A dear friend of mine is well-known in our inner circle to suffer from social FOMO – “Fear of Missing Out”. She must periodically be assured that it’s okay if she cannot join in an activity that some of us are going to be engaging in, during her absence or unavailability. While I do not suffer from the social form of this mindset – I am equally happy attending a lively cocktail party with intelligent guests, as I am reading on the couch while eating cheese and listening to “The Moldau” – I do understand it. For there is a kind of professional FOMO which can crop up, as one makes judgments about opportunities one does or does not pursue.
Recently I had to turn down two very interesting projects with people I respect. The timing of these projects simply did not work for me on a practical level, at least at the moment. Still, I regretted not being able to pursue these opportunities, and had to wrestle with my conscience when turning them down. At the same time, I have another series of opportunities on the back-burner awaiting my response which, again, I am not sure how I will be able to pursue, making me feel like I could be missing out if I do not find some way to do so. In short, I am in danger of developing the professional version of FOMO.
The problem with this particular kind of FOMO is that it comes custom-packed with the worry that you are not only letting down someone else who could use your help, but that you are also potentially letting yourself down in the process. We learn from many sources to pay attention to opportunities, comments, and other clues that come your way, whatever your profession may be. Therefore this type of FOMO may indeed be based on a valid and well-formed sense of perception, with which one needs to look very closely, at whether you are growing by avoiding unnecessary risk, or simply playing it safe and stagnating.
In a completely different context, last summer Cardinal George of Chicago wrote a response to some cafeteria Catholics pointing out that “Jesus is merciful, but He is not stupid.” This is something useful to keep in mind, particularly if you, too, are trying to figure out how to manage the opportunities that may be coming your way. The example of Christ in the Gospels is as always highly instructive, though especially now as the Church is in Ordinary Time.
We are currently hearing in the Daily Mass/Sunday Gospel readings about Jesus traveling about all over Judea, preaching to those who will listen and healing all of the sick that are brought to Him. Yet this is not an endless hamster wheel that the Lord puts Himself on. He periodically takes the time to stop, in order to go off and recharge, and be by Himself. Through his Incarnation, Christ understood what it meant to have many opportunities to reach out to others, and yet to not be able to follow up on all of them due to the limitations of the human frame: He could not do it all, 24/7, without a break, and He did not try.
It seems to me that there is a lesson to be drawn from this, when we feel as though we are being invited to do many things which we do not have the time or resources to engage in fully. To keep that nascent sense of FOMO under control, we need to recognize the importance of seeking symmetry in life. Not every answer must be “Yes,” any more than every answer must be “No.” We do not have to accept every opportunity comes along, nor do we need to deny them all, using our current circumstances as an excuse.
Symmetry is a good thing; it has inspired Western culture and thought for millennia. There must be a balance in one’s judgment, where one may be prudent, but open to taking a few risks. Instead of a FOMO with regard to opportunities for growth that come my way, then, the hope is that we can not only challenge ourselves, but find ways to meet the needs of those doing us the honor of seeking out our assistance in the first place.