In psychology there’s a field called existential psychology. One of its core beliefs is that our mental experiences are directly affected by our freedom to choose and the choices we do and don’t make. Rollo May, a major researcher in this field, believed our biggest source of anxiety is the fact that there are literally infinite choices we could make and because of this we are afraid that whatever choice we make will be the wrong one, and what’s more, will keep us from making other choices that would have made us happier. In other words, we get freaked out because we are constantly wondering, what if?
As you most likely know, if you are in fact human and not a supercomputer reading my blog, this constant threat of “what if” is very much present in our daily lives. In fact, it is so much a part of being human that my acronym-happy generation has stripped Dr.May’s concept of all dignity and eloquently renamed it FOMO. For those of you not keeping up with the cool kids, this acronym translates to Fear Of Missing Out.
Now I, being human (and a painfully intense over-achiever) have most definitely experienced FOMO. This phenomenon is especially prevalent when you live in big happening cities like New York where there are endless opportunities to experience life and conversely, endless opportunities to miss out. FOMO is such a huge part of my life that it even gives me anxiety attacks when I go grocery shopping. Should I buy the coconut Greek yogurt? But what if it isn’t as good as strawberry? What will my life become if I miss out on that Boston Cream Pie one?!
You see the problem?
But in all seriousness, FOMO is a constant when it comes to me. However, never have I experienced Fear of Missing Out more than now that I am in Europe. This is the most first world problem, (brace yourself) but I have no idea what to do here. I want to travel, but I also want to stay in Paris. I want to know a plethora of different countries but I also want to know every arrondissement in this stinkin’ place. I want to be incessantly aware of how single I am in Cinque Terre, but I also want to party and forget it in Amsterdam. Being here is stressful because I want to do it all, and for once money is not an issue (wow, I’ve never said that before). But of course, I don’t have all the time in the world-especially if I want to do well in my classes and not fail out of my excruciatingly expensive school. So I’m panicking, constantly making travel plans and rearranging them, calling my friends for advice, asking my host parents in my broken French what they would do, etc.
The point is, I feel an enormous amount of pressure to choose the right places and do the most fun things and have the best time. Because who knows when I’ll be in Europe again. Who knows if the euro will increase in value and little poor me will never get the chance to roam the cobbled streets of Italy? It’s daunting to say the least.
There’s comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one who suffers from FOMO. The halls at NYU Paris are teeming with excited whispers of future plans and polite envy conveyed with the usual I wish I had time to do that! Not being alone is good, but of course, pain in numbers does not the pain reduce. It also doesn’t help that Social Media is a thing, quite literally a living-breathing thing that influences our lives wayyyy more than it should (a topic that merits its own blog post). Thanks to Social Media the doubt is always augmented. Will my plans be as fun as theirs? Will I have made the best choice? What if I’m missing out on something?
I could make my FOMO go away. I could just relax, take it day by day and be a little more open to the unknown (this will never happen, I have “no chill”). I could just not care, make a choice and stick with it. But then again, what if?
I’m not gonna end this with some insightful example of how I succeeded at life and overcame my fear of missing out because I have no example to offer. The truth is I’ve committed, I’ve bought tickets and booked hostels and done the whole shebang and I’m still biting my nails over the possibility that I made the wrong choices. But in the end, I’m just a little 5’3” Mexican girl and there’s only so much I can do with my allotted time here-and that’s ok. At least that’s what I tell myself. If anything I’m using my anxiety as inspiration to some day come back and see everything I didn’t see (and surely come up with another FOMO-fueled list of things I have left to do). Let’s face it, the FOMO will never go away, but my time in Europe is fleeting so I may as well cram as much as I can into it and make the most of my time here.