You’ve likely heard of FOMO (the “fear of missing out”). Whenever you observe a group of friends or a family out spending time together, except every one of them is staring down at their phones – that’s a symptom of FOMO. (What if something far more important than what I’m doing now is happening out there?!?) But until recently, I hadn’t heard of the term JOMO – the joy of missing out. There’s actually a name for how I tend to live my life now. .
The term JOMO is largely attributed to author Christina Crook and her 2015 book of the same name. In it, she cites the wise warning of Socrates: “Beware the barrenness of a busy life!”
When I look back on well over three decades of my public relations career in corporate, government and non-profit sectors, FOMO was alive and well in my very busy work life long before I knew it was a thing, even before social media was a thing. In every workplace, I was a driven Type A workaholic from the moment I opened one eye in the morning to the moment when I’d finally crash into bed, exhausted. I lived my career and my family life as if I – and only I – could somehow keep everything running as required.
I like to illustrate this kind of misguided self-delusion by reviewing the months leading up to my heart attack in 2008. I went into my office almost every Sunday (ahem! my day off!) to create a huge website project that I simply couldn’t fit into my already-overwhelmed work week. I justified this weekend volunteer work by saying stupid things like: “You know, I actually get so much more work done on Sundays because I have no meetings or phonecalls to distract me. . .” What I seemed unable or unwilling to justify was that volunteering on weekends was an unacceptable and unhealthy employment standard.
But I could rarely say NO to any request or invitation – and there were so many of those! When I worked in corporate PR, for example, I flew to out-of-town marketing meetings every Friday for years – meetings that weren’t relevant to my unique media relations role (and took me away from my desk for a full day – which meant hours of catch-up time later). But those meetings could be too “important” to miss. And besides, all the other senior staff might be there – so shouldn’t I show up, too? What I was missing all those years, however, were all those Friday dinners with my own family after (yet another) fog-delayed flight home – a frequent airport reality when flying in and out of coastal cities.
In 2018, journalist Elizabeth Buckingham wrote this in her opinion piece for the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“I’ve suffered from the fear of missing out since I was in seventh grade and my preteen heart was certain that the popular girls were living a life I knew nothing about, but wanted to know everything about. And though a love of writing initially drew me into journalism, it was the entrée into exclusive events like New York Fashion Week that kept me hustling. FOMO defined our anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere without us. I was living the FOMO life!”
My heart attack changed my life in so many ways – including an unplanned hard think about how FOMO had saturated my own choices for decades. Back then, learning to live with ongoing chronic symptoms of Coronary Microvascular Disease (MVD) became a powerfully convincing argument to consider the joy of missing out. When a humiliating return-to-work trial after that MVD diagnosis ended early, I was crushed to realize that I was clearly no longer able to function at my demanding job. And I remember feeling a bit stunned as the months passed to accept that my longtime colleagues were somehow able to keep the place running beautifully – even without me! See also: How to Tell if You’re as Indispensable as you Think
Over time, I have slowly morphed from feeling distraught that my hair-on-fire personality has changed to now feeling bemused that I ever viewed that person as who I wanted to be. I used to be the last to leave a party, and the first to volunteer to host the next. I recall, for example, our wonderful themed dinner parties that were famous among friends and family (even when I was the Mum of a toddler – and a newborn!) But just planning/prepping/cleaning/cooking for each deadline event left me an exhausted wreck (OF COURSE!) by the time the first of our dinner guests rang the doorbell. Yet this insanity continued for years because I somehow prided myself on throwing the “best” parties. So what was I trying to prove back then?
Compared to that time, I’ve had to learn the fine art of balance, and also the appreciation of many small moments throughout each day. Because I’m now officially retired, I have the luxury of time to focus more on what I love doing (e.g. morning coffee with old friends, playing with my grandchildren, writing and speaking about women’s heart health, long chatty phonecalls with my sister Catherine, puttering for hours out on my sunny balcony garden, creating art with beautiful papers, and of course my afternoon naps). Those elaborate themed dinner parties, especially thanks to COVID-19, are now but a dim memory – and what a joy and relief that has turned out to be!
About the same time Elizabeth was writing in the Inquirer, Dr. Kristen Fuller was writing one of her regular Psychology Today columns on the same topic. As a physician whose first love is spending time outdoors in the Eastern Sierras of California, she has long embraced JOMO. Here’s how Dr. Fuller explained her own interpretation of the concept:
“JOMO (the joy of missing out) is the emotionally intelligent antidote to FOMO, and is essentially about being present and being content with where you are at in life. You do not need to compare your life to others but instead, practice tuning out the background noise of the ‘shoulds’, and learn to let go of worrying whether you are doing something wrong. JOMO allows us to live life in the slow lane, to appreciate human connections, to be intentional with our time, to practice saying “NO,” to give ourselves tech-free breaks, and to give us permission to acknowledge where we are and to feel our emotions, whether they are positive or negative.”
JOMO is essentially about finding the Goldilocks balance that truly works for us – not too busy, not too quiet, but just right – by choosing to do more of what we love doing with those we love spending time with – whenever we have that choice. We can’t always be in charge of those choices, of course: caring for elderly parents or sick children, a bad day of symptom flares, or living through pandemic realities – but we can certainly be more in charge of not buying into the pull of the self-inflicted background noise of “shoulds”. Speaking of the pandemic, in its earliest days of 2020 staying at home was not really a hardship for me. As I told my family: “I’m not stuck at home. I’m SAFE at home!” JOMO was already sinking in.
Dr. Fuller also included a few tips in her Psychology Today essay for those who want more JOMO and less FOMO:
- Be intentional with your time: Make YOUR time your priority instead of wasting time worrying about what other individuals are doing or thinking.
- Give yourself permission to live in the present: If you are having a bad day, be easy on yourself and limit stressful plans when you can.
- Embrace tech-free time: Unsubscribe from social media accounts and unfollow individuals who trigger your FOMO or cause you any type of negativity.
- Experience real life (not social media life): Instead of spending your free moments in the drama of social media/email/text messages, what if you chose to disconnect and instead do more of the real world things that you enjoy?
- Slow down: Take time to think before you speak, embrace the quiet, use time driving in traffic or waiting in lines to sit with your thoughts or listen to a book.
- Practice saying “NO”: You do not always have to go to that event or take that phone call. Self-care and self-love start by saying “NO.”
Image: Dirks24 at Pixabay
NOTE FROM CAROLYN: I wrote more about women’s priorities – and how skewed priorities may put us at higher risk of heart disease – in my book “A Woman’s Guide to Living with Heart Disease“. You can ask for it at bookstores (please support your local independent bookseller!) or order it online (paperback, hardcover or e-book) at Amazon, or order it directly from my publisher Johns Hopkins University Press (use their code HTWN to save 30% off the list price).
Q: How have you discovered the Joy of Missing Out?