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May
18

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lesson learned

bulletin boardI’ve always been a magazine junkie.

I suffer from a serious Us Weekly addiction, as you may remember from my Blogger Idol post about the apocalypse, but my obsession goes way deeper than that.

Growing up, I devoured every type of magazine – fashion, celebrity, travel – carefully cutting out pages which I then pinned (not Pinned; this was old school) to the bulletin board above my bed. I was as crazy about the articles – the different styles of writing, the fonts, the layouts – as I was with the glamour shots of Paul McCartney, Huk-a-Poo shirts and hotels on stilts in Bali. Just the feel of the glossy pages was enough to make my heart beat a little faster.

When I was twelve, I won a short story contest in American Girl magazine. This was pre-internet, pre-email and before American Girl became synonymous with budget-busting dolls.

I was dizzy with joy when I saw my name in print. My dad proudly drove me to the library to Xerox a copy to send my grandma. My mom and I were giddy, joking that we could tell the mailman’s route by the order in which my friends Karen, then Mary, then Lisa called, squealing because the only place any of our names had ever appeared in a magazine before was on a subscription label.

It was like the world was cheering for me, and I felt totally validated. It was the most powerful feeling I’d ever had.

I couldn’t wait to work at a magazine one day. I already envisioned myself at lunch with Anna Wintour.

So, in my junior year of high school, when I was offered a dream opportunity to do an internship at Seventeen, the magazine I’d been reading since I was ten, I was jumping-up-and-down ecstatic. My destiny was coming true.

I called Karen, excited to share my news.

“Are you crazy?” she screamed. “That means you have to miss senior year! No one ever misses senior year – even if they have mono! You can’t miss senior year!”

“Well, this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer,” I said, taken aback and already starting to re-think the whole thing.

“So is senior year!” she insisted. “It’s going to be the best time of our lives!”

I called Mary for a second opinion.

“You can’t miss prom!” she wailed. “And what about the football games? And walking down the halls, laughing at the freshmen?”

“Don’t forget about the secret senior beer bash!” added Lisa, completing the peer pressure trifecta. “You can’t miss that!”

If I was going to be totally honest with them – and I wasn’t – none of those things were particularly appealing to me. But I couldn’t admit that to my friends. Worse, I couldn’t admit it to myself.

I couldn’t miss senior year!

Right?

I turned down the internship.

I turned my back on myself and a dream that meant everything to me because I was afraid of missing out on what my friends were doing.

In an instant, my internship was snatched up by a girl who shall remain nameless because I just Googled her and – deep breath – found a photo of her shaking hands with New York City Mayor Bloomberg. I want to stab her in the head with one of the fancy fountain pens she used to carry.

Okay, sorry. I’m back.

But do you know what she missed by skipping senior year?

Nothing.

Prom was cancelled that year. I didn’t go to one single football game. There’s nothing fun about laughing at the freshmen. And I threw up and made out with a boy I didn’t care about at the beer bash.

I blew a big chance — maybe the only one I would ever get — to pursue my personal passion because I had succumbed to what is now recognized, even by the Oxford English Dictionary, as FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out.

FOMO

It’s my one regret in life.

This experience taught one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned and, trust me, I learned it well.

When you follow the crowd, you lose yourself.

Since that social pressure cooker that was high school, I’ve never again cared what anyone else is doing. In college, when my friends asked me to hang out at the pub, I was comfortable enough in my own skin to say “no” to them and “yes” to myself. I knew I got a more satisfying buzz writing for the school newspaper and the music magazine.

Years later, when the preschool moms gathered at Starbucks, they couldn’t believe the times I would choose to go to the park with my toddlers instead of hearing the latest gossip.

“You’re going to miss out on all the news,” they said, shaking their heads. I would just laugh and wave them off.

I can totally understand why FOMO has become an epidemic, and I’m actually grateful I learned my lesson early, although I wish there had been a less traumatic way to do so. With the 24/7ness of social media, I’m sure I’d be abandoning my laptop every night to join my Facebook friends who always look like they’re having such a good time at the latest restaurant or bar while I’m sitting on my couch writing blog posts — which truly is my good time.

I’ve tried to impart my painfully-acquired knowledge to my kids because I know they sometimes think everyone’s having more fun than they are. I’ve had to look them in the eye, share my story and see the disappointment in their faces as they realize what I gave up and why.

Maybe that’s why I had to lose out on such a personal dream. So they wouldn’t have to.

Who knows?

I do know that I no longer fear missing out on anything anybody else is doing.

The only person’s life I fear missing out on is my own.

Comments

  1. This is great!
    I turned down a scholarship and 9 credits so I could finish grad school early–in the field I loved–because it was in Boston. My friends had dispersed and i wanted to be back in NY
    I learned you could always find your friends–or make new and better ones–but scholarships with credits–they’re a once in a lifetime offer. It’s the only thing I’ve regretted also.

  2. I have a HUGE fear of missing out. I hate being stuck in a situation where I don’t know what’s going on.

  3. I love this post Lois, it’s the kind of post that made me follow you when I first found your blog. It’s the kind of post that inspired me to begin my own blog and share my own stories. And, it’s the kind of post that makes me say – man I wish I had her as a friend.

    As for FOMO – it haunts me. I would’ve hoped that by 51 I wouldn’t care anymore but it’s awful. I chalk it up to being an only child.

    Meanwhile, I imagine that while you missed out on that opportunity, you have had so many more in your lifetime – in the end, that wasn’t really you’re “opportunity” (if you believe in that kind of stuff).

  4. What a great post Lois. How lucky you learned this lesson early on!

  5. Oh Man…. I hate when I have to choose like that. But, you were stuck with making a decision and you made the best choice for you at that time.
    You may have missed out on more than you know if you would have gone… Who knows.

  6. We share that trait. I don’t really care what others do, I plan my own course and do my own thing. To be honest, I don’t care what they think, either.I don’t feel I’ve missed out on much. Well, I would’ve liked to have had a kid, but that wasn’t in the cards. Still, i’d take my life over most others.

  7. I never worried about what others were doing. I kind of always marched to my own drum and now looking back it was the best thing that could have happened to me. Oh I was a magazine junkie too! Mostly fashion and home decorating and food ones.

  8. Oh Wow! I have suffered from FOMO myself but fortunately I don’t think I’ve EVER missed out on something like your internship! 🙁 For the most part of have learned to let go of that need but if I’m not careful it does pop back in there now and again….that’s why I wrote about it on my own blog a while back…here’s a link in case anyone is interested… http://smartliving365.com/simple-cure-fomo-fear-missing/

  9. Good lesson to learn, but a tough way to learn it.

    I always try to listen to my heart to guide me. So far so good. Okay, one big regret. I’ll save that for another time!

  10. This is so great. I’ve considered your FOMO post time and again since I first read it. I do have such now and again… and it stinks and I just want to slap myself for being so dumb.

    (And I must say, my magazine addiction is Entertainment Weekly. I did cancel the subscription recently but — shhh….!! — they keep on sending it to me. For free. Five months later. I’m not going to inform them. And let’s hope they don’t read your blog! 😀 )

  11. It might be too late for Seventeen… but you write so beautifully, don’t give up! I have a FOMO problem too and it’s time to ignore it.

  12. Loved reading this post, especially as a fellow magazine junkie! I definitely had FOMO but as I transition from the corporate exec world to a more simple post 50 life I’m learning how to overcome my fears.

  13. This certainly gives anyone of a certain age pause to think. What opportunities or what have I put up with because of a fear of missing out? We live in a very small town. When we first moved here 15 year ago — I was terribly anxious every weekend if we were missing out on something. Some social activity that everyone was involved with. About 10 years ago, I realized I needed to let that go — and I’ve been much happier.

  14. Audrey Van Petegem says:

    As I age I am more concerned about what I am doing and/or wanting to do than what others are doing. It is a hard lesson to instill on our children. Thanks for sharing your story!

  15. Aaaah, FOMO! For years I was the victim of it; finally let that go. this is an amazing post, Lois. Doing what others wanted me to do or what I THOUGHT I should do, feels like it cost me years, but, what I learned is so valuable. Thank you for the line: ‘When you follow the crowd you lose yourself’. I’m so glad I learned that when I listen to myself I always win!

  16. I’ve never heard of FOMO, but after reading the article you linked to, I now know I’ve suffered from it most of my life….until a couple weeks ago. It dawned on me that we didn’t have plans for the weekend. I didn’t care, was actually kind of glad. My conscience or in we self or that voice in my head was incredulous at my reaction telling me “you should care. You should fret. You should call people and make plans. But I didn’t. And survived. And it even felt good. I enjoyed your piece today.

  17. Your excellent message brought back so many memories. At age 21 I turned down a job to work in Washington DC with one of our congressmen. I have always wondered “what if.”

  18. Oh no, I guess it is a lesson well learned though.. Not only about not worrying about missing out, but also not letting others persuade you 🙂

  19. What a fantastic post! I’m constantly amused at how I really believe that I don’t care what others think or how I don’t care about missing out on the cool stuff…but somehow, it’s still in my subconscious and comes out every once in a while. Ah, the human mind.

  20. I used to have a great fear of missing out on things, I still do to some degree though I try and tell myself I am being silly. x

  21. FOMO is always hard. It’s difficult to give up the expected for anything that’s unexpected, or scary. And then the good, ordinary things you were counting on always wind up falling through!

  22. Amy Desrosiers says:

    I love magazines too! US Weekly is my guilty pleasure! I think we all probably turned down something huge in life to pursue another. Everything happens for a reason.

  23. That’s a huge lesson that you definitely had to learn the hard way. I’ve the same thing so many times. I didn’t really learn this until my late 20’s.

  24. Sometimes it is so hard to learn the hard way. Magazines are my guilty pleasure.

  25. You are so right on target. Listening to others’ voices more than the strong voice in your head can stop you from living our lives to the fullest. So many spend their lives not learning that lesson! Makes me even more grateful that we are who and where we are!

  26. I dislike missing out on things. However, I have learned to cope that you just can’t be a part of everything 😛

  27. I have the double whammy of FOMO and TimeZoned (having fallen in with a load of very addictive ‘Muricans) but yes – I need to pay more attention to LIVING, not just living vicariously.

    That said, I ADORE blogging and the friendships I have online, and wouldn’t change them for the world 🙂

  28. Great post. In addition to FOMO, I want to point out that we’re constantly seeing half truths on social media that make us feel bad about our own lives. Someone posts pictures of her and her husband on vacation looking all happy and relaxed, but we don’t get to see or hear about the constant arguing and bickering that went on between them for the entire trip. Or another woman posts pics of her cute baby that make all of us melt but we don’t get to hear or see that she was up since 5 am and ready to collapse from exhaustion. We’re all trying to live up to these fake and artificial standards and it’s making us all depressed.

  29. I love this post and it brought back some memories of FOMO for me. I think that everyone when they are young makes decisions based on FOMO. It is just the way a young mind works, LOL.

    I haven’t had issues with making decisions based on FOMO for a very long time. That is one of the positives about aging.

  30. There are so many lessons I wish I would have learned earlier in life! Great post!

  31. I think at one point of our lives, we experienced this part of it as well.. thanks for sharing this with us.

  32. Ah, we all have a heart-wrenching decision we’ve made. I’m sorry about your lost internship. You’re lucky you learned your lesson from yours so young! It took me learning mine over and over again, well into adulthood to learn mine. 😉

  33. That sounds like a tough decision, though I believe that we all have a point where we need to make an important decision.

  34. This was my favorite post of yours so far, and I think it’s because I can relate to it SO much. I too was once looking into magazine journalism as a profession. Though, Tiger Beat was my first publication credit (I was 13!). I was afraid to move away from home to pursue my passion in a larger market. While I have no regrets since I have the hottest husband and cutest baby ever, I do wonder what would have happened if I had moved to a big city!

  35. The fear of missing out is definitely a real thing. I really enjoyed your post. It’s a great story even if it didn’t have the happy ending you might have! I’m glad you have that lesson to share with your kids and all of us!

  36. I turned down a chance to study abroad in Dublin. Not once, but twice. A chance I will never get back. That husband who played a huge part of that is no longer in my life. Someday I will get to Ireland and my life will be complete 😉 Sometimes I have that fear of missing out. But more often it is my own fear of going forward that scares me more.

  37. Love this! I don’t always care to do the things other people do and have learned I am much happier when I follow my heart. I don’t want to miss out on my life!

  38. As I’m getting older, I am realizing that all I need is a chosen few around me and not a crowd. It’s quality and not quantity that really matters.

  39. The fact that I left my closest friends three years ago and moved 3,000 miles away from them (twice) proves to me that FOMO is not my MO. Sure, I miss them, and every once in a while feel pangs of regret when I see their mindy-less photos on FB, but FOMO on new adventures and family warmth and love kind of trumps that. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and some days are easier than others, but I’ve got no regrets. Great article, Lois. Loved how your dad took you to the library to make copies!

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