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FOMO: What You Should Really Be Afraid of Missing Out On

May 5, 2015

How would you fill in this blank?

“I’m self-conscious around other people because I secretly believe they think I’m ________________.” 

I’ve been writing a lot about fear lately and how vital it is we act with courage in the face of fear. I believe fear stops many of us from making important decisions, embracing necessary changes and moving forward to pursue our dreams and longings. I am convinced we are drowning in an ocean of fear, parched for a big gulp of courage.

This weekend, someone I follow on Twitter shared an article which reminded me of how much we miss out on because of our fears. It’s a different kind of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).

The Washington Post article entitled, “Why You Should Really Start Doing More Things Alone” explored recent research which states we often underestimate our level of enjoyment and fulfillment amidst experiences we engage alone. The writer described how many of us stay home and pass on doing something by ourselves in public.

“Indeed, the question isn’t whether we’re going to have more fun doing something with friends rather than not. It’s about those times when we don’t have someone to see a new movie with, or eat at a newly opened restaurant, and there’s discomfort about going by ourselves, even though we’d probably have a fine time.

“The reality is that you’re foregoing a lot of fun,” said Ratner. “We all are.”

What I found most interesting was the reason the researcher cited for this fear of showing up as a “party of one”. He identified the fear behind the fear.

“Why?” Ratner says it’s mostly because we’re overly self-conscious.

“The reason is we think we won’t have fun because we’re worried about what other people will think,” said Ratner. “We end up staying at home instead of going out to do stuff because we’re afraid others will think they’re a loser.”

But other people, as it turns out, actually aren’t thinking about us quite as judgmentally or intensely as we tend to anticipate. Not nearly, in fact. There’s a long line of research that shows how consistently and regularly we overestimate others’ interest in our affairs. The phenomenon is so well known that there is even a name for it in psychology: the spotlight effect. A 2000 study conducted by Thomas Gilovich found that people regularly adjust their actions to account for the perspective of others, even though their actions effectively go unnoticed. Many other researchers have since confirmed the pattern of egocentric thinking that skews how we act.”

The article continues and encourages the reader to take the gutsy move to go out and have fun on your own.

As I read the article, I began reflecting on my experience, especially recently. I haven’t avoided going to dinner by myself lately, so that angle wasn’t what stirred me most. The bolded lines above really got me thinking and I haven’t stopped. Especially sentences like this:

“A long line of research shows how consistently we overestimate others’ interest in our affairs.”

To be totally truthful, I am “overly self-conscious” of what other people think about me and my actions. I identified ways I’ve edited myself and made decisions in light of responses I anticipated in others. I’ve avoided risk and pursued safer routes because I was afraid of failing in front of other people.

At lunch recently, I wanted to share a fear with an acquaintance/almost-friend, but I felt like that vulnerable moment might be shared elsewhere and come back to hurt me, so I bit my tongue. The “what will he think of me?” self-consciousness won out over the truth in that moment. Even now, I wonder, “what would have happened if I had the courage to be honest?”

In a recent sermon on fear, Pete Wilson, a pastor and author in Nashville, transparently shared, “I’m afraid of failure, but I’m even more afraid of you (his audience) seeing me fail. Your response to my failure would be even worse than my failure.”

people walking around train station

I resonated with his confession. I want to succeed – not just for myself, but for the kind of response I will get from other people. This may be an indication of how much insecurity still is present within me but I’d be lying if I tried to convince you otherwise. (Besides, this is a post about fear, self-consciousness and vulnerability. You need to know the struggle is real for me too!)

While we are afraid of failure, I believe we’re more afraid of losing status in others’ eyes.

The particular group of “others” looks different for each of us but the fear transcends us all. This kind of fear prevents us from living courageous lives which propel us toward the calling we were created to fulfill by God.

Remember the sentence I asked you to complete at the beginning?

“I’m self-conscious around other people because I secretly believe they think I’m ________________.”

I want to add a second sentence with a second blank for you to fill.

“I’m self-conscious around other people because I secretly believe they think I’m ________________. This fear is holding me back from _____________.”

Fear costs us something valuable. Giving into fear is never free.

As long our self-consciousness paralyzes us, keeping us at home binging on Netflix or staying quiet while an opportunity evaporates, we miss out on enjoying an unforgettable moment. Sure, we could be disappointed, but we also could be surprised and overwhelmed with wonder and satisfaction. We could discover a moment which changes us and our life forever.

If the research is true, other people aren’t thinking about us nearly as much as we think they are. And “failing in front of them” – whoever them is – might not be nearly as fatal and final as we expect.

Let’s go down the rabbit hole we never explore. We always ask “What if I fail?” But there’s another question we could ask…

What if we succeed? What if we’re surprised by a better outcome than hoped?

We’ll never know if we hold back and hide out of fear.

We’ll never be able to ______ if our self-consciousness and fear of ______ continues to paralyze us tomorrow like it has today.

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