Controlling Your FOMO

Controlling Your FOMO

By Kevin Luke, Co-founder

Perhaps the greatest driver of action today, the thing that gets us to actually do anything social beyond our primary obligations, is the fear of missing out — FOMO. More than ever, we are now keenly aware of everything going on that we might be missing out on. Most of us then fall into one of two categories: either we jump at as many opportunities as we can in order to minimize the number of instances of missing out, or we resign to being left out of just about everything, feeling sorry for ourselves but not so sorry as to do anything about it. Clearly, neither of these two are good options. As with all social strategies, the ideal option often lies in the happy medium of carefully considered trade-offs.

Fear of missing out creates a certain degree of outcome dependence necessary to take action. We fear missed opportunities because we are depending on the results of seizing those opportunities to improve our lives in whatever area we are focused. No fear, no results. The opposite of fear is not bravery, it’s apathy. In fact, fear is a prerequisite for bravery. For, without the fear, the task at hand would be mundane. This then is where the problem arises, if we accept that FOMO is a useful mindset to have in order to maximize our opportunities of social success and progression, then the logical conclusion would be to become a Jim Carey-esque Yes Man. A fun experiment, but certainly not a viable long-term strategy.

The best way to address this problem is from an economic framework, namely: opportunity cost. This term gets thrown around a lot in common parlance as a deterrent to forgoing opportunities of all kinds, but it does have a quantifiable definition in economic circles. In order to gauge the opportunity cost of a given choice, you must first be able to parse out the true value of the choices available to you. This is an exercise only you can do for yourself because value is subjective. You may value rest and relaxation more than adventure. You might value time more than money (hint: you definitely should). Taking a step back to analyze the short-term and long-term costs and benefits of your decisions is imperative in maximizing the value of your chosen opportunities.

To allow the fear of missing out to lead you into jumping at every offer made to you is the equivalent of making every purchase presented to you by a huckster with an iPad. Conversely, to have no angst at all about missing out would only lead to stagnation and isolation. There’s a reason so many people are afraid of the dark, and heights, and snakes; these things historically increased the likelihood of physical harm. Risk management requires us to understand the utility of fear, and use that fear to guide our decision-making process.

Anyone with aspirations to build a valuable social circle, or finagle their way into a competitive career space, needs to get comfortable with that fear. Not of physical harm, but of social harm. Think of your social capital as a muscle, use it or lose it. Actually, scratch that — think of social capital as your entire physique. All chest, no legs is great for V-neck vanity, not so much for practical strength. A bunch of drinking buddies and no professional contacts is great for weekend bar nights, not so much for career advancement. At a certain point, you need balance in your routine.

So where then do we begin? How do we know which opportunity is worth the cost of forgoing every other choice? A good strategy is one which leaves as many options open as possible. Consider which choices create the most opportunities.

Figuring this out is a long and ongoing process, but for now, let’s start with an inventory of resources. In choosing between options, your first filtration system is your availability of resources. In a social strategy context, mapping out the following four resources as they exist in your life today is a prerequisite.

1. Time

The most important resource to consider in any decision because it can never be recuperated. Figure out when your free time falls. Use a day planner if you don’t have a steady routine. It’s stupidly easy to have no time when you don’t make time. Once you have it visualized it’s much easier to accept missed opportunities due to a scheduling conflict. Don’t wait until the day of to decide between two options, put it in your schedule as soon as you agree to it. That time is now blocked off, anything that conflicts with it will require the weighted decision of clearing that block from your schedule. Keep in mind that time for being a functional human being is non-negotiable. If you stay organized, a busy schedule can be a lot less hectic than having no concrete plans at all.

2. Money

Most social opportunities cost money to take part in — food, drinks, travel, entrance fees, appropriate outfits, inappropriate outfits etc. But it’s a fool’s errand to try and buy your ticket at the cool kids’ table. Business theorist Thomas J. Stanley put it most simply “Whatever your income, always live below your means”. Be cognizant of your budget when evaluating opportunities. This doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding extravagance, it means being strategic. Sometimes, one night at an exclusive party rubbing shoulders with the type of crowds you want to break into is worth the price tag, rather than spreading that expenditure over twenty useless meet-and-greets. But before you attempt to do that, make sure you know how to maximize the utility of those introductions. And before you do that, make sure you know how to make an impression among those not easily impressed (I told you it would be a long process). Waste no energy wallowing over missed opportunities that would have been outside of your budget anyway. Somebody out there always has a bigger boat. Get used to it.

3. Logistics

When it comes to quickly building the foundations of viable long-term relationships, logistics trump everything. Your opportunities are limited by your physical location and availability. If you’re living in the boonies, your options are far more limited than someone in the heart of the city. And unfortunately, being there for one weekend is not going to get you very far in terms of relationship building. Don’t rely on digital communication, you’re better off nurturing the relationships you can manage in person as often as possible. This is your core from which the concentric circles of loose connections will be built around. Figure out your logistical capabilities and plan your outings around the most sustainable schedule you’re willing to consistently stick to.

4. Skill Set

You should only feel FOMO when you truly believe that by virtue of your absence, everyone there is missing out as well. That sounds deceptively narcissistic, it’s not. The rationalization is that you only need to be somewhere if you can offer value to the environment. You should want to show up, not because you want to get something, but because you want to contribute something. Consider what skills you have, what value you bring to a group. If you’re particularly hard on yourself and struggling to come up with an answer, ask around. Your friends and colleagues keep you around for a reason. It doesn’t need to be anything particularly unique, it just needs to be valuable in the given environment. If it’s a professional setting, you have marketable skills. If it’s a social setting, maybe you’re really funny, or outgoing, or brought pizza. It doesn’t matter, just be conscious of it whenever you walk into a room and always be giving before you look to take.

Now every relationship building opportunity comes with its own set of circumstances that may require the leveraging of additional, secondary considerations. You could spend the next year calculating out when, where, and how to best use your limited set of resources. Don’t do that. Preparation isn’t an excuse for prolonging execution. President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensable”. He was talking about preparing for a major military operation, but hey, it works here too.

Remember that this is just the first step in an iterative process. The goal here is a change in mindset, not necessarily immediate results. Get out there and get your feet wet, it’s a lot easier to come back and apply concepts in your daily life when you have reference experiences to contextualize them.

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