab this opportunity with both hands.
Dissatisfaction, Dissatisfaction and the Search for Meaning
I believe that we Third Culture Kids can be especially sensitive to the Fear of Missing Out. Not that we are particularly ‘glass half full’ kinds of people but more that we have an acute awareness that there is a world of opportunity out there. We feel distracted from our own choices by other people’s. This awareness of options is often mixed with anxiety around making choices – for making a choice to do A, may eliminate the opportunity to do B. We risk dissatisfaction by our consciousness of parallel lives we could have lived. Add to this the ticking clock, the sense that we may be moved on to another place or group of people at any time, and these variables collude to prime us for FoMO.
Underneath these variables is that we are all searching for meaning. So is everyone, but when your parents and close circle had high status or high powered careers, or saved souls, or engaged in humanitarian work, the search for meaning can taken on a frantic quality. So many times Third Culture Kids are told (either explicitly or implicitly) that they are destined for great things, to be leaders. Their work must honour their global experience, and do nothing short of change the world. It’s a lot to carry.
For Third Culture Kids, FoMO may focus itself on making us feel compelled towards finding that purpose that will make our activities worthy enough, interesting enough. Indeed, our activities must be enough to ignore the fact that personal happiness and fulfilment may go so far as to elude us, being squeezed out by our busy pursuit of something really worth our while.
The reality is of course, that in making any choice, in committing to any activity or person, we are missing out. But this isn’t what makes us miserable; it’s the fear of missing out that makes us miserable.
What do we fear?
We fear we aren’t making the most of our opportunities, and what this says about us.
We fear we will make the wrong choice and live to regret it, or that others will judge us for this choice.
We fear we will run out of time to do all the things we want to do.
You don’t have to be stuck with FoMO
We can embrace our choices, and we can explore those expectations we carry that make us so dissatisfied with our reality.
First, feel the fear. It tells you something. Explore it, poke it… and examine it for clues. Which events or experiences do you most fear missing? What does this tell you? Disclaimer here: feeling the fear can be overwhelming and feel very unsafe. Make sure you have the support and resources you need to go here. It may be prudent to consult a counsellor or other mental health supporter to ‘hold’ and ground you while you prod the more sensitive parts of your story. You don’t need to do this alone.
Next, explore the choices you have made recently, the ones that carry most FoMo regret? Can you remember why you made your choices? Would you make that choice again? What can you learn about yourself here?
We TCKs have highly attuned antenna for ‘out there’. We are often very sensitive to expectation and external measures of success or failure. This is a brilliant adaptive technique we’ve developed to thrive in different cultures and keep good relationships with the very different social and cultural groups we’ve encountered. However, we can lack the ability to be guided by our own sense of success or failure; we don’t always have confidence in our own decisions.
Spending time with our own story, exploring our own preferences and values can strengthen our ability to use our own measures, and make decisions we feel confident about. We can’t always be everything we feel we should be, FoMO is just one indicator of this. But we can turn our eyes inward, orienting our decisions around our priorities. We can become happy with our choices, as confident with our ‘no’s as our ‘yes’s. We can elude the Fear of Missing Out!
If you would like support as you explore your story, get in touch here. I’d be honoured to journey with you.