I am one of the Older Persons in the room. We are surrounded by Youthful Twentysomethings for a panel discussion on their latest obsession—FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out.

FOMO is quite different from FONBATR, the Fear of Never Being Able to Retire, which is an affliction many of the 50-plus-year-olds attending this ideas festival/policy-wonk conference are experiencing. But I digress.

Technology has brought FOMO upon the under-25 generation, MIT professor Sherry Turkle argues in her book Alone Together: “Technology promises to let us do anything from anywhere with anyone. But it also drains us as we try to do everything everywhere.” John Grohol, PsyD, puts it plainly it in his blog PychCentral: FOMO is “the fear of missing out on something or someone more interesting, exciting or better than what we’re currently doing.”

I have joined these youngsters at this panel because I’m curious about how this generation lives, thinks, and dreams. I also believe that one of the best ways to stay relevant as I grow older, which I want to do, is to build intergenerational bridges.

The twentysomething panelists describe a FOMO lifestyle to the audience. Party-surfing versus hanging out with one crowd for an evening. College and high-school students gorging on after-school activities. Career-hopping and hopping and hopping. The more choices available, the more FOMO.

As they share, my mind strays to my own personal version of FOMO, which drives me to distraction, or at least to not knowing what to do now, next, or never.  Should I write a blog post before I pin a picture on Pinterest? Submit an essay to a publication? Catch up on the latest marketing trend so I can teach it later? Follow the presidential campaign, search for agents, or go to the gym?

Just as I’m ready to move mentally from FOMO to FOMU (Fear of Messing Up),  a young female breaks into my consciousness:

 “Do people your age suffer from FOMO?” she asks the older audience members.

My hand shoots up, pumping as if I were in a classroom of 5-year-olds: Me, me, call on me!  

Before I can start talking, a booming male voice offers:  “That would be FOHMO—Fear of Having Missed Out.”

“Wait a minute!” I respond. “I still have FOMO, the original kind. There’s plenty left for me to experience. I haven’t missed out on life.

“I’ve had FOMO all my life. I was the kid who never came in from playing outside because I didn’t want to miss anything,” I tell the group.

I don’t tell them that my youthful FOMO often led to near-accidents outside my back door because I refused to leave the party, game of hide and seek, or four-square match even if I really had to go to the bathroom. What if I missed a really great girlfriend secret, thrill-ride skating behind someone’s bicycle, or a sighting of my latest crush? Biology be damned, I’d always wait until it was almost too late.

“Perhaps,” I suggest, “the FOMO in our youth has led to the creation of bucket lists in our middle age.”

“I don’t like bucket lists,” another like-aged woman says. “They sound so negative.” And I have to agree with her. Bucket. Dirty plastic. Dented and rusted metal. “Kicked the bucket” equals dead. “Bucket list” suggests decline. I may be on the declining side of life, but so far the ride down has been pretty exhilarating, and I plan on keeping that outlook.

Sure, there are things I want to do before I die, but if I don’t get to them, it won’t bother me. I’ll be dead. On my deathbed (I hope I’ll be in a castle in Europe or a treehouse in Tahiti ) I doubt I’ll be worrying that I missed traveling to all seven continents because Antarctica was just too cold, and slipping through penguin poop to get to the penguins discouraged me. Nor can I imagine that I’ll bemoan the fact that I wasn’t on TV à la Katie or Oprah, because I’m sure I’ll be able to see that I had some influence on people around me, and isn’t that the essence of being Oprah or Katie?

Crossing things off lists can be depressing, too. Done that, and now what? What happens when the bucket list gets down to one or two things to go? Am I over when the list is crumpled and thrown in the bucket? Bucket lists. Who needs them? Not me.

Goals, desires, passions—that’s what I need and have. Write. Build and maintain relationships. Share. Learn. Love. Each of these items can be expanded and detailed. With a bucket list, if I’m successful, I’m left with an empty list and a full bucket. But by stating broader goals I’m left with an expansive, never-ending opportunity to do, to experience, to live. Uh-oh, I think I’ve just described my life in terms of an ultimate FOMO. Oh well, better than FOMTB—Fear of Missing the Bucket.

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  • Marci Rich October 1, 2012 at 8:56 am

    What a fantastic essay! I’ve never cared for the term ‘bucket’ list, either. (And didn’t think the movie was all that great despite the presence of two superb actors.) I’ve thought a lot about FOMO recently, and I agree with Sharon: I have no regrets. No, Je Ne Regrette Rien, as Edith Piaf sang. It would have been nice to go away to college right after high school, for instance, but if I had perhaps I wouldn’t be the person I am now. It would have been nice for my father not to die when I was 13, or for me to get cancer, but those were things beyond my control. There’s a hashtag that I like a lot, and maybe it’s a good replacement for ‘bucket list.’ #YOLO. You Only Live Once. And Julie, you’re so vibrant and wise, you never have to worry about FOMTB. Thank you for such an enlightening and entertaining post.

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  • Ann Dunnewold September 30, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    What a delicate balance! I am certainly constantly teetering on the continuum between the affliction end of FOMO and trying to savor/cherish what life has brought.

    And I’m with you, Julie; I don’t quite understand those people like the guy who boomed FOHMO. I’m not done doing and engaging with life at all. I think different personalities are impacted in different ways. I prefer to think I’m one of those Renaissance types who wants to have experiences in broad realms. You sound like one, too.

    Enjoyed the post.

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  • Sharon Greenthal September 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm

    I confess to a bit of FOMO, especially regarding my choice to be a stay-at-home mom. What career might I have had? How would my life have been more interesting or exciting? However, I don’t confuse FOMO with regret – I don’t believe in regret. It’s just part of getting older – thinking about the things that “might have been.”

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  • Ginger Kay September 29, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    I wrote about bucket lists recently, too. I don’t have one, but I never had FOMO either. Sure, there are plenty of things I’d like to do and see, and I love a good daydream, but I also love the everyday moments of life and always have. To not experience the joys of my quiet life due to worry about what I’m missing seems sad. Sadder than never seeing Paris would be not appreciating the happy sound of my husband laughing at his own bad jokes, day after day after day.

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  • Beth September 29, 2012 at 10:59 am

    I grew up in a farming community in rural Indiana and I don’t think I will EVER overcome my case of FOMO. I I have it more or less under control, but do I need to understand Twitter vs Instagram or be up to speed on Homeland( do I need to up-grade my cable package). I am overwhelmed by 60+ years of the shock of the new. So I am going to Paris–no TV, checking email–once a day, putting my ideas in my head–no pundits.. It is the only way I can recover.

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