i read an article the other day that brought me to my knees. it was on something i’ve long suffered from, but never knew was a genuine affliction until i saw it put into four little words: “fear of missing out”.
and here i just thought it was my own particularly poignant malaise. this gut-wrenching sense that whatever choice i make must be the *very best* one, not just the good-enough one. the feeling that i must leave as many possible paths open, because i will otherwise be forever saddled with regret over the path not taken. the ever-present fear that somehow, somewhere, in an alternate universe, the jen-who-could-have-selected-door-#1 is living a more exciting and fulfilling life than i am, because i picked door #2.
i know how insane that is. it is a crippling self-induced paranoia that prevents me from ever fully enjoying being present in the here and now. making decisions out of fear is no way to live. it’s doubly ridiculous, of course, because making no decision (out of fear of making the wrong one) is a decision as well. my life has in many ways been circumscribed by an attempt to keep all avenues available – and that, in itself, has prevented me from achieving a lot of the things i wanted to do in life.
i may have mentioned a million times how much i loved living in new york. at the time that i lived there, it was the experience of a lifetime. i had a circle of amazing and exciting friends, a great job that i was really good at, (and that was talking about sponsoring me to do a graduate degree), a social calendar full of cultural events, a rent-stabilised dream apartment in a vibrant neighbourhood. and yet i willingly, nay eagerly, moved away from nyc at the very height of my love affair with the city precisely because i was terrified that by staying put for so many years, i was missing out. i uprooted myself from the happiest place i’ve ever been, because i was convinced i might be happier somewhere else.
which is how i found myself in the summer of 2002, living a suburban life in boston, stuck in a job that bored me to tears. so i decided that it was finally time to get serious about applying to grad school so i could start having the career in counselling i’d always wanted. for years i’d put it off, because i was always afraid to get tied down to one place, and forever waffling between whether to apply to a doctorate programme or a master’s programme. so i decided i would at least sign up to take the g.r.e. exam – a requirement for entry to almost all post-graduate degree programmes. i still couldn’t decide for sure (what if i picked the wrong one?), but i knew which direction i wanted to head in. so i made the appointment, bought the study guides, boned up on my maths (who the hell remembers how to calculate the volume of a cone??!), and practiced for several weeks. the morning of the exam i was feeling pretty confident – i’d had several good practice exam results, and i’ve always tended to do really well under standardised testing conditions.
so i did what any reasonable person would do: i went to live in london. because the opportunity to live in london presented itself, and i was afraid of missing out. oh sure, i could sit around in staid old boston, finding a better job, retaking the exams, doing several years of study, then working to pay off the loans. or i could ditch all that boring stuff and go and live in london, where surely everything exciting was just waiting to happen to me. having watched far too many movies, i convinced myself that living in another country was the key to making me a happier, more interesting, more complete person.
it doesn’t work that way of course, and eight years later, with a chance to make a change from yet another uninspiring job, i found myself flying to vancouver, ready to ditch it all again. because i am afraid that by staying put all this time in london, i must be missing out on something else. vancouver tops all the polls of “best places to live”, so why am i not living there?! vancouver is where i need to be to be at my happiest!!
and so the cycle goes. it is the constant fear of missing out that wracks me, does my head in, and paralyses me with dread. because being in vancouver for those months, all i could think about was what was going on back in london. i was convinced that the best, most amazing stuff was happening without me. as lovely as vancouver was, it could never live up to the opportunities that i was missing out on in london!
- i have lived my whole adult life in some of the most exciting cities in the world.
- i have travelled around the globe.
- i have become a full citizen of another culture.
- i have experienced music and art and monuments and natural wonders that many people only dream of.
and yet… i fear i’m somehow missing out.
that’s just crazy. but there you have it.
vancouver glistens invitingly. we could move in january. i am terrified that by not taking that opportunity now, it may not present itself again. i am terrified of missing out and afraid of losing my nerve. every fibre of my being is telling me to jump at it. i’ve got itchy feet and that feeling in my stomach that’s telling me to gogogogogogo.
but when i stop to evaluate and honestly weigh up my life, the reality is, the one thing i’m really most missing out on? a fulfilling career, doing something i love.
“live to regret the things you did, not the things you didn’t”. and if i were to die tomorrow, i might have a pang or two about not going to vancouver, but i would bitterly regret never having achieved my dream of being a therapist. staring down the barrel of my 40th birthday, i am realising that that’s become incredibly important to me at this point in my life. so even though it fills me with anxiety to admit it, i have to acknowledge that’s something that is most cheaply, quickly, and sensibly achieved by staying put. here. in london. not vancouver.
it pains me to close that door. for weeks i’ve been in knots over it – thinking of all the lost snowboarding, beaches, road-trips, dogs, fresh air, scenery and pleasantries, the idyllic (and idealised) lifestyle that vancouver represents in my head. but i’m just going to have to get over my fear of missing out. i need to learn to stop, focus, be patient, concentrate on my real life – and stop chasing after the some mirage of something or someplace better that’s always just out of reach, because it’s never where i actually *am*.
for once, i want *where i am* to be the ideal, and that’s not a city – it’s a state of mind.
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