A news reporter chased me down on the Upper West Side the other day asking whether I could share my thoughts on FOMO. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“FOMO, you know, the fear of missing out! Doctors are diagnosing kids with FOMO more frequently nowadays because schools aren’t allowing kids to have their smartphones in class all day. They start to suffer from anxiety and lack of concentration for not being able to keep up with what their friends are doing,” the reporter explained.
My initial reaction was, “Oh, the cruelty!” for not allowing a smartphone in class. When I was in business school, the only way I could get through the torture of Operations Management class was to play online poker tournaments online! My phone and laptop allowed me to feign supreme concentration as I practiced my poker face. Shhh, don’t tell my professor.
The skeptic in me kicked in as I asked the reported, “C’mon, FOMO. Really? Just another new catchy term for an age old affliction coined by therapists to make some extra bucks. How can there really be FOMO when everybody on Facebook is always on permanent vacation? Friends are always checking into wonderful restaurants and clubs on Foursquare, which of course is connected to Twitter and then back to Facebook just to make sure everybody knows what they’re up to. Our amazing lives are fabulous!”
UNDERSTANDING THE FEAR OF MISSING OUT
There seems to be two angles to FOMO:
1) The actual fear of missing out on things your friends are experiencing due to having to work, lack of money, or just not knowing. You want to be included in all the pictures in exotic locales for everyone to see. You want to party with the random celebrity in the back room to tell a story. The list goes on as you don’t want to be a lonesome loser while all your friends are having fun. If you can’t join your friends in Bali, the next best thing is to follow along their journey with envy while you’re stuck at a miserable job shuffling papers. With some chutzpah you keep up by checking in to some fun local bar or tweeting out some delicious food after instagraming a selfie of your beautiful self of course.
2) The need to constantly stay connected online. Some common traits of FOMO sufferers include, but are not limited to: sleeping with their phones, putting their notifications on vibrate so they can be alert for a 2am booty call, walking through stop lights because they’re mesmerized by their phones, and always having a charger whenever they go out the door. I’ve done it all except for keeping my phone on vibration mode because I love my sleep too much. With how cheap and easy it is to stay connected, I think it’s practically impossible not to share your life online. It just depends on the degree.
The last time I went a full day on land without recharging my phone was… never! I could blame the crappiness of an iPhone’s battery life or I can admit that I’m always on my phone. When I was watching marathon four hour tennis matches at the US Open (e.g. Hewitt vs. Youzhny), my anxiety level would inch up as my battery life went below 50%. The last thing I wanted to do was get up from my unassigned seat to leave a thrilling match to go charge a phone and not get back into the stadium. Crowds stress me out, but I needed to stay connected so I went for some juice after the second set.
So what the hell am I doing on my phone that is causing it to last under six hours before needing to recharge? Let’s check right now what apps are open and I’d like to know what you’ve got open as well.
* Twitter – Twitter is my preferred means of checking the news and seeing what’s going on in the blogosphere. I usually have three to five conversations on Twitter a day as I really enjoy the banter. From Twitter I’ll click on links to read interesting articles and the rabbit hole goes from there. I’m @Financialsamura.
* Facebook – I hardly check Facebook except when I’m traveling and need to kill time. I keep my online and offline line lives separate, but am slowly incorporating the two as I get deeper into this journey of working full-time online. Facebook is one big vacation soiree that can be fun or obnoxious. Facebook seems to be the app the sucks up the most amount of battery life while doing nothing.
* Safari – I do my best to approve comments and respond to comments on Financial Samurai. For some reason, my Akismet spam filter puts 90% of all comments into a pending box which needs my approval.
* Mail – I’ve got multiple accounts for multiple purposes: business, personal, real estate rentals, etc. Something is always coming up that needs addressing. I do my best to respond to everyone within 24 hours, especially if it’s business related.
* Notes – I’m constantly writing down post ideas, dreams, to do lists, or funny sayings.
* Calendar – Got to get in the habit of checking the calendar first thing in the morning in order to not flake or double book.
* Feedly – Easiest way for me to keep up with hundreds of blogs.
* Maps – Always open to never get lost, especially as a visitor in NYC.
* Messages – Who talks on the phone anymore?
* What’s Ap – Have a tennis team group chat where we give each other crap all the time.
* Camera – Gotta capture the moments! Each snap seems to take 1% battery life.
* Weather – What am I going to wear?
* US Open App – Got to keep up with all the match scores!
* Clash Of Clans – The best free game to kill hours of time on end. They got an office right here in SF and we plan to get lunch.
With all these apps open, no wonder why my phone doesn’t last more than six hours. Besides, a large part of my livelihood is online given I’m a blogger who writes 5,000+ words a week and constantly interacts with my community and the blogging community. This makes me wonder what’s everybody else’s excuse is for always being on the phone when they don’t have a blog or an online business. Hmmm.
MY BIGGEST FEARS RELATED TO FOMO
My biggest ongoing concern is having a reader type up a long comment that gets stuck in spam purgatory. I’ve had a number of complaints from readers over the years accusing me of censorship. All comments are admissible if they are respectful. The software just locks all of them up by default. I’ve also got to work on letting go and not being so responsive to comments.
My other fear is missing out on some business opportunity due to a lack of responsiveness. The business world is super competitive and there is a strong correlation with the amount one hustles and the amount one makes online. Given I’m only half way in my new financial journey, I’m got to be on the ball to seize financial opportunities. Every day I pretend I’m broke to keep motivation up.
Other than these two “fears” I don’t fear missing out on too much anymore because if the fear of missing out becomes great enough, I just go do it. I was very hesitant about going to Europe this summer because I didn’t know anybody who I was meeting except for one and it is a pain in the ass to fly to Mallorca from San Francisco. But my friend kept saying “you don’t want to miss this trip” which generated enough FOMO that I booked what turned out to be a summer to remember.
Financial freedom has enabled me to keep FOMO at bay and truly decide what it is I want to do. So for those who are seeing a therapist on figuring out how to cure FOMO, perhaps the honest cure is to just make enough money where you never miss out. That’ll be $300 please. (See: How Does It Feel To Be Financially Independent?)
There’s a self-correcting mechanism for everyone. At one point I felt I was experiencing TOO MUCH in NYC and needed to take a break after going to the US Open six times for 6-11 hours each session. I didn’t want to go clubbing for the fourth time in one week after watching Empire Of The Sun perform on Peer 29 until 10pm. What I in fact longed for was to return to my old routine of writing for several hours in the morning, having lunch with a friend, taking a nap, playing a couple hours of tennis and going to sleep before midnight.
IT FEELS TOUGH BEING YOUNGER TODAY THAN BEFORE
Before the internet and smartphones, we only had several neighbors to keep up with. Now we are constantly bombarded by what hundreds of friends and acquaintances are doing all the time. In the past it was OK to just chill and do nothing on a lazy Sunday afternoon. But now, it feels off doing nothing if we see our friends on Facebook posting pictures of a boozy brunch at a music festival out in Montauk.
We could have one hundred friends each do only one fabulous thing a year. But if each of the one hundred friends posts details of their trip it will seem as if everybody is always living it up all year around! I really empathize with those in their 20s or those who are struggling financially. We all want to travel, go to concerts, participate in events, and drink endless amounts of Crystal. But when a cocktail costs $19 at Gramercy Park Hotel, you just might have to show up drunk and order only water!
For those who fear missing out, don’t worry too much as things get better over time. You will naturally experience more things the older you get that will preclude you from wondering what your friends have done. Pics of epic powder runs off the back bowls of Vail? Awesome dude. Traveling first class on an Airbus Dreamliner from LA to Singapore to eat some chili crab? Can’t believe you drank $500 worth of single malt whiskey on the way over. Diving with whale sharks in Belize? Not scary at all. $500 dinner for two at Jean Georges? Try the maine lobster and gnocchi with a 1991 glass of château d’yquem for desert next time.
If you don’t have the patience for experience, then I highly recommend you try cutting internet off for good chunks at a time. Start with one hour of not checking your phone or laptop and progressively increase those blocks of time by an hour until you can go for three to six hours at a time without connecting. Try and cut down the number of social media platforms you use. I refuse to join Pinterest and spend more than five minutes a week on Google+. Finally, turn off all your notifications so that you check only when you want to. Your productivity will increase as you respond to messages in chunks. Your anxiety will gradually normalize as well. Being in the moment instead of always on the phone improves relationships.
I long for a simpler world with less distractions. I think we’d all be less fearful of missing out and more happy with what we have. Very importantly, our financials will be in a much healthier position if we can stop the infinite madness of trying to keep up. But then again, where’s the fun in that? Don’t forget to bring your charger.
RESOURCES FOR A BETTER LIFE
Negotiate A Severance Package: Never quit your job, get laid off instead if you want to move on. Negotiating a severance package provided me with six years worth of living expenses to help me focus on my online media business. Check out my book, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Good-bye. The book provides solid strategies for how you too, can escape a job you hate with money in your pocket.
Learn How To Start Your Own Blog: I started Financial Samurai in 2009 and it allowed me to leave my job in 2012. Everybody should have a blog to leverage off of. You can find consulting gigs and new jobs because of a blog. You can also make a significant amount of income if you stick with it long enough. Learn how to start a blog with my step-by-step tutorial. I thank my lucky stars every day that I have my own slice of the internet!
Updated for 2016 and beyond.