Last week Friday as I left the office with a couple of colleagues heading to our usual watering hole, an interesting topic came up – our fears. Two seemed to be louder than the rest: the fear of settling down and the fear of not having enough time to do everything we wanted. What if there wasn’t enough time? What if the adventure came to an end before we wanted it to? These fears, palpable and real to everyone, all of us twenty-two and twenty-three years old, echoed out into the brazen evening weather. To the rest of the people who are living in what is this dynamic, limitless, thrilling, terrifying decade of our lives. A decade we live with constant reminders that we are too young to know what to do.
What are we supposed to do with that? What is supposed to be a helpful bit of advice from the older and wiser ends up feeling like an enormous amount of pressure to do everything, see everything, go everywhere, and meet everyone. They didn’t take enough risks, they didn’t travel enough, they didn’t maximize their youth. But we, we are here. We are in it. We have the opportunity to do it right. And it feels like every second counts.
When I graduated from college I did not feel paralyzed by the fear of not knowing what to do with my life, I felt overwhelmed by the many, sprawling, myriad things I wanted to do. That I would not be able to make my life as big as I felt it needed to be.
As we wound around the curves of the road, we talked about the things we wanted to do and the places we wanted to go and the people we wanted to be. Of the adventures we wanted to have. Of the things we wanted to accomplish. And I began to wonder then if the moment of history we are experiencing our twenties in is heightening this grass-is-always-greener mentality that seemed to be prevalent among my peers. We live in an age where every cool thing we ever do is immediately disseminated through social media to all of our friends and acquaintances, and so more than ever we are aware of the stunning array of options that exist out in the universe.
The world in its present state of technological advancement has given us the ability to do many things at once, to be reading and talking and watching and communicating all at the same time. We are encouraged not to choose, to cram as many things into one moment as possible, and this mindset seems to have leaked into other areas of our lives. Suddenly the idea of doing only one thing, of living only one place, of being with only one person seems like we are limiting ourselves unnecessarily – seems like a trap. And so suddenly we are beset with this powerful, real, and yet only recently coined emotion: FOMO – the fear of missing out.
I have often felt the panic of FOMO on a life-level – that there are inevitably a million things I could be doing that are a far better use of my time than what I am doing at present. I have felt this despite loving what I was doing at the moment of feeling this way. And this is where our desire to seize the day, to club in every town, to test every gizmo, to take advantage of the freedom of our youth begins to backfire.
Maybe the issue we’ve come head to head with is that we are living in a time that seems to emphasize quantity over quality. Perhaps our generation has found a new way to miss out on the opportunities of our youth—not by not seizing them, but by being so distracted during them that we fail to seize them properly.
And so as we approached our destination I just smiled wryly, the voices of my buddies, like a distant sonnet, ringing near me. Maybe I’m not missing out after all, or am I? After a couple of shots – of Vodka later that night, I confirmed that I really am not. Am happy and that’s what counts.