SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Stoked by social media, our all-too-common fear of missing out, or FOMO, is often cited as a reason why we live beyond our means, take on debt and generally feel unsatisfied at home and in our careers. It’s why we put so much pressure on ourselves to have Instagram-worthy lives, 24 hours a day.
Now, meet JOMO, or joy of missing out. It is the elation more and more people are experiencing as they step away from their screens, take a social media detox and feel the happiness that comes from disconnecting.
“There is a joy in simplicity. There is a joy in not being overwhelmed,” says Maryland Smith’s J. Gerald Suarez.
In our professional lives, there is pressure to attend every after-work happy hour and every professional conference, forever striving and networking, seeing and being seen. LinkedIn alerts about our contacts’ job promotions can have us constantly wondering, “What have I done lately? Where is my career going?”
Slow down, says Suarez, professor of the practice in Systems Thinking & Design and a fellow in the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change.
“Our lives are so cluttered,” he says. “We are bombarded with what is often irrelevant information. It becomes harder and harder to discern which things really require our attention and which do not.”
We are besieged, he says, with social media messages, news alerts, and a daily abundance of emails and text messages.
All day long, things big and small light up the homescreens of our handheld devices. We divert our attention, to consider the alert, to assess it, and to judge whether it requires an immediate response. They rarely do, says Suarez, but we frequently respond anyway.
“And all along the way, we are spending our time being distracted from focusing on anything. With all that distraction, we forget to figure out what things are most important, what things might bring value to our lives.”
If you are ready to bring more JOMO into your life, Suarez offers his advice.
Social media life is not IRL: Our social media feeds are filled with friends and relations having a great time, hosting events, going on vacations, sharing accomplishments, cheering on their loved ones, having it all.
“You look at this, and you think to yourself, ‘What’s wrong with me? Everybody is out having a great time. Why am I not on vacation or visiting friends or going to the newest restaurants? I’m missing out on life itself.’ You’re not,” Suarez says. “What you are seeing are snapshots of a person’s life.”
Those snapshots don’t tell the whole story of a person’s life. And chances are, he says, their life is just like yours.
Busy is not everything: “There is expectation that success means that we are always surrounded by people and always on the go. And that busyness is a badge of honor, so we fear being alone. We fear missing out,” he says. “We need to set boundaries, carve out a little time to do nothing.”
You can do yoga, he says, but that’s not nothing. It’s yoga. You can meditate, he says, but that’s meditating. “Do nothing,” he says. “Let it unfold and happen and know that you are not missing out on anything.”
Replying is not a sport: “Let go of the pressure to reply to everything right away. Replying quickly is not an Olympic sport. You are not going to get a medal,” he says.
And, relatedly, everything is not urgent. Very few messages, he says, are ever worthy of the “URGENT:” labels that are used so liberally. “Some people seem to think that every message they send is ‘urgent.’ It might not be important, but it’s urgent,” he laughs.
Connectivity is not connectedness: “Nonstop connectivity makes us feel compelled to ‘do.’ We gotta do. We gotta go. And we are so focused on the doing and the going that we forget to be,” says Suarez.
These days, we are seldom ever alone. Forced to wait in a lobby for an appointment, we turn to our phones. Riding in a train, on an airplane, in an elevator, those journeys are no longer opportunities for quiet contemplation. We are connected, checking app after app, message after message.
“Aristotle said contemplation is the highest form of moral activity. Everything that we do that has meaning in life begins with a thought or with mindful action, not with a reaction,” Suarez says. “When we say there is fear of missing out, we are missing out on what matters most. We are just focusing on the wrong things.”
Suarez says it’s essential that we carve out time to be, free of doing. “We cannot innovate when we are so busy we cannot think,” he says. “Our time to be quiet and alone increases our cognitive power.”
Don’t confuse connectivity and connectedness, he says. “Connectivity is our capacity to link and have access. Connectedness is our ability to have substance,” Suarez says.
Missing out is not what’s really scary: “It’s the fear, in the fear of missing out, that should scare us the most, because we are missing out on what matters most when we are merely reacting to the events around us,” Suarez says. “That is why you can miss out, and feel joy.”
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