Travel from one side of this university to the other, and you’d probably be hard-pressed to find anyone with FOMO as bad as mine. It doesn’t come from a fear of social pressure or exclusion, it doesn’t come from a desire to present a certain image of myself to the world. It comes from prolonged exposure to Romantic poetry and an anxiety about my own mortality.
In August 2016, I woke up one day with stabbing pains in my hands which over the next few weeks spread to my entire body. Though a year later I was finally diagnosed with an annoying but manageable and stable minor chronic pain disorder (which, readers be assured, doesn’t really stop me from doing anything), our medical system took a year before they could rule out something very serious. I lived a year in suspense, facing the very real possibility that I could be facing something that could cut my life-span or be degenerative.
From that point, I had to decide that I was going to live as much as I could, especially since years of doing nothing but sitting inside and studying made me feel I’d wasted most of my life not really experiencing life.
Even though the diagnosis is there, and I know that I’m going to be fine, there’s still that impulse in the back of my mind that tells me that every moment I sit inside is a moment wasted, every chance not taken is a betrayal. On the upside, this means I have little social anxiety, and am willing to say or do just about anything. All of my regrets lie in not being bold or confident enough in certain situations, not in any kind of public disgrace or supposedly embarrassing actions.
On the downside, even a single night in can be difficult. My subconscious whispers to me, asking me ‘is this really how you want to live?’ even if I have an essay that needs to be done for the next day. And I’ll spend my night paying through the roof for ball tickets that I couldn’t get on the first release.
This sense that every moment not spent in an attempt to seize the unknown is wasted is amplified by the kind of ideology one develops from certain kinds of (especially Romantic) literature. The idea that any moment could be a fated one, retrospectively. If I do not go out tonight, there will be people I do not meet, friends I do not make, loves I do not love.
From around the wider university, the people who mean the most to me were often found through complete chance and circumstance. If I hadn’t agreed to that one Hassan’s, if I hadn’t stayed for one more drink at the KA, if I hadn’t swiped right that one time, my life would be drastically different. Most nights, as they come to the end, I feel a sense of longing – what I was fighting for, a new epiphany, did not come tonight. But I know that if I’d stayed at home, that sense of longing would be far worse – it is a choice between the lesser of two evils.
Maybe FOMO is a problem – if we can’t slow down, if we can’t see what’s immediately around us, we end up forgetting anything but the new. There’s this great guilt that I am not spending enough time with my older friends, but busy trying to make new ones, in an attempt to see as much of humanity as I can. However, overall, I wouldn’t want to live any other way. To be driven onwards by a great sense of the unknown is to see so much of life. Pushing yourself out of your college room, out of your comfort zone means that eventually you will get to track down and befriend the people in the university as a whole who you find most interesting – as great as your college mates might be, you’re far more likely to find someone with your same niche hobby or odd interests, if you look in a group of thousands of people, rather than a few hundred.
People criticise FOMO as subscribing to a collectivist ideal of what the human experience should be – that we just want to be included and accepted in all of the ‘best’ activities that hold social status, but I think that it can also bring out the best in humanity, a kind of insatiable curiosity and a desire to do what mankind has never done before. We drive ourselves through the gauntlet again and again, and often it comes to nothing, but a lot of the time after I’ve done something stupid, or been rejected once more, it is a bittersweet feeling – there is the tragedy of the failure, but the pride in just how hard I tried.