Firstly: no, I do not have 173 life lessons to share with you. Well, maybe I do, but that would take a long time to write down, so, for the purpose of this blog post, let’s just leave it as part of my catchy title. I’m full of witticisms, but I can only dole one out at a time.
Anyway. When I was in teacher’s college, I took a weekend trip to Toronto around Christmas time to visit my childhood friend Blythe. I hadn’t seen her in awhile and this was a perfect opportunity to catch up since I was attenting Queen’s in Kingston. In certain friendships you find a rare quality, that seems to endure or seem more prevalent in those you shared a special connection with. No matter how much time goes by, when you see them after a period of time, conversations lift off from where you left them. You are taken back to the days of sleepovers, pool parties, and notes passed in school, and a gentle calmness slips between you, even though you may not know the minute details of their current life situation. Blythe was one of my closest friends in middle school. I was an awkward over-achiever at best (I suppose we were all a little awkward), loved Harry Potter, writing poetry, and wearing horribly unfashionable clothing. When I think of her, I think of white-hot chocolate, Monty Python DVD’s, peanut butter chocolate chip pancakes, and uncontrollable fits of laughter. Blythe taught me to wear clothes that fit, which thankfully, I still aim for. She introduced me to makeup, and I pretty much do it the same way to this day…Oops? Blythe exuded a confidence that was contagious, even if she wasn’t always feeling the impression she gave off. Blythe was strong and independent, and I looked up to her for that.
When I saw her in Toronto a few years ago, I remember detailing some of my current first-world worries and concerns to her. Facebook was littered with events that people were going to – events I was not invited to or involved in. I had many nights staying in at my house in Kingston with my roommate. Life was revolving at warp speed around me, but I often felt like I was excluded, not living to my potential, not busy enough.
“Oh, clearly you’re like I used to be – you have FOMO.”
“I have what??” (This is paraphrasing after 3 years, but I recall that I had absolutely no clue in hell what she was talking about).
“My friend told me about this thing called FOMO. It’s the Fear of Missing Out. You’re constantly worried about not being involved in the happenings of other people around you. You want what they have, you want to be doing what they are doing.”
I don’t remember much else from that conversation, but I do recall agreeing with her to some extent. Looking back on the past few years, I feel like I have changed, and often reference the “old me”. There’s that saying that a leopard never changes his spots. We read a lot these days about self-evolution, betterment, thinking positive, etc. The thing is, you can try to change some of your bad habits, and life experiences can affect the way you perceive certain things about yourself, others, and the world, but at your core you will still always be ‘you’. My year in Australia did change me in the sense that my Type-A always-needs-a-plan definitely toned down a lot. Things happened to me that were beyond my control – both successes and failures – and at some point it just naturally clicked that I could only take things in stride and make the best of it. I learned to be a bit more spontaneous. Some of my trips happened whimsically, whether by suggestion of a new friend, or from the pure drive to try something new. I don’t tell my parents much of my couch surfing experiences, or that I once made kijiji ads looking for the next day’s adventure. (One day in particular, I managed to meet an Italian with a sports car who drove us to the ocean for a languid summer day, bought me a lovely meal, never even charged me gas, then dropped me off and was never seen again. Would I do that here in Ottawa? Highly unlikely). Traveling and living abroad filled me with an energy and desire for newness that could not be quelled. Sure, I still had worries – like if I could afford the 2K needed for my trip up the coast. There was the time I had my wallet stolen, and I wasn’t a happy camper then. I missed family. Still, the sum of all my parts opened up a version of myself that I was very glad to be seeing, to becoming acquainted with. I didn’t have FOMO, because for the most part, I was living and doing the things I wanted.
Still, after all this positive thinking and life-changing affirmations, as I thought, we fall into old habits. I came home, sleeping in the same room I had as a teenager, many friends having relocated or become very occupied, not sure what my next next move was. I felt a bit stuck. I went on Facebook, and FOMO reared it’s ugly head. I started jokingly complaining to friends who would listen, making idle facebook statuses about everybody growing up and settling down. “A new engagement every week. Can it please stop?” Everybody seemed to have a cottage. Everyone was trailing around leading wonderful summers. Everyone had someone else. Every time I did this, I only felt worse.
Why did I do this to myself? Why do we do this to ourselves? And why is it so hard to just be happy for other people? I ask myself that sometimes. I know that I am guilty of this, and at some point we all are – we create facebook statuses touting a recent achievement, or personal update – we want to share, we want to feel important. It’s in our nature, and its perfectly acceptable. When we are doing things that have meaning for us, that make us happy, or we find ourselves at exciting moments in our lives, we forget. We forget about FOMO because we are frozen in a moment that has us wholly captured. We aren’t missing out. We are IN. We also forget that though we were mere days, weeks, months ago, poring over facebook or media, looking at photos and trying to calm the jealousy bubbling within ourselves…. that there were those like us, looking over our Facebook updates, photos, reading our messages, feeling the same sense of missing out. When I complain about my 9-5, my boredom, my wish for something more, I have had friends remind me that they felt the same way when I was off trekking down under. At any point in our life, there will always be people doing things, being places, and accomplishing goals that we wish we could be or have. There will also be people with much bigger struggles: layoffs, roommate issues, break ups, stress from school, you name it. It’s hard not to look at someone’s 5 minute Youtube video of skydiving and kayaking through New Zealand, or sunning in Cuba with a boyfriend you wish you had, and not feel a sense of “why can’t that be me?” It’s normal. The problem I face, and that maybe you have faced too, is this realization that you are only missing out if you aren’t being fully in your own life. You can spend hours poring over the special moments of other peoples lives, feeling sorry for yourself, or you can do something to fill your life with the kinds of moments like these that you desire. Granted, some of it is easier said than done. I would certainly like to meet a special someone, but I think I’ve exhausted the online dating pool. This is a fact of life. I wouldn’t trust a Mail-Order Boyfriend system if it existed anyway. Ok, ok, so your friend Stacy is spending a month at her aunt’s condo in Paris, sipping lattes and eating croissants because she felt like it. That’s called good connections. Some things are bigger than others, but you can still find ways to be happy with what you have. We all have off days, and personal struggle, but if on average, you can say you are happy, it means a lot more than you might actually know. We are so fortunate to live where we live, to have our health and education and friends and family. We need to focus on this, and access that ambition from deep within to create or find those things that are missing.
I felt lonely for awhile, and it still comes in waves, but I’ve looked at my dating life as something to take lightly, to joke about amongs girlfriends. I push myself to go out and meet new guys. Worst case? I have stories to tell my friends. (One guy still lived with his ex-fiancee and said she’s often around when he has dates over. Awkward?) I wanted to make new friends and felt like my social life was lacking. Result? Getting in touch with old friends, going to Meetup events and becoming a more active member of CS. I still struggle with this need to travel and restless desire for new adventures. Solution? Meeting travelers coming through the city, and starting a travel/tourism unit with my French classes to feed my hunger and keep the conversation going. So, as one who has fallen victim to FOMO many times, I must say that it’s an uphill battle. Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side, but if that’s where you want to be, you have to push yourself. You will never become happier or get the things you want by sitting behind a laptop, moaning to friends online. (Again, I know I have done this!) You have to put on your shoes and get out there. Make plans. Talk with people. Dream. Explore. You and you alone are responsible for your own happiness. Only you can cultivate the perfect garden to make these dreams prosper. Last, but not least, you must also remember to be happy with what you have. Somewhere along the line, I learned to be happier with my own company. I can spend an evening by myself with a book, some music, or a Netflix binge, and be just fine. Glorious, in fact. What makes you happy doesn’t have to derive from great, epic adventures. It can be a coffee with your friend. Taking out a new book from the library. Going to see the free open mic at the pub down the street. When in doubt, think about the things you do have, that you do love, that make you YOU. If you really think about it, there are probably a few things in your life that Stacy in Paris secretly wished she had as well. FOMO is a no-no. Make your life the kind you’d want to live.