Apr 25 2021, 10:09 PM

The fear of having missed out

An attempt at explaining the reason why I'm hesitant to try new things sometimes.

So I recently got into watching slice-of-life anime, and was hunting around online for suggestions, when I came across K-On!, the story of a few high school girls who come together to form a music club, and have fun together. The reviews promise comedy, romance, and a lot of lighthearted fun. It sounds wonderful. But I can’t bring myself to watch it. Even just reading the title, it sounds like someone is super passionate and dedicated about having being part of something for a long time. Like they’ve been part of this community for so long, and I have not. Implicitly, somehow, I feel unwelcome.

That’s not to say it’s a bad anime, or even that they didn’t title it right. The anime is not the focus of this article. This irrational feeling I just had, of feeling like an unwelcome intruder in a setting which is supposed to be welcome, is. It’s what I call the “fear of having missed out”.

It sounds very similar to the common term FOMO, “fear of missing out”, a peer-pressure-like anxiety people get to try something new – let’s say, a new game called X – just because their other people are playing X and having fun doing so. The fear of having missed out (FOHMO?) evokes a similar feeling, but has completely the opposite effect. When I feel this feeling, I feel like there was a window of opportunity, where all these people started enjoying X, and I missed that window and now I’m too late. Now, if I start trying to get into X, I feel like I’ll feel continuously excluded by the people who are enjoying X, and end up not having fun myself. So, I don’t even bother to try X, because of the fear that I have already missed out on it.

And it’s not just watching new anime that make me feel like this. I feel the same when joining new clubs at university, trying new software with large, established communities (like vim or emacs), and playing new video games (like Animal Crossing: New Horizons or League of Legends). I feel like as a newcomer, I will always be a burden on the community; the worst player in the team, the one who’s always posting help threads without contributing back, or the one who doesn’t get any of the inside jokes.

I know that over time all this will pass, I will also become one of those “established members”, and everything will be fine. But that doesn’t stop the fear. Part of it is because the fear is not rational. In my experience, it’s almost always worked out for the best when I did my best to suppress the fear and joined the community I was so afraid to. But just because I did it once, somehow never seems to signal to my mind that it’s okay to generalize this comfort to every time I have this problem.

I wonder sometimes if other people feel the same way, but in my experience, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Whenever I describe this feeling to people I know, they look at me weird, like it’s some sort of an alien concept. That’s also not the best feeling, but I don’t blame anyone for that.

I write this article with the hopes that someone who can relate reads this, and knows that there is at least one more person who feels the same way. As for solutions… I don’t have any yet, other than Be Yourself® and Just Do It™, and I know that’s not very helpful. But hey, if I knew how to fix this problem, I wouldn’t be writing about having it, right?

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