You can’t always keep up with others, and that’s OK

Toyloy Brown III, Managing Editor

For some rhyme or reason, we all want to be cool. Or at least project that we are.

One way is by “keeping up with the Joneses,” having awesome experiences or partaking in the latest material trends so we don’t fall behind. Well, let’s unpack that.

The fear of missing out, FOMO for short, is the anxiety we feel when others are having a good time without us. However, in the broader sense, it can be more than just feeling absent from our friends’ experiences.

It’s a wide-ranging feeling, and nearly three-quarters of young adults reported they experienced this phenomenon, according to a 2013 study by ScienceDirect. To nullify FOMO’s effects, we must find personal fulfillment apart from the influences of others.

FOMO is not a new phenomenon. It happens to people of all ages but is most pervasive among young people for numerous reasons. For the vast majority of teens and young adults, we tend to be less self-confident due to our lack of life experience. This anxiety can originate from our dissatisfaction with ourselves in comparison to those we are familiar with.

However, another wrinkle as to why FOMO is common among this demographic is the widespread usage of social media.

Social media apps like Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat are obvious culprits for why such a large percentage of people have experienced FOMO. As Nick Hobson of Psychology Today puts it, “the explosion of social media has launched our young people headfirst into the FOMO experience.” 

These apps provide easy access to friends and influencers’ experiences, which has its perks. On the flip side, greater access means increased chances that we habitually go on our devices to see the positive things others engage in while we sulk in the dullness we may experience at the moment.

Some of us may not even be cognizant of our constant social media usage. One tell-tale sign that you experience some degree of FOMO is when you go on a social media app particularly before you get out of bed in the morning or when it is the last thing you do before you go to sleep.

FOMO can cause us to make life choices that hurt our wallets. Credit Karma and the software company Qualtrics conducted a study with a test group of 1,045 Americans ages 18-34 and found that nearly 40% of participants go into debt trying to keep up with their friends’ activities and lifestyles. 

The 2018 study also revealed two-thirds of respondents experienced buyer’s remorse after spending more than expected on a social situation they would later regret.

That money spent was commonly used on social experiences like vacations, weddings, music festivals, sporting events or dinner with friends.

FOMO can act similar to peer pressure. Instead of the direct pressure coming externally from peers’ words and actions, FOMO is an internal urge that draws from what we see from our friends.

The first step to solving this is to acknowledge that FOMO is a factor in our decision-making. There is no shame in admitting to yourself or to others that outside influences make you feel deficient in some capacity. The next step is to recognize that you cannot truly get rid of it unless you adopt the lifestyle of a hermit.

All kidding aside, we should realize it is OK to feel compelled to keep up with our friends. Focusing on how we can respond to FOMO rather than feeling guilty for worrying about it is a more fruitful mentality to adopt. The concern of missing out is going to be persistent in our minds no matter what we do. The important thing is not to allow it to cloud our better judgment.

It can help to take a break from social media and remind yourself that, more often than not, a person’s online persona is not a reflection of their everyday life. It is just the parts they allow their followers to witness. There is nothing wrong with a social media cleanse, but it is probably not a sustainable, long-lasting fix since social pressures don’t just happen on social media. It is just as present in real life.

Our best bet is to espouse a mindset that reminds us that there should be no trepidation in deciding to pass on an activity and doing our own thing sometimes. We achieve this through having high self-esteem and not being overly reliant on the thoughts of others. Self-confidence gives us the strength to say “no” and the mental wherewithal to think clearly before we act.

As Albert Einstein once said, “The one who follows the crowd will usually get no further than the crowd. The one who walks alone is likely to find themselves in places no one has ever been before.”