How FOMO makes life more meaningful

September 20, 2022
Like most things, FOMO has a flip side. Looking at FOMO from another angle textures our life with meaning.

You’ve likely heard of FOMO, which stands for Fear of Missing Out. When we have the perception that other people are living cooler lives, having more fun and enjoying better experiences than we are, it can evoke unpleasant feelings. We may feel uneasy, dissatisfied, envy, stress and/or depression. FOMO can also come from feeling on the outside, or not in-the-know.

Although FOMO has been present likely as long as there have been humans, it’s exploded in the age of social media. Today, we have a front row seat to other people’s lives, as they unfold. We don’t find out about the cool party we weren’t invited to days later, instead we watch it happening. We immerse ourselves in a barrage of others’ doctored-up posts about their amazing life (people tend to only post the 5-star highlights), our everyday life feels not-enough. Lame. Dissatisfying.

From where I sit, FOMO sits under a larger umbrella of what I’ll call “personal finite resources.” And this is where our discussion gets juicy.

 

What are personal finite resources?

 

You’re likely familiar with the term “finite resources” in relation to economics and the supply chain. Resources such as fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) and metals came part-and-parcel as part of this gorgeous planet that we call home. As such, we can’t make more of them like we do with electricity, plant crops or shampoo.

Personal finite resources have a slightly different angle to them. They’re areas of our life that feel restricted, even though it’s not as cut-and-dry as oil supplies, for instance. Let’s check out the key areas of personal finite resources:

  • Time: We all get the same 24 hours in a day. Nobody gets a longer day. The personal finite resources that follow relate to time but have nuances that set them apart.
  • Money: Although we can technically make more money, for most people in any section of their life, money feels finite. So much comes in and so much goes out, leaving some people with disposable income that they can spend on “fun” things. It’s important to note that billions of people don’t have disposable income and don’t even have basic needs met such as food, water and shelter.
  • Relationships: Although love is a bottomless resource, from a logistical standpoint we can only have a handful of close relationships in our life. Nurturing intimate relationships (romantic, family, friendships) requires time and attention.  
  • Life: We only have so much time in this precious life. Even more, we also have no idea how much we have ahead of us. It could be another 10 minutes or another 80 years.

The living of this feels different for each of us. Let’s explore common feelings that folks have around their personal finite resources.

 

How it feels to not have it all

 

Each day, many things don’t go as planned—some big, some small. Although there might be moments when all is right in our world, the human experience is not a “have it all” journey

  • FOMO: My friends are all at that rockin’ party and I’m home with my sick baby.
  • Time: I would do ______, if only I had more time.
  • Money: My life would be so much better if I only had more money.
  • Relationships: My relationship with _______ would improve if I weren’t so busy.
  • Life: There are so many parts of the world I want to see, but I never seem to get to any of them.

This may sound like a drag, and sometimes it does feel like a drag. But what feels boo-hiss—for instance, FOMO—can actually be a blessing.

 

How it could feel with a perspective shift

 

This backstory leads us to an important point that we often miss. The fact that we have to choose how to spend our time, our money, our attention and our precious days on this planet? This is what gives meaning to what we choose.

The fact that we have finite personal resources helps us know who we are and what we value. Allow me to explain, using our five named personal finite resources.

  • FOMO: The fact that my friends are at a rockin’ party and I’m home with my sick child reminds me of my priorities.
  • Time: Since we all have the same 24 hours in our day, how we spend those hours becomes important. If I choose to spend my free time today in a kayak instead of doing laundry, it’s clear that I’d rather feed my soul than wear my favorite (dirty) clothes.
  • Money: Most people think that more money would solve everything. Once we have our basic needs met, more money doesn’t move the needle much. In any moment, I have the money I have. The question is, how am I LIVING the very life I have right now?
  • Relationships: Personally, it means a lot to me when a friend chooses to spend time with me. Since we all feel that our plates are pretty full and we’ve got that 24 hour limit on our days, we typically choose to spend our time with people that we care about.
  • Life: Every day, we make dozens of choices that shape our life experience. Some people travel a lot because it’s important to them. It’s not easy to make it happen, because of the personal finite resources of time, money and family (relationships). But it’s a priority. This means that other things might not happen. Maybe the person also wants a horse but that’s not feasible with the travel. So, seeing the world is clearly a priority over a more equestrian life.

In each of these cases, the scarcity of the resource is exactly what makes choices meaningful. If I had all the money in the world, a vacation to the Amalfi Coast is no big deal. After all, I can go anywhere I want, anytime I want. When I have to choose where to spend my one vacation each year, the choice becomes textured with excitement and meaning, elevating the experience.    

 

Too much of a good thing isn’t a good thing

 

It’s not reasonable to expect to have it all. “What about Elon Musk? He has it all.”
Does he? I don’t know him personally, but it appears that he’s hounded by the press constantly, has no privacy and works an insane number of hours. No thanks to all three. I’d rather have less money, no fame and freedom to breathe. To walk alone in the woods when I want. To kayak without news helicopters following me. To make beautiful meals in my kitchen without hearing the latest falsities about my life on headline news.

It seems that often when we’re lamenting our personal finite resources, we have the idea that others have it better. We forget that no one sends out those holiday letters telling all the hard knocks that the year brought them. It’s the shiny highlights. The things that they felt went right for them that year.

But you know ALL the parts of your life. Including the hard, messy stuff. Including the choices and the compromises you made. You chose to spend more time with your spouse, so had less time to spend in the dojo honing your martial arts skills. No black belt this year but tended and deepened an important relationship.

You can learn more about FOMO HERE. And know this: Life is a series of choices and decisions that that inherently involve compromise. Having more of one thing usually means less of another. There’s no judgement in this, it’s simply a matter of getting clear on how we want to use our personal finite resources. And in the choosing, we imbue our life with meaning that shapes the very person we’re becoming. Each and every day.   

To your empowered well-being,
Laurie

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