Avoiding FOMO


When we come to a new place, FOMO is the last thing that we expect to experience. After all, rather than a Fear OMissing Out, we expect to experience the exact opposite–shall we call it, the Fear OBeing Counted In (too much)? Now, I realize that this phrase isn’t going to be in Urban Dictionary anytime soon, but what I mean to say is that a new place means a host of new experiences–to the point that we are more likely to be overwhelmed  by a multiplicity of new emotions, feelings, and experiences than to be worried about not being involved enough, or gasp–missing out on one experience or another.

And yet, when I first came to Harvard, I became familiar with this term. First, when it was tossed around in casual conversations in the dhall or among roommates on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Somehow, FOMO existed–even if I wasn’t feeling it, there was sense that it had the power to seep into me at any moment and that therefore, it somehow would.

So, how can you evade FOMO? Community. Now, of course “community” is one of those buzz words and definitely the go-to answer for a lot of questions. How do we combat loneliness? How do we find more meaning in an activity that we really love or within a passion that we’ve cultivated? What is the alternate way to express the idea of a support system? Who are the people that surround us that make us who we are in ways implicit and explicit? 

But here, I provide community as an answer because if we do indeed feel FOMO, then the logical way to combat it is to find solace in the multiplicity of experiences that fill a room at the same time and in the same way that your community of people fills it.

In other words,

Live vicariously. Do it. It’s not scary or “cheating” or a second-hand way to have an experience, its a way to expand your experiences.

In the first few months after I arrived at Harvard, I began hearing “FOMO” as a term associated with the feeling of deprivation and sadness that one feels because that are just so many opportunities that college has to offer and participating in one automatically means leaving behind another. But as I’ve found in this incredibly dynamic, engaged, and diverse community, everyone has “missed out” on something and therefore no one has to really miss out on anything. When my roommate who has worked on organizing an event for many months–all the while typing furiously at her computer and holding meetings and conferences while I stood on the periphery–finally holds that event, I can attend. Or at least ask her about it afterward. I didn’t miss out; in fact, I’ve experienced her experience in a way that was already made richer simply by the fact that she related it to me. Our friendship grew stronger and I learned yet another thing about a precious member of my community.

I became acutely aware of this possibility to experience the experiences of others as I was siting in one of the private dining rooms in my undergraduate house this afternoon, convening a meeting with a group of fabulously talented, motivated, and inspirational young women who will serve as the first class of Women’s Leadership Ambassadors at an inaugural women’s mentorship event that I am directing next Friday. We will bring together a community of upperclassmen with freshmen and sophomores to share their experiences and experience mentorship in a way that most of us don’t on this campus. We often look to that professional, that relative, that teacher who is 25 years older in experience and age because we assume that surely they must know something that we don’t. But we all know something that others who are our age don’t. While we are here–still undergraduates–we have learned things that we can pass on even if we are a just a year or two older than our mentees. Mentorship doesn’t have to be a protracted experience in the sense that decades must separate those who are seeking and delivering guidance, because truly I think mentorship ought to be a partnership and the relationship is as much about reciprocity as it is about paying it forward.

The Next Step is an event that seeks to connect female undergraduates from different class years, extracurricular groups, and academic concentrations in one room to not only look forward and reflect back, but also to develop a new understanding of the concept of “mentorship”–which can seem so amorphous to many–and ground it in a firmer understanding of how the group  and one-on-one mentorship models can be blended into something is truly  tangible. Everyone has something to learn and something that they can teach. You were there once and now she is.

When we don’t feel FOMO, we can appreciate just how valuable our community is–not only for the physical people who fill the room but also for their experiences, which are so much a part of who they are and can be a part of who you become.

If I had any piece of advice in my ripe old 19 years, it would be to be open to that sharing of experiences and the opportunity to live vicariously through someone else. You can’t experience it all, so why not share with the hundreds of people around you who do?


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