The fear of missing out (FOMO) has become a cultural phenomenon. We sheepishly confess to it while at the bar with our friends or on the phone with old classmates. It is a universally understood sentiment; I don’t want to be left out, I want to belong, I want to be a part of things.
Fear can drive us and it can cripple us. It is a strong force in our lives. FOMO has become part of the cultural vernacular. But it is not the only fear that motivates our daily behaviors.
There is a strange sort of pleasure and a subtle sort of power in being able to name these kinds of things. Understanding weakens it, for one thing. We can better grapple an opponent when we can properly identify it.
1) FOBO – Fear of Better Options.
Quick on the heels of FOMO, FOBO is the next household social-phobia. Check out this article in The New York Times. The fear of better options keeps us from making a decision. We are terrified we’ll commit to something and discover a better option once it is too late. We spend an absurd amount of time mulling over restaurant menus or browsing Netflix because, in a world of infinite possibilities, we are worried we’ll lock ourselves into something inferior.
The truth is that, most of the time, the difference between the absolute best and an adequate decision are hardly worth the time and effort.
FOBO keeps us from commitment. It blurs our vision and promotes a pattern of apathy and malaise. Rooted in a deep fear of inadequacy, we are terrified our decisions will quite simply not be good enough.
2) FOINC – Fear of Imaginary Negative Consequences
Another powerful terror is the fear of imaginary negative consequences. In a very real and very important sense, most negative consequences are largely false and self-fabricated. We create a story wherein our actions will produce the worst-case scenario. People will be angry at us. We will get fired. Someone doesn’t text me back immediately = they must be offended at what I just said!
FOINC is our default setting. It is how we protect ourselves, assessing risk and testing the waters of trust. If we are not careful, we can get completely lost in performing for others, hiding our true self, and mired in complacency – all because we are terrified of the negative consequences that MIGHT occur.
Two things combat FOINC. The first is the courage to face whatever consequences might arise. Real consequences (even if they’re negative) are rarely as devastating as our imagined ones. The second solution is to take ownership of the things we can control and let go of everything else, including the perception of others. A transformed perception can set us free from the fear of what could be lurking behind the corners.
3) FOFE – Fear of Full Exposure
The last fear we’ll mention is the fear of full expose. FOFE is the fear of your true-self being seen. We fight so hard to protect our soft underbellies, creating accepted work and relationship personas. Behind those layers is the truest, most raw, vulnerable version of ourselves. We are afraid of this identity being exposed and rejected.
It’s like when people are talking about how ridiculous The Bachelor is and how anyone who watches it is morally bankrupt. You watch The Bachelor and that twinge of fear stirs in your gut as you resolve to make sure these friends never hear the fact of your guilty pleasure. We’re afraid “they” will find out what I eat or how much alcohol I drink or what I watch on my computer or what I think about gay marriage.
Our full self exposed is a terrifying possibility. As long as there are parts of us left hidden, there are parts of us that haven’t been rejected (or aren’t currently). There is always the last-ditch hope that we could one day be our true-selves and it will be enough.
The solution to this is clear enough, though it is the hardest thing in the world. We need to find someone we can trust and slowly expose our true-self to them. This deep desire is why we value romance and why we seek community, why we long for purpose and search for meaning. There is no way to avoid the dangers of exposing our true-self to others. They may not be able to reject what they can’t see but neither can they accept it.
These fears are far from exhaustive. Naming some of these deep fears will help us understand some of our deep longings and values, and understanding that our fears are just inverted manifestations of our longings will help us to pursue what we desire rather than avoid what we fear.