When I was a boy, my mom used to take me to the circus each year. It was total sensory overload. There were three acts going on at any one time with lights, special effects, music, and of course the ringmaster presiding. Not to mention the abundance of food, congested parking going to and from the huge arena it was housed in, and packed audience.
One year, the circus offered for kids to come early and meet the elephants, tigers, and lions; to meet the trapeze artists and clowns, and even do a basic version of some of their acts. It was super cool and I was very excited. I wanted to do everything offered, all at once, and there was only an hour, and all the lines were long. So I kept switching which line I was in as soon as I saw a more enticing option. At the end of the hour, I felt shocked and foolish that my indecision and fear of missing out ironically led me to miss out!
In my twenties, my fear of missing out caused me to take jobs I hated, move across the country and the world throughout my twenties, and enter into and stay in unhealthy relationships. It caused me to stay in classical music six years after I knew it was time to leave.
Once I left music last year, my FOMO really exploded. After all, being a musician was a core part of my identity and a major grounding influence in my life, and all of a sudden I felt lost and lacking meaning (a common Millennial symptom, I would come to learn).
Over the past twelve months, in trying to find meaning, I hatched all sorts of zany ideas. i tried to become vegan, which was an epic disaster. I like steak and I am okay with that and my die hard liberal friends will just have to accept that!
Another especially spectacular moment in my FOMO mindset was last fall when I simultaneously decided I should run for local political office, buy a house, and become a single foster parent. All at the same time.
Thank God that my "best ideas" never come to fruition. My FOMO-based ideas are never about what's best for me or others, they are not decisions and plans made out of love. They are ideas based out of fear and "I am not enough." Often, I make up that if I accomplish these goals or bring these ideas to reality, that I will feel okay and good enough. I forget that the only way to feel okay about who I am is work only I can do inside myself, not through external acts.
As I have grown into a more stable, ordinary life where I do not live in three cities and chase success, I have another FOMO-related situation that is new. People are starting to come to me and offer me opportunities based on how I show up in the world. I am used to competing for opportunities and proving my worth, so saying no to this new abundance is difficult. After all, "they want me!," which I believe is a core issue at the heart of Millennial struggle. When I say no in order to have a balanced life, I feel afraid, like I am missing out on something and will subsequently become ineligible for a good life and future happiness.
From what I read these days, it seems that my thinking and reactions are not unique, but that I am a statistic of my generation. As a whole, we are pretty unsettled and unsure of what meaningful life, love, and work looks like.
When I read articles about us Millennials, “struggle” and “fear of missing out” are two top phrases that show up consistently. It takes us longer to enter into adulthood: Michael Kimmel talks about this phenomenon in Guyland, when he describes a new period between twenty and thirty where males are not boys nor men and become susceptible to debt and addiction, and girls are affected by this new phenomenon as well. It takes us longer to leave school and enter the middle class; our self-esteem is based on extrinsic forces we have no control over; we take raises in titles rather than salary so we can get that self-esteem boost on Facebook; our sex and love lives are often disasters.
The Millennial cohort has problems, and the more I read about them the more I find comfort. Armed with the stories I hear and read, I get to understand that I am not alone and that my problems are part of a generational dilemma. Knowing this helps me be able to see my life and issues much more clearly and rationally. It is no longer "my failings," but a symptom of being born in the place and time I was born in.
Each generation has their strengths and challenges. I am currently reading several books and articles about us Millennials and plan on following up with more details about how we struggle in life, love, and work, as well as possible solutions and ways of handling these struggles. And of course, I want to find out what it is we do well also!