Odds are you’ve heard of “FOMO” – the daunting acronym for the “fear of missing out.” Gen Z-ers growing up with endless scrolling on social platforms makes us especially afflicted. We have constant access to pictures, status updates, and everything in between. Our screens flash dazzling posts of group hangs, vacations, concerts, and other things that make our own lives feel boring as we scroll in bed. It instills a low-hum, ever-present anxiety that we are missing out on something vital.
I too have fallen victim to the fallacy that other people’s lives are more eventful than my own. But in the face of that torment came a motivation, almost a rebellion. I wanted to squander my sense of FOMO before it could even arise. As I entered college, I took it upon myself to give into my impulses. If I had the slightest inclination, the smallest desire, to do or see something, I would make myself act on that want. This included the nights when I was too tired to do my makeup, let alone go out.
I told myself that I’d rather suffer being sleepy than to have a missed experience.
Pushing myself to leave my dorm whenever I could be especially valuable during my freshman year, socially integrating me and earning me friends I still have today. But I didn’t limit myself to just my Iowa college campus. I went on multiple road trips a semester, sometimes for an out-of-town concert, but usually just for the hell of it. Sometimes friends came along, but often, it was just me, giving myself permission to exist on my own out in the world.
I’ve matched with a guy on Tinder for the sole purpose of finding a ride to a concert two states away. I’ve boarded a 5 a.m. Greyhound bus to Chicago and been home by midnight for an exam in the morning. I’ve even gone on a 34-hour round-trip beer run to Philadelphia. Any excuse, any reason, to go out was seized happily.
This life philosophy led to multiple nights out, missed sleep and a few late assignments.
But despite the negative aftershocks, I gained a sense of self-fulfillment in my lived college experience. I hadn’t checked an entire bucket list, but I had made enough memories to last a lifetime. And for my dwindling FOMO, that was enough. But then, of course, COVID-19 struck, throwing nearly everything off course for everyone – college life being no exception.
Now everyone, especially young people, finds themselves in a perpetual state of missing out on everything. Between the colossal loss of life, a shattered economy, and all other facets of the world as we knew it, things are irrevocably changed.
A microcosm of this new world exists on every college campus.
The worsening pandemic has altered the undergraduate experience for who knows how long. And as students struggle for a sense of normalcy, it’s hard not to feel nostalgic for the way things used to be. In fact, it’s practically impossible.
Everyone I know has expressed this yearning in some form or another. Conversations often devolve into a “Remember when…” or a “God, I miss….” at some point. Many of my friends look back on the nights they decided to stay in to study and wish they had done otherwise. There’s a regretful retrospection when we’re confined to our living rooms and webcams for the foreseeable future.
I’m no exception to this nostalgia either. As a senior in college, of course, I feel robbed of quintessential experiences: a paid internship, a campus community, an in-person graduation ceremony. But what I don’t feel, what doesn’t keep me up at night, is a sense of time wasted. And I know I have my formerly crippling FOMO in part to thank for that.
Let’s get one thing straight: I’m no advocate for the fear of missing out. The anxiety that you’re wasting your life while others thrive in theirs isn’t productive or admirable. But as I look back on myself as a freshman in college, so scared by the notion of missing out that I rarely wasted a passing moment, I can’t help but feel indebted to her. To feel grateful that she would rally while I have no choice now but to stay inside as my final year of college passes by.
FOMO isn’t a blessing, but in my experience, it wasn’t a curse either.
Rather, it exists now in a moral grey area, ill-defined and morbidly obtuse. I don’t want to say thank you to it, but I don’t want to brandish it either, at least not given the present circumstances. I’ve come to realize that the extra push from my social anxiety earned me some of the best (and most short-lived) experiences I’ve yet to have.
I’m glad I blew off that paper for a memorable night out with my best friends. I’m thankful I chose to do that cross-country road trip on little more than a whim and a will. I’m happy to have spent my free time out in the world while I still could. In short, I wouldn’t change my past, even given my present. And that sense of security outweighs any anxiety I ever felt from scrolling.