Editor’s Note: I originally wrote this article for the ORU Oracle.
In the early 2000s at Harvard University, venture capitalist Patrick McGinnis and his friends attended almost every event on campus from early in the evening to late in the morning. They didn’t want to miss out on anything happening at school. To describe the phenomenon, McGinnis coined the term “FOMO,” which means, “fear of missing out.”
McGinnis defines FOMO as “the awareness of all the options that we have and the understanding that no matter what we do, we will never be able to enjoy all of them.” We are a generation with unlimited options. We have multiple choices for food, clothes, accessories, gadgets, entertainment, school majors and careers.
The Industrial Revolution promised us that choices give us more freedom, which makes us happier. However, it seems the opposite is true. Having more options creates more anxiety, paralysis and regret.
Psychologist Barry Schwartz calls this phenomenon the “paradox of choice.” For example, when you go to a restaurant, there are numerous options on the menu, and you can spend a long time trying to choose one. You become paralyzed, because you’re worried about ordering a dish you may not enjoy. And when you finally do make a choice, you can become dissatisfied if the meal isn’t “perfect” in taste. We become unhappy about future choices we have to make because we have to forgo a potentially better choice. McGinnis calls this “FOBO” meaning, “fear of a better option.”
This gets more complicated when it affects important life decisions like relationships and careers. In relationships, people can become scared of committing because they want to explore all their “options,” hoping to enjoy the benefits of every option. This causes them to become serial daters. They start looking for the perfect relationship choice—which doesn’t exist—that will give them the most satisfaction with the least conflict. Or people become dissatisfied in their current relationship when they see other relationships around them or on social media apparently doing better than theirs. It fosters unrealistic expectations in relationships.
People who don’t want to commit to a career path for a long time are scared they’ll choose the “wrong career” and miss out on a potentially better career path. McGinnis calls this “FODA,” meaning “fear of doing anything.” Or people become dissatisfied with their job or calling when they see other people who are doing better than them, even if their job is the best choice for them.
The antidotes to FOMO, FOBO and FODA are focus, courage, contentment and gratitude. We are to be focused and single-minded in our decisions, and it is important to have the courage to choose one thing and forgo other options. We need to be content and grateful to God for the “imperfect” blessings in our lives and avoid craving what others have. Don’t let FOMO steal your joy and contentment.