I vividly remember crying to my mom when I was fourteen years old. I had to miss out on a sleepover. One of my best friends at the time just didn’t get it. She told me she didn’t understand that I had to do homework every weekend.
That was a painful moment. I was used to my friend being supportive of my efforts in school. I was torn, I didn’t want to miss the sleepover, but I also had an important test that I really cared about the next week. My mom proposed I’d go to the party, but she would come and pick me up at midnight, so I’d sleep home and be fresh on Sunday to study and relax.
Only now that I’m older, I realise I was dealing with one of my first moments of experiencing FOMO: the fear of missing out. I was so scared of disappointing my friends and missing all the fun. I’ve always wanted to do more than was actually possible with my time.
So from an early age, I’ve had to learn to say no to parties or hanging out with friends. I needed (and still do) time for myself to get to my senses after a long week. Even though I had to deal with this from a young age, it never seemed to get easier.
As I moved from a small province town to Amsterdam for my studies, my fear of missing out took a different turn. By the age of nineteen, much of my attention was sucked into social media, just like everyone else I knew. Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and even YouTube were just a click away on my phone.
When I moved from a small province town to Amsterdam, my fear of missing out took a different turn. I couldn’t keep up. Our generation needs to talk about living in an overstimulating world.
And when I moved to a much bigger city, the options became so much more abundant. Do I join a student association? Have I been to that hyped restaurant? Am I joining that event? Everything became a possibility, and I needed to make more decisions about how to spend my time than ever before.
That has made me feel, and sometimes still makes me feel, incredibly overwhelmed. I feel pressured both by myself and others to have it all and to do it all.
But I’m ready to bring up that story now. I want us to talk about living in an overstimulating world, choice overload, and the consequences of feeling fully responsible for your own happiness.
In today’s world, there is always something amazing to miss out on. I miss cool things every day. Whether it’s that one party I didn’t attend or that awesome movie I didn’t watch and therefore can’t discuss with my friends.
The modern world is overwhelming us with endless input. There’s the news, great podcasts, the latest trending TV show and my book shelves overflowing with stories I still want to read. And don’t forget about that insightful article on the future of the EU that a friend texted me!
In the fast-paced and globalized world we live in today, there is always something to do or to experience. And most of us are well aware of all these possibilities. I constantly feel overwhelmed by everything I need to do to keep up.
Yes, I know I’m part of Generation have-it-all. But what if I don’t know how to have it all?
What is Enough?
I see friends on Instagram posting about their student associations and wonder whether I’m missing out on that typical student experience. I see others studying abroad for a semester, and I see friends travelling the world. On YouTube I watch people my own age or younger lead lives that are worthy of vlogging, making me wonder why I’m not putting special powders in my smoothie like they are.
And it’s not just a fear of missing out. It’s is a fear of not being good enough because I’m missing out. Because I need to miss out. I need my rest and alone time or I burn out. But how do I manage that constant stream of opportunities, of ‘could have beens’ racing through my mind?
I miss out on what I have, because I’m so busy worrying over what I lack. How do I manage those ‘could have beens’ racing through my mind?
Having all the opportunities in the world is great, but that also causes me to focus on the things I’m lacking. In turn, I don’t tend to appreciate the things I do have and the things I am doing.
The result is that I miss out on what I have, because I’m so busy worrying over what I’ve missed. I think that feeling of not being enough, not doing enough or not having enough is somehow ingrained into our generation and society.
During my studies I learned that people can probably only know about 50 other people on a personal level. If a community exceeds that number, it becomes an imagined community. This means you won’t know everyone personally, but you’ll share something that makes you a part of the same community. Think of nationality, ethnicity, religion or language.
I follow about 90-100 accounts on social media. That means whenever I scroll through my feed or dashboard, I am trying to keep up with about double the amount of people my mind has been ‘made’ to keep track of. That’s already a lot to keep up with, and that’s only on Instagram.
Humans can only know about 50 people on a personal level. If you’re following about 100 accounts on social media, you’re trying to keep up with double the amount of people your mind is equipped to handle.
Because let’s be real: we also want to stay in touch with our family members, the latest global news stories, and the personal updates from friends that aren’t suitable for social media. That’s a lot to keep track of and as an easily overwhelmed person, I figured out I simply can’t keep up. And that’s okay, it has to be okay.
I Want to be Everything
Other people’s expectations are weighing me down. It’s difficult to separate what I want and what I think I ought to want. I wonder how much other people really expect from me. How much of that pressure do I put on myself?
I feel a constant need to adhere to this ideal self-image: a young woman that is fit, healthy, outgoing, daring, wise and balanced. I want to be everything, so everyone will like me. But it’s unrealistic and even detrimental to expect this from myself.
The dominant ideology in the modern western world is that we can have and be everything we want as long as we work hard enough. This belief makes us personally responsible for our own happiness. We believe we have access to every opportunity and so it is up to us to make our ‘dream lives’ a reality1.
This leads to choice overload. You compare every option endlessly in search of the perfect decision. The one thing that will make you happy. But how are we supposed to choose from endless opportunities?
Paralyzed by Choices
I’m at a point in my life, after the first three years at university, where I have to make some choices about my future. These choices will have an impact on my life, even if they don’t define the rest of my life.
How do I choose when it all feels so important? I’m paralyzed by the choices that will shape my future. It all feels so heavy. There is no perfect choice, but that does not keep me from desperately looking for it.
I’m realising that I never had tools to navigate this overwhelming world with so much choice overload. Slowly, I’m learning to let go of perfection. There is no perfect choice. The perfect life doesn’t exist. There is no doing it all. All there is, is the courage in making a decision, letting it play out and living with whatever happens next.
Since I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this, the question I want to pose to myself and readers who relate to this: how can we learn to feel like we are more than enough in a world in which it is impossible to keep up? What are the practical steps we can take to actually embrace the fact that we cannot keep up?
Let’s learn to let go of that fear of missing out together, so we can enjoy the things we actually have right now.
I am Maryse, an anthropologist and environmentalist. I’m interested in the cultural and social dimensions of climate change and I try to live as sustainably as possible in my tiny studio apartment in Amsterdam. I study culture and human inclusion, or exclusion, in the natural world. I’m a sensitive person, a chocolate addict, bookworm, nature lover, yogi, over-analyser, photographer, writer and plant mom.