Why I'm Cool with my FOMO

Fear of missing out.

Popular culture tells us we should avoid feeling this way.  If someone always worries that he is missing out on something important, he will never have any time to himself.  FOMO keeps us from just staying home and relaxing when that is what we really want or need.

In addition to having time-consuming hobbies, I am an obsessive planner.  I always need to be doing something and I need to know when I am going to do it.  I need to make sure tasks are done. I want to be assured activities will happen.  I'm sure some of my friends, family, and acquaintances consider me to to be too tightly wound in this area. They see me as too obsessed with schedules.   I am not spontaneous enough.  They don't understand my need to create a full life the way I envision it.

You must understand FOMO is what drives me.  FOMO motivates me. FOMO is what stands behind me and forces me to demand the life I want.  I don't want to ever miss out.  I already missed out too much.

If you want to understand why I am so focused on making sure I'm always engaged in activities, you have to understand my childhood.  Let's go back thirty or forty years and see my life as it was then.

My parents divorced when I was five.  My mother had custody of my brother and me and was working full time as well as working on her PhD.  My grandmother was willing to watch my brother and me after school and see to our needs while Mom worked.  It was a perfect arrangement - one my mother very wisely took.  It was the best she could do for us.  I had little knowledge of what my childhood should be like or what other kids' lives were like.  I accepted the situation I was placed in.

The downside of spending my days with my grandmother is that she was severely mentally ill.  She suffered from severe anxiety disorders and mild OCD.  She was an educated and intelligent woman.  She was aware she had a problem, and knew there were treatments for it, but she never sought treatment.  She expected the rest of the world to conform to her issues.  My family was always having to make sure Grandma didn't worry.  This was impossible.  She worried about everything.

People like my grandmother need to have a sense of control in order to have a sense of security.  I gave her that sense of control.  As long as I was in her care, she wanted complete control over me.  I became the victim of her manipulative behaviors at an early age.

In the beginning it was easy to fall under her power.  She spoiled me rotten.  She gave me everything I wanted.  It didn't matter if it was toys or food or books.  She denied me almost nothing.  In the early days, before I was old enough to know better, this was all I needed for her to be the center of my world.  In some ways I feel guilty about this.  I took terrible advantage of her and came to be dependent on her generosity.  I now realize how much I let this dependence set up the unhealthy relationship.

As I grew older I began to want things she didn't approve of.  I began to realize my childhood wasn't like those of other kids.  I saw I might be missing out on some of the fun my friends were having.  Grandma did not want me going out in the world and having the kinds of adventures and experiences young children are supposed to have.  I always had to be under her watchful eye.  If she thought something was too dangerous, she would talk me out of it.  If there were pastimes that I wanted to do that she wouldn't enjoy, she would talk me out of them.  She convinced me I didn't want these things. She convinced me I was better off without doing activities that took me away from her direct involvement.

Her actions kept me isolated from other kids.  I had friends, but I was limited in how I could interact with them.  I couldn't go off with them out of her sight.  I couldn't join them in certain pursuits.  I also was taught not to agree with them on certain topics.  Grandma kept telling me she was right and my friends were wrong.  For a long time I believed her.

As I grew older, I began to notice  even more how much I was missing out.  I resented the activities I couldn't do with my friends.  Why couldn't I take a bike ride with them?  Why couldn't I join them on a walk into town?  (She would gladly drive us if we wanted to go somewhere so badly.  Why didn't the kids want to accept her offer of a nice, supervised, ride?)  She kept giving me reasons why doing things her way was the best way.  I kept trying to convince myself (and my friends) that she was right.

This really began to hurt my friendships.  I was isolated from much of my friends' normal play.  I never learned how to interact.  My social skills never had a chance to fully develop.  I was used to getting my own way at home, so I stubbornly insisted on having my own way with my friends.  I never learned to compromise.  I never learned to just play along with what the other kids wanted and expand my horizons.  I would rather take my ball and go home than not get my way with my friends.  There were times when I would be downright mean to them because it was the only power I ever felt in my powerless world.

The more I isolated my friends, the more alone I was.  I had to spend many hours alone trying to amuse myself.  I built entire worlds in my head.  Did you ever hear a parent or child expert say that children don't need many toys because they never play with all of them?  I was not that child.  I played with my toys like crazy.  They were all I had.  My mountain of stuffed animals became my closest confidantes.  My Barbies had the adventures I couldn't have.  I spent so much of my free time living inside my head.  I had a hundred worlds inside me that nobody knew  When I grew too old for toys, I simply spent all my time with books and television.  Sometimes I would simply spend hours sitting in a chair daydreaming, imaging a full and glamorous life that I didn't have.  I told myself I was going to turn these thoughts into novels one day, but I couldn't bring myself to bring much of this to paper.  I could write scenes and beginnings but I had trouble bringing plots to their conclusion.  I wanted to live in a story's best moments. 

It become even more difficult for me to relate to other kids.  I spent hours alone imagining the life I wanted. When I with other kids all I wanted to do was bring them into my head with me.  They had other ideas.  Since I never learned how to get out of my head and accept other ideas, I didn't want to do what the other kids wanted to do.  I wasn't willing to try new things.  I had spent so many hours alone imagining what I might do when I was with other people that I stubbornly insisted we play by my rules.  On top of that, as my friends grew older and had more freedom, they wanted to do things and go places that were restricted to me.  It became harder for me to hold on to the few friends I had. The less my friends hung out with me, the more withdrawn into myself I became.  It was a vicious cycle.

The hours I spent alone, planning a life that was never going to happen, set me up for how I would be as an adult.   Once I had people in my life who wanted to spend time with me and I had the means to make things happen, I began to turn my plans into action.

By the time I became an adult with my own car, my own money, and a small tribe of friends, I was ready to take on the world.  When my friends and I were in our twenties, we had few responsibilities and we were up for anything.    I was in a position to go places and do things.  I wouldn't have to sit around and fantasize about having friends and sharing adventures.  I could finally live my fantasies.  I began planning.  Whenever I heard about an event or activity I was interested in, I would present it to my friends and insist on a date.  When we went out, I always had our day planned to the hour in order to maximize our the day.

Now that I'm married, not much has changed.  I am always suggesting places to go to my husband.  If we go away for a weekend, I try to find local activities.  If we have a day off from work, I will often push him to visit a local attraction.  As soon as he acts the slightest bit receptive to one of my suggestions, I am in full-scale planning mode.  When we go on a longer vacation, I will spend weeks on TripAdvisor and Viator and plan every day we are away to make sure we don't miss the main sites of the places we visit.  As soon as I think there is the tiniest possibility Kevin and I will go somewhere, whether for a week or for a day, I am planning.

Would you like some examples?  My friends and I used to make an annual trip to the Renaissance Faire.  As soon as we arrived, I would buy a program and look at the schedule, planning which performances were the most important and at what times we would just walk around and shop.  On a recent vacation to Amsterdam, I had specific days designated to visit various museums and historical sites and days for bus trips out of the city.  I bought tickets for almost everything ahead of time.  I was planning to take a vacation day for our anniversary last fall and tried to persuade Kevin to take the day off with me.  When he said he was considering it, I immediately began to plan a visit to Storm King Arts Center* and was looking at nearby restaurants to have lunch (we never went).   Even in my every day life I have to have everything planned.  I plan the meals I will eat far in advance.  I can tell you what I will have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for the next month (I have to try new recipes in the same way I have to try other new experiences).

I don't want to be sitting around reading.  I don't want to waste a day.  I want to experience as much as possible.  This is my FOMO.   I spent too many years of my life missing out.  I refuse to miss out now.

I often joke that if I ever stop planning, then it's time to put me away.  If I'm not writing down a list for every day, then take me out behind the barn and shoot me.

Am I too obsessed?  Do I plan so hard that I leave no room for spontaneity?  Do I work so hard to fill up my days that I can't ever relax and enjoy the serenity of doing nothing?

I don't know.  Right now I'm happy to be so dedicated to preventing FOMO.  I would rather be too busy than go back to being that girl sitting home alone with nothing but books and daydreams.  Living life means experiencing it and not watching it go by.

* Yes, I watch Master of None.  Why do you ask?

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