When I was ten, my parents planned a trip for the family to Disneyland. But a few days before we were set to leave, my father got sick – it was a cold or a flu, nothing serious, but still, the trip was cancelled. I was devastated and, since then, I have tried to never miss out on any kind of experience, big or small. Understandably, this creates a lot of anxiety – I mean, which exciting activity should I choose? What if I choose the wrong one? And if I choose not to go at all, will I be filled with regret?
It turns out there’s a name for this – it’s called “Fear of Missing Out” (or FOMO for short).
Now, citing my missed Disneyland experience is a bit flip – by itself it wouldn’t qualify as the sole cause of my FOMO (for that, I’d need a regular series of dashed expectations that built up over my childhood). But today, the FOMO persists and lately, it’s been causing more distress than the actual missing out.
FOMO was in full bloom this past weekend. Our community was having a Shabbaton at the Ein Gedi Youth Hostel. On the way, we wanted to stop at the Dead Sea. The kids were excited to lather up with Dead Sea mud; I had heard from David Brinn in a post on Israelity about a nature reserve at Einot Tzukim that was supposed to be beautiful. The site also has a number of crystal clear spring-fed swimming pools and mud to boot (or so I thought).
We got a late start leaving Jerusalem. When we called Einot Tzukim, we were told that you can only get into the nature reserve part of the site on a guided tour. The last tour left at noon. We were passing Ma’aleh Adumim and had only 20 minutes to get there. I floored the accelerator and we arrived, miraculously at the gate at exactly 12:00 PM.
I jumped out of the car and cried, “let’s go.” But the kids didn’t want to hike and I hadn’t really considered their needs (mud, of which there turned out to be none) – my FOMO was so much in overdrive. I threw our daughter Merav the car keys and said, “The pools are that way. Imma and I will be back in an hour.” She looked perplexed and not a little bit cross.
As we toured the marshlands (gorgeous, by the way and highly recommended), I kept thinking about how I’d treated the kids and didn’t really enjoy myself. I vowed to make it up.
“Let’s go to the mud!” I announced.
And off we went again, racing towards Mineral Beach (only a few minutes from Einot Tzukim). But it was getting late and Shabbat was coming up quickly. My wife Jody was now the one who was upset. “We’ll only have 45 minutes. It’s not worth the NIS 220 to get into the beach.”
But FOMO raised its ugly head again. And so into the beach it was. The kids were delighted. Me – I couldn’t enjoy myself because, this time, I was disappointing my wife.
I had checked off both experience boxes in order to not succumb to FOMO and yet, I was desperately unhappy. This double whammy, driven home by the negative effect I’d had on the people I love the most, was the proverbial straw that perhaps, finally, would serve to break the FOMO camel’s back (a fitting cliché given our travels through the dromedarian Judean desert). My hope and aim is that, the next time I feel the FOMO rising like some unwelcome bitter bile, I’ll be able to draw on this weekend’s painful memory to keep it at bay.
Or maybe I should keep in mind one person who has it even worse. A friend at the Shabbaton shared with me that, whenever he’s at a buffet meal, he suffers from FOMOFF: “Fear of Missing Out on Free Food.”
Fortunately for him, the limp meat and cold schnitzel served at the Ein Gedi Youth Hostel was a fitting antidote.