The Fear of Missing Our Youth

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I was driving on Route 16 between New Hampshire and Maine the other day, ferrying my co-workers from the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Lakes of the Clouds hut to my house in Rangeley for a night of relaxation after closing the backcountry hut for the season. The sparsely populated woodland highway was pitch dark, we had already seen three moose come out onto the road, and we were talking about our fears. Two seemed to be louder than the rest: the fear of settling down and the fear of not having enough time to do everything we wanted. What if there wasn’t enough time? What if the adventure came to an end before we wanted it to? These fears, palpable and real to everyone in the car, all of us twenty-two and twenty-three years old, echoed out into the blackness of the night. Out to the rest of our generation. To the rest of the people who are living in what is this dynamic, limitless, thrilling, terrifying decade of our lives. In this decade we are constantly being told we’re too young to know what to do with. That seems to elicit wistful sighs and a stream of “if I had onlys” from people who have long passed it.

What are we supposed to do with that? What is supposed to be a helpful bit of advice from the older and wiser ends up feeling like an enormous amount of pressure to do everything, see everything, go everywhere, and meet everyone. They didn’t take take enough risks, they didn’t travel enough, they didn’t maximize their youth. But we, we are here. We are in it. We have the opportunity to do it right. And it feels like every second counts.

When I graduated from college I did not feel paralyzed by the fear of not knowing what to do with my life, I felt overwhelmed by the many, sprawling, myriad things I wanted to do. That I would not be able to make my life as big as I felt it needed to be. That like Ray says in The Dharma Bums “life was a vast glowing empty page and I could do anything I wanted,” and that was amazing and terrifying and overwhelming all at once.

As we wound around the curves of the road, an asphalt corridor through rows and rows of pine trees, we talked about the things we wanted to do and the places we wanted to go and the people we wanted to be. Of the adventures we wanted to have. Of the things we wanted to accomplish. And I began to wonder then if the moment of history we are experiencing our twenties in is heightening this grass-is-always-greener mentality that seemed to be prevalent among my peers. Or at the very least, the-grass-is-green-over-there-too. We live in an age where every cool thing we ever do is immediately disseminated through social media to all of our friends and acquaintances, and so more than ever we are aware of the stunning array of options that exist out in the universe. Why be satisfied with working in a backcountry hut in the heart of the White Mountains when you realize at that very moment you could be ski instructing in Argentina or working in a bakery in Big Sur or thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail?

The world in its present state of technological advancement has given us the ability to do many things at once, to be reading and talking and watching and communicating all at the same time. We are encouraged not to choose, to cram as many things into one moment as possible, and this mindset seems to have leaked into other areas of our lives. Suddenly the idea of doing only one thing, of living only one place, of being with only one person seems like we are limiting ourselves unnecessarily—seems like a trap. And so suddenly we are beset with this powerful, real, and yet only recently coined emotion: FOMO—the fear of missing out.

I have often felt the panic of FOMO on a life-level—that there are inevitably a million things I could be doing that are a far better use of my time than what I am doing at present. I have felt this despite loving what I was doing at the moment of feeling this way. And this is where our desire to seize the day, to climb every mountain, to take advantage of the freedom of our youth begins to backfire.

A study by British psychologist Andrew Przybylski was published earlier this year about the negative effect of FOMO on life satisfaction. Pryzbylski found that the fear of missing out was linked to lesser feelings of autonomy, competence, connectedness, and satisfcation in peoples’ daily lives. So while we may believe that by attempting to do as many things at once we are getting the best of our twenties or our lives, it is possible that this mentality, this constantly thinking of other things we could be doing or other places we could be living is in fact, detrimental to whatever experience we are currently having. Were we better able to focus on being in one place doing one thing and being satisfied with that, we might not feel this great, driving restlessness. Spending your twenties worrying about not being able to fully take advantage of them is almost the same as failing to take advantage of them at all.

Maybe the issue we’ve come head to head with is that we are living in a time that seems to emphasize quantity over quality. That it is more important to do many things than to do one thing well, one thing mindfully, one thing with your whole self. Perhaps our generation has found a new way to miss out on the opportunities of our youth—not by not seizing them, but by being so distracted during them that we fail to seize them properly. It is lifestyle ADD, large-scale multitasking. And it isn’t heeding the advice of those who have come before us. It isn’t making us happier or better.

And so I let my hands settle on the wheel, focusing on the voices of my friends near me, on the stillness of the night around us, on the Maine border just up the road ahead, on the healthy, twenty-three year old heart beating in my chest, and on nothing else. And I didn’t feel like I was missing anything at all.

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96 thoughts on “The Fear of Missing Our Youth

  1. The thought that came to me while reading this was wishing I was on the Ferris Wheel while riding on the Merry Go Round.
    Do we truly appreciate where we are and what we are doing?
    Learning to stay in the present moment is the greatest lesson I have ever learned in life.

  2. Pingback: Fear of Falling Behind | Misspending My Youth

  3. Well said. Being an almost 22 year old I’m usually lost at both fronts, and my current predicament is one big question for myself to figure out.
    Doing something wholeheartedly takes much precedence than many others 🙂

  4. The ultimate short cut to happiness “in the now” is ignoring what everybody else thinks. Many were not aware that their current position in life was undesirable until they took a poll. Comparison kills.

    If you can stick to the voice in your head that says, “Yes, this,” you will baffle the pollsters with a knowing smile that endures fashion, politics, and scientific discovery. Every time.

  5. interesing. I find that my desire to do a lot of different things and explore a lot is balanced pretty equally with my liking of familiarity and things I know work well. So it ends up that I have a huge list of things I want to do, but in reality, end up mostly doing more normal things. I might need some more enthusiasm!

  6. I realize that this was the opening of many pathways for you, but in my case there were only two routes I felt were available. The Nam war was on. Either I went into the service or I taught. Nothing else was viable. My roads were limited. Maybe I could have done something else if there was no war. I guess I will never know.

  7. I’m really glad I stumbled over this article. I’m twenty-six–nearly twenty-seven–and lately I’ve been haunted by this nagging feeling that I’ve lost years of my life. The reasons are varied, but those years are gone. I can’t get them back. I feel like in order to make up for it, I need to accomplish some huge level of greatness somehow, someway. Thing is, I’ve been feeling like this for years and years, and nothing’s changed. Instead it just gets worse. When I finally confided my fears to my fiance, he more or less told me what you have written here. It’s hard to grasp sometimes, but you’re both right. Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying it for the world. ❤

  8. Spot on! I think another issue with the mindset is that you have to do it all RIGHT NOW. Those are not the rules. Those are the rules of a different generation, different people. We don’t need to ever stop adventuring. We don’t. It’s completely up to us how we live this life. And I agree, living for today is the best things we can do for ourselves.

  9. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately…I’m a 23 year old currently living Europe and traveling anywhere and everywhere, but am I really getting the most out of it, by being in a million places at once rather than staying in one and really getting to know it?

  10. Fantastic article. I can definitely relate to the feeling that I have to do everything in order to be successful. I plan to become a doctor, and the list of qualities and classes and experiences that medical schools seem to want from applicants seems to grow every year. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by it all and get lost in the “everything.” I recently picked up a book entitled “The 4:8 Principle” and found it to be extremely helpful in combating these feelings of “experience claustrophobia.”

  11. This was beautifully written. I am in my early thirties with a child. A single mother, wanting more in life. But having my son gave me all I wanted. Yet I still ponder what else is within my reach. What else am I able to achieve. I am hoping plenty. Although everybody around me still tells me “You’re young, you’ve got plenty of time”, I often feel this statement is not entirely truthful. I want to accomplish so much more.
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    Thank you again for such a powerful read!!

  12. I am 56. Recently heard a This American Life episode (I think) about a young man who traveled across the country asking older people what advice they would give their young selves. It was really fascinating and very much belongs in the line of thinking here in your post.

    My advice to younger me: Spend more time alone. And to revise that to the internet age, I suppose I’d make it: Spend more time alone unplugged.

    Also if you were to look up Holosync and some of the lectures by its founder, I heard one really useful talk he gave about how the world breaks down into people who sort by change and those who sort by constancy. I think the FOMO mentality belongs to people who sort by change. Thrive on it, etc. I wonder what young people who sort by sameness feel with respect to FOMO?

    nicely written post, BTW

  13. Reblogged this on Lily in December and commented:
    This is a very insightful post I could definitely relate to. Concerning pre-med students, this “Fear of Missing Out” is compounded by the “Fear of Application Requirements.” Each year, more experiences, more classes seem to be added to the list of qualities an applicant to medical school must meet. Add the pressure of those requirements to the juxtaposed fear of missing our youth and premed students have a lot to handle. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten to combat this feeling is “Just do what you’re passionate about.” You need to have volunteer experience? Okay, volunteer with an organization whose values you can relate to and internalize as opposed to one that will look good on an application. When the time comes to write about your volunteer work, it will be so much easier to express what you learned and why you spent your time with that organization. This will make you a much more competitive applicant because you can be enthusiastic about your experiences as make them an enjoyable, integrated part of your life. Live for others, yourself, your god – not the application, and you’ll find yourself feeling less pressure to live in the midst of life.

  14. ” it is possible that this mentality, this constantly thinking of other things we could be doing or other places we could be living is in fact, detrimental to whatever experience we are currently having. Were we better able to focus on being in one place doing one thing and being satisfied with that, we might not feel this great, driving restlessness. Spending your twenties worrying about not being able to fully take advantage of them is almost the same as failing to take advantage of them at all.”

    Being in the moment…absorbing it for all it’s worth…mindfulness…that has helped me over the years.

    peace

  15. Love this post. Me and my BFF use to say “is this it” we were in our early 40’s when we use to ask the question. Now we are both at 50’s door and still asking if this is it? When You are a child you play and life is carefree and fun. You go to high school you have more fun. You go to college and all areas of your life becomes diverse. You travel, party and study with friends. You get the good job You have children and husband and the house on the hill. You travel and you hang out with your friends. You work and You grow old and retire. One would say that you had it all. But was that all in life to do? Do all things that you want to do that brings you joy and happiness to your life. The thing is figuring out what it is you feel you are missing out on. The only person to measure that time is you and what you do.

    • Most people do not really have the experiences in life described: stages where fun is added to more fun or exploring the world through travel, or the house on the hill. Having it all is relative…I saw a piece on Namibia & the people who live in and dance in their remote villages, with no electronic devices to distract them or infect them. No high-payed job. They lived life expressing themselves through family and tradition with plenty of dancing & singing and little concern over material possessions or traveling the world. Rather, they were content with their lifestyle which could be seen by their smiles which were contageous and their songs which were uplifting. It made me think how simple true happiness can be. And how it’s more than the partying lifestyle, the excellent job where divorces are at an all time high because the excellent job takes away from family time that could be spent in that house on the hill that is only occupied for a few hours at night because everyone is working overtime or taking their kids to after school soccer. This side of the world is filled with meaningless opportunity’s to occupy ourselves with having it all but having nothing in the reality. This is why the essay about FOMO is so current, so right on. Maybe a new acronym all of us could think about is: GTO. Give To Others. It’s rare to fear you’re missing out when practicing altruism. I do agree with your thought: Do all things you want that brings joy and happiness to your life.” I hope it has a little GTO sprinkled in.

  16. As a high school senior and a teenage girl who wants to go in a million different directions and do a million different things, this was incredible and moving. It has truly made me reevaluate and really think about appreciating my senior year. Amazing piece.

  17. Wow! Exactly going through the same sentiment of “What if I’m not making the most out of my life right now?”. I’m 24 and honestly, sometimes, I do feel pressured that several of my peers are everywhere, while I’m in an 8-5 job on weekdays and taking up graduate studies in the weekends. Now, after reading this, all I can think of is to not too spread myself too thin- doing so many things but not really creating a difference in all of those. Wonderful writing. 🙂

  18. Less is more, a paradox of this age. Very thoughtful piece. A word of hope; if you are thinking these thoughts so are others, and perhaps as each generation must find its own path to enlightenment, so you will find yours.

  19. Your post reminded me of this verse from the Bible: “Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” God has put in our hearts a desire to live forever, but our coming death brings a pressure that we cannot bear. Sin is the cause of death, but Jesus Christ is the cure for sin. As you slow down to enjoy the moments don’t forget about the end. Follow Christ and your desire for eternity will be fulfilled.

  20. I must say I smiled the whole time I was reading this. Mostly because I had the feelings you describe a decade ago…when I was 23. Now I am (almost) 33 and I am a Mom. Those feelings have hung around but come in a different form. Now they are feelings of not doing enough with or for my children. Read any Mom blog and they will talk about Mommy guilt. It’s awful and it often leaves you paralyzed with the realization that time is going so fast.

  21. This is a beautiful piece. I am graduating high school this year and moving from Texas to New York for college… I often feel like my time of youth is running out.

    I’m looking for guest contributors, check out my site zymurgy process.com!

  22. I wish I could tell you FOMO goes away, but I’m nearly 40 and I still have it. I constantly have to remind myself to be present, live in the moment rather than lament what I don’t have or wish I was doing something “bigger.” It’s those moments, like you described, where I’m tuned in to the experience I am having that I’m most alive, and most happy. Thanks for a beautifully written, and wise, post. Glad I found it!

  23. Awesome post. I just turned 26 and I had a mini 20-something crisis. It snuck up on me. I kept wondering if I was missing out on things. Then I started the detrimental comparison game. Even though I have a lot of great things my friends don’t have, I still compare what they have and I don’t. It’s so silly. I realize (too late) that I’m doing it, but the thought has ruined my day. I learned that “thoughts are things” and it really helped with my anxiety. I realized that when I was thinking scary/sad thoughts it really hurt my mood.

    It’s an American thing I think. I live abroad now and I see how in a way, we’re brainwashed to always push ourselves, or we’re failures. Abroad, success isn’t measured by your career (it’s necessary), but your home life is more important. I wish we could go back a bit in our thinking and just learn to take a beat. The American Dream isn’t about having the big house, the cars, the latest ‘thing’, it’s about opportunity. Our country is great in the fact that you can create your own success and it’s much more difficult in many countries to do this. Or even a bit impossible.

    I think we should start to rethink our priorities and stop comparing. Be a good person, work hard, help each other, etc. Those are the things that are important. Not someones idea of success that you’ll never attain. Because it’s theirs, not yours.

  24. Very great and worthwhile thoughts. The trick is to balance the dream of the future with the intense awareness of the moment. You are blessed to do both enjoy!

  25. i am actually thinking the same right now, i wanted to fill my hands with many things. I am too excited to experience life. I cannot be contented of my job and shifted from one to another because i kept thinking that there’s a lot for me in different stores. But I guess what you said and what the study said was true. I am taking my life one at a time and I think its working. Opportunities for the extremes that we always wanted will come soon and it will be the sweetest because we waited for them. I am so proud of our generation because we think this way and though we are reckless sometimes, we give time to self-assess. I love this article. 🙂 God bless.

  26. Reblogged this on ja… und dann? and commented:
    ich dachte nicht, dass ich hier je etwas “reblogging” wurde.. aber dieser Text erklärt meine Gedanken so klar… Genau dieses Thema macht mich das Entscheidungen-treffen sehr schwer. Jetzt werde ich dann aber erst mal die restlichen 7 Monate vom Ojahr geniessen(:

  27. Well said. We’re the generation that has been encouraged and empowered to do anything we want (and our parents didn’t get to do)–often to our detriment. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to do everything in order to find quality in my life.

  28. Here’s another 56-year-old who loved every minute (almost) of her insanely busy/traveling/working/writing 20s. Oh…didn’t have a husband or kids or boyfriend very often. You can only fit so many things into 24 hours and truly enjoy them. My priorities then — work my ass off as a journalist and travel as far and as often as money allows — those haven’t changed. (Never had kids.) Managed to find two husbands, (14 yrs into second marriage), so that eventually worked out.

    The social media hall of mirrors is **really** toxic to our happiness. A few friends of mine post constantly on Facebook from the latest, costly travel destination and it’s very hard not to feel envious. But it is what it is…and I plan to house-sit for one while she jets off to her latest exotic location. I’ll take what I can get, and enjoy the hell out of that opportunity.

    Congrats on TC and Freshly Pressed and your writing awards. Great start!

  29. When you finally come up for air, submerge yourself in something aligned with your value system. Become part of a cause or movement or goal that is greater than you are, that you are worthy of. Work with like-minded people you would aspire to be like. Be lucky enough to be a significant part of something important. Pat

  30. I’m 16 and I was discussing this with my friend like a day ago. Omg I can’t even imagine not being a teenager anymore… I feel like I need to start drinking and doing drugs. Ahahaha too bad I’m too chicken for that. This post calmed me to some extent though. Thank you for putting my fears so eloquently though!

  31. FOMO. I think I am at this point. I am wanting so badly to go to places, bungee jump and leave my family that supports me. I’m cruel I realized. I’ve been a bum for a year and yet I have the luxury to live because of my family. What I would be missing when I leave is the time to repay them, not with money but with my attention and care. Memories are invaluable.

  32. My boss sent me the link to your post. I’m not sure what he’s trying to say! I hit 50 a couple of years ago and bummed out (as they used to say in my generation). Not FOMO but OMGI’veMO. Then I realised that there are 30 years between 50 and 80 and most of my work colleageues are in their 30s. I still have in front of me what has been their lifetime so far.

    The preceding bummer moment was hitting 30. I couldn’t see a future. I wondered if that meant I was going to die soon. Then I realised it was because I did not have any role models older than 39. It was not about taking their advice. It was about seeing the possibilities.

    So my contribution to “how to deal with FOMO” is as follows: Ensure you have a variety of older role models, from all age groups. That way, it’s no longer about comparing your life with other 20yo. Instead, it’s about weighing up each day’s choices to see if they will enable you to become the person you might like to be in the coming decades.

    Enjoy.

  33. We are always going to be missing out. As long as we compare, then we aspire to do. FOMO used to be the video camera, taking every scene of the overseas trip just to replay something we can’t remember. Living each moment by being in that moment is perhaps the way to relieve the stress of missing out. And then there is the Selfy.

  34. “Spending your twenties worrying about not being able to fully take advantage of them is almost the same as failing to take advantage of them at all.”

    Yes indeed! I absolutely hear you and love how eloquently you have dissected this pervasive feeling. I wrote something similar yesterday after reading another post, so am loving that the reality of FOMO is being talked about. Thank you for sharing 🙂

    http://walkthewheel.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/accepting-normal/

  35. I think we always miss time we pass by, no matter its KG, school, college or previous Job. we only realize the value when we have missed the moment.. I think every moment is beautiful and living with that attitude of life always keep you young.
    Was nice reading your thoughts!

  36. I love this post. I think often we concentrate so hard on doing things we will always remember that we forgot to pay attention to the little things around us that tend to be the most enjoyable.

    pearlsandsass.wordpress.com

  37. I am an 18 year-old freshman in college and I feel this everyday. I know this seemed to aim toward an older audience but i can help but connect. The constant itch that i have to discover who I am and pick something to do for the rest of my life. I feel it eats at me more than anyone else around me. Everyone says “You shouldn’t be worrying you have time”. But do i really? Four years goes by so fast. I am 18 and feel like the only one who is realizing this at my age.

  38. Love the post. Make me think about things that I haven’t done or ppl that I haven’t met yet. That’s my biggest fear… I wanna travel, i wanna love, i wanna know more. The only big problem. I forget to take advantage of the good stuff available now.

  39. Well put. I enjoy the occasional ‘getting out there and doing it’ moment, but at the same time I always try to just enjoy the moment of where I am at. Whether that is on the road traveling or in the store buying groceries, each place has a specialness to it am experiencing it.

    I also enjoyed your reference to mindfulness. I think a lot of people would benefit from an infusion of meditation in their lives.

  40. Reblogged this on The Traveler and commented:
    I enjoyed this article. Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the thought that we are missing our lives because we are not accomplishing everything we want in that moment. It is a good idea, no matter where you are at, to stop and take a moment to just enjoy the feeling of being alive and experiencing that moment that you are in.

  41. oh God this post says everything I have been going through for the past few months. I am fresh out of college and I have no idea what to do with my life…rather, I want to do anything and enjoy my youth but I don’t have the slightest clue how. It leaves me on limbo and it keeps me distracted long enough to make me leave my job. Thank you so much for this piece! 🙂 I think I can handle FOMO now.

  42. Reblogged this on Fall across the fall line and commented:
    This so effectively lays out the fears had by so many. How many times have I been told “do it while you’re young”? Hell, that’s part of the reason we decided to go on exchange. I feel like there’s so many older people in our lives saying “I wish I did…” and “life would be so much better if I had…”. These things put pressure on us to not only experience adventure while we’re young, but also to make all the right decisions and plan for the future and save money for retirement. It feels like we live in fear of making the mistakes of our elders, though there are really no mistakes on your path of life. You chose the wrong career? Change it. You never had kids, but always wanted them? Volunteer with children, adopt. It may not be how you’ve always wanted it, but do what brings YOU happiness, now.
    I’ve realized that I am always too focused on the next day, the next milestone, my plan for later in the day and later in life. I am never in the moment. We must all do exactly what is right for us at the moment in which we are making the decision. How can you predict the future? And how can you try to make decisions know just because you’ll regret it later if you don’t? There is no reason that you can’t go parachuting at 45, or travel the world at 60.
    Focus on what is right in front of you, right now, and worry about the future when it comes.
    I feel like this mindset, the FOMO, has been fueled by the regrets of our parents and elders. They may regret not making the most of their lives, and this regret, when shared with their children, only fuels the FOMO fire. It makes us feel as though we are limited in life.
    I think this is a fear we all have. But if we just focus on the here and now, and focus on doing things that are right for us, how can we go wrong?

  43. 54 here, great post – it sounds like you are a voice of the future that will find a way to integrate social media without succumbing to traps it brings. Looking forward to more words of wisdom.

  44. Thoughtful article; I squandered my twenties living in the moment, knowing the glory of it, but at the expense of my future. Real happiness, the kind that lasts, is born of balance, good choices, and relationships.

  45. Pingback: The Fear of Missing Our Youth « Arizona's Family Meeting Coach

  46. This is awesome. And so true. I think this keeps us from feeling like we have any real purpose in life, either. We don’t believe we were meant to be anywhere or do any one thing, or we change our minds about that constantly. Some people might not believe in that mentality, but at least when life was “smaller,” it was easier to feel like you had a purpose where you were. Again, great post

  47. Pingback: Taking stock | waking to sleep

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