Out of the rat race
FOMO, or ‘Fear of missing out,’ also referred to as MMS (May Miss Out), is a real phenomenon that is becoming increasingly common and can cause significant stress in our life. Let us learn from those who have not succumbed to this malaise but, instead, followed their heart says Jamuna Rangachari
The main issue most of us have is finding the purpose of our lives. This we often do by seeing what others are doing and try to see where we could fit in. Earlier, it was our classmates, relatives, or neighbours; now, it is the entire world, as we all are connected through mass media and social media. We see someone vacationing in exotic locales and fear we might never be able to realise this dream. We see another one scaling up the corporate ladder and wonder if we have wasted our life as a homemaker. We see people partying like crazy and think we are missing out on all the fun. The list continues.
While it is good to know what is happening, it is foolish to think we need to be part of everything. This is where we need to find out what is real and relevant to us.
Bengaluru-based Supraja Mark (name changed), 46, joined an MNC Bank as Supraja Desikachar in 1996. She did pretty well in her career and also fell in love with her colleague Mark. They were sure of their choice and convinced their parents for their marriage although they were from different religions. After marriage, Supraja continued working and had two children.
At one stage, she wondered if taking so much stress handling both the fronts, the office and home, was worth it. She quit her job in 2001 and became a full-time homemaker and mother who took care of all her children’s needs. Her children are now balanced adults and Supraja has blended wonderfully in Mark’s home while Mark has completely blended in her family.
“I realised that being content and happy is what I should focus on, and so I made my own choices,” she says. She believes that she is extremely lucky to be in a home that focusses on remaining content and happy with whatever one is blessed with. Regarding missing out on a career and a professional identity, she says, “Being a mother who has done her best is the best identity one can aspire for.” As far as her me time is concerned, she reads, writes, and is a published author with a few prizes under her belt.
There is a Kannada proverb, paalige bandhidhu panchamrutha or sikkidhu seerunde, oondone jana which, when loosely translated, means being content with whatever is given to us, accepting it as a blessing. Supraja considers this her benchmark for life.
Where does FOMO (Fear of missing out) come from?
Most malaises in society come from thinking or perceiving something in a way which is not factual. Much before the internet, Leonardo da Vinci had said, “All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.” Now, with social media being a part of almost everyone’s lives, this has created an artificial, virtual world that many of us are grappling with. Here, the fear of missing out refers to the feeling or perception that others are having more fun, living better lives, or experiencing better things than you are. It involves a deep sense of envy and affects self-esteem. It is often exacerbated by social media sites like Instagram and Facebook. Everyone, including children, often think others are having a better time. FOMO is not just the sense that there might be better things that you could be doing at this moment, but it is the feeling that you are missing out on something fundamentally important that others are experiencing right now. It can apply to anything from a party on a Friday night to a promotion at work, but it always involves a sense of helplessness that you are missing out on something big.
The fact is that the only thing that actually matters is our own life, and while we can observe others and pick up what we need to, obsessing with all that they seem to be doing can only be detrimental. We can see that often, when one encounters difficulty, one gets to know what reality is.
Ramdeo Choudhary, an entrepreneur turned spiritual seeker, who is currently based in Vrindavan, was directed to take his wife to a doctor in 2013. He was then in Bangalore and took her to the Narayana Health City hospital for a general check-up. After doing the preliminary tests, they were asked to undergo oncology tests, after which she was diagnosed with cancer. He says, “Friends and relatives started visiting my house to console my tearful wife. I used to counter this by dancing before them in a lighter mood, telling them that everything will be alright soon.” He sent all the details to an American doctor who okayed the treatment being given to her, predicting a lifespan of a maximum of three years in her case. Ramdeo decided to not let this prediction affect his wife’s mental health. He started exchanging spiritual thoughts with her by writing them daily on a piece of paper and discussing them with her during their morning tea. He also intensified his Kriya Yoga practice to find new thoughts to convince her about the immortality of the soul regardless of the perishability of the body. She returned these to him, requesting him to print the thoughts in a book and distribute it for free to cancer hospitals in the country. To his wife’s delight, he agreed, got it printed, and distributed it to all major hospitals. The book, Spiritual Exchange: A Milestone in the Treatment of Cancer was very well received, and a Kannada version of the book was requested as well from the readers. An eighty-five-year-old lady was kind enough to translate it into Kannada, and the book got praise and acceptance from several cancer patients.
Six years passed, and even the doctors were surprised to see Subh Laxmi Ramdeo (his wife) lead an active life even though her liver, bones, and glands were infected with cancer. After six months, Ramdeo had a dream that he must shift to Vrindavan along with his wife. He discussed this with her and Subh Laxmi gladly agreed, thinking more about the freedom from visits to hospitals and putting a full stop to huge expenses. They consulted famous oncologists, who suggested not to give even a needle prick to her body and let her live without treatment, as she had far exceeded their prediction. In a planned way, they shifted to Vrindavan despite opposition and tears from family members.
In Vrindavan, they used to walk to a nearby ISKCON temple which was two kilometres away. This continued for more than a month. Then she was unable to walk, and they used to visit the temple by autorickshaw. When she became too weak, she was taken to Bangalore for treatment, where she passed away. After performing her last rites, Ramdeo came back to Vrindavan to spend his life in full devotion to Sri Krishna and has been living there for two years now. With absolutely no qualms about his choices, he says, “It appears that my wife came with me to Vrindavan to lay the foundation of my stay here. She trained the maid-cum-cook to prepare our favourite dishes as well as do the laundry and the overall cleaning of the house. My fourth book is halfway through and should get printed this year. Now HE only plans, and I execute as HIS servant. This is how I enjoy His company!” Ramdeo’s life is an example of making life choices independent of what others would have done and thus finding a true goal for one’s own life.
Knowing what one wants
Anasuya Devi Rejeti from Mumbai thought that everything in her life was perfect until she felt that something was missing somewhere. She shares, “As a little girl, I had my life’s goals sorted: I was clear that I wanted to become a good homemaker like my mother and make a difference in people’s lives through philanthropy and social service like my father.” Soon, she found something she loved. She stumbled upon mathematics, a subject dreaded by most, and fell in love with it, not just reading and solving maths problems but teaching it too. She says, “I wouldn’t miss a single opportunity to teach maths to my friends, juniors, and cousins. That ultimately led me to the discovery of my passion for teaching. However, none of her topper role models and friends chose teaching as a profession, and they all went for the glamourous corporate life instead. Since she didn’t want to miss out on that life, like them, she too chose her career based on the perception that all toppers pursue science and work for big companies.
Soon, however, things changed. “After the birth of my first child, I realised that I had deviated from the goals I had set as a young girl and was pursuing everything on the basis of not missing out on things. So, I decided to leave the glamorous corporate world and the associated perks that come with it (money, recognition) and chose to spend valuable time with my children, just like my mother used to with me and my siblings. I believe that the most important thing we can give to our kids is TIME,” she says.
This decision also led her to ponder, again, the goals of her life. She started taking mathematics classes for secondary and senior secondary students. “I soon realised that a lot of the basic mathematics books were not conceptual at all, and this affected the foundation of many students; so I decided to write concept-based mathematics books for young kids to help them build a sound foundation for higher studies.” These books were widely appreciated. Later, she started conducting educational workshops in schools and learnt that children from underprivileged backgrounds were facing challenges coping with regular education and decided to join an NGO to help the kids realise their potential.
Whenever she used to meet her schoolmates and friends, they used to tell her that she was missing out on life and wasting her talent by not being productive. Initially, she felt they were right, but she never let this get to her because she had chosen goals based on her priorities, and her decisions were not influenced by anyone. She just followed her heart. She realised that working for a good cause and giving back to society was her ultimate joy, so reinforcing this life goal kept her from feeling that she was missing out on anything.
Today, the three M’s—mathematics, music, and meditation—are her life mantras. Extremely happy and content, she says, “I thank the Almighty for giving me the strength to stay strong and true to myself, and so many opportunities to learn, grow, and give back in my little ways.”
Serving others always does make us happier in the journey of our lives.
Aligned with a life purpose
Vikas Luthra from Chandigarh started his professional life as an engineer. One amongst many in the sea of engineers, he was somehow not satisfied with his life. Things were as mundane as could be. A keen observer and highly sensitive at heart, he would often nurse injured animals whenever he spotted one on the street. To him, he was not doing anything special but just fulfilling his duties as a responsible citizen. However, as time passed by, he became more aware of the increasing incidence of cruelty, indifference, and apathy towards animals, and a lack of basic civil sensibilities among people. He also realised there were people who wanted to help this cause but did not know how. This is when he decided to leave his job and devote himself fully to the cause of animal welfare.
Some eight years ago, a few months after he had moved to Chandigarh, he began rescuing animals and started tending to their medical and other needs, at an individual level. Today, he has gained goodwill in the Chandigarh Tricity area, which includes Chandigarh, Panchkula, and Mohali for his sincere nature and humane work for the voiceless.
Though, to begin with, he did not have a sound financial backing or a blueprint for the future, what he surely did have was a conviction that this was a cause that needed full-time attention and engagement. With this clarity of thought and a lot of affection in his heart, he founded the Furever Friends Foundation, registered as a not-for-profit company at Zirakpur, with nothing but a team of animal-loving volunteers and a vision to promote peaceful coexistence between humans and animals. The foundation is currently run by volunteers who believe in the vision and focus on rescue and rehabilitation of community animals in Chandigarh, Panchkula, Mohali, and Zirakpur. They also promote the fostering of animals and adoptions, in place of buying them, because they sincerely hope to provide a loving home to all such animals who either lost one or never found one.
While his story is nothing short of inspiring, more so, it is his simple yet thoughtful ideas that never cease to surprise those around him. He also has to his credit many other thoughtful ventures like The StressBusters—an army of therapy animals to shower those in need with their love. He runs a Mobile Vet Clinic/Ambulance Service for animals to provide first aid within the golden hour of injury.
Last year, when the pandemic had started taking an ugly turn and resulted in a nationwide lockdown, he started an initiative to help feed street animals who were mainly dependent on leftovers and thus were badly hit when everything shut down.
This year, once again, with the humungous rise in COVID-19 cases and an atmosphere of fear in the society, Vikas and his band of indefatigable volunteers started an initiative to support COVID-stricken families and individuals who were in need of food. As a part of this initiative, all they ask is for anyone interested to prepare two additional portions of meals, simple daily meals that one cooks for themselves, and package the same hygienically for the patients in disposables. This way, the patients get homemade food, and even the contributors do their bit without the hassle of stepping out of their own homes. In a similar vein, they have also started an initiative to provide an immunity-boosting free nutritive diet for COVID patients. And every once in a while, to keep the spirits of COVID patients high, they make frequent visits to hospitals and facilitate laughter and yoga therapy.
It is not that his personal life has been smooth. Vikas was diagnosed with malfunctioning kidneys about four years ago. And yet, despite a painful session of dialysis twice a week, nothing has stopped him from fulfilling his calling and selfless service to animals. These animals have given Vikas a purpose to live and smile against all odds. “I feel I am not missing out on anything as these animals give me more love than I can ever imagine,” he says.
Luke Coutinho is a wellness coach of repute. He says, “Fear of missing out is becoming a real cause of anxiety today. The problem stems from the fact that everyone today is trying to be perfect and happy at all times, and if that is something they aren’t able to achieve, they feel left out. Most of us maintain a false facade of happiness when, in reality, we have several other emotions going on within us which lead to dissatisfaction and anxiety.
Also, the overexposure to so much content on the internet, which is exacerbated by social media platforms and people showing the best side of their lives, can lead to this paranoia and sense of helplessness that we are missing out on something big—a promotion, a vacation, a party, or a commodity that someone owns.
Most of us are part of not just one but numerous social media platforms. It could mostly be out of FOMO. We do not want to be left out or considered ‘asocial.’ Even kids as young as four or five have their own social media presence these days, so this problem can start early. The whole trend on social media about teaching coding to kids even if they truly aren’t interested in it is also nothing but FOMO in new age parents.
Luke suggests the following measures to not succumb to FOMO:
Comparison is the thief of joy, happiness, health, self-worth, and so much more. The moment we begin comparing our lives with others, we start to feel empty, hollow, and unhappy. The only way out is to stop comparing ourselves with others. We don’t know what others’ struggles are, and at the same time, we are missing out on acknowledging all that we have. Comparison is the opposite of feeling grateful. It comes from a mindset of scarcity. Develop and build an attitude of abundance instead. You can still intend for all that you want, but in that whole process of wanting more and more, do not miss acknowledging and being grateful for what you already have, because your life could be someone else’s dream.
Know that social media life is VIRTUAL
Social media is a boon and a curse. It depends on what you use it for, how you use it, and how much you use it. Many people spiral into depression and sadness when they think their lives are inadequate compared to the lives they see on social media. Many holidays and material things that you see being flaunted on social media are sponsored or free gifts and not really earned; so, know that as well. Everything you see does not have to be real. The lives of most people appear like they have done well, but a lot of them are living off their parents’ wealth, living in the homes of their parents, flaunting clothes, jewellery, and cars that don’t really belong to them. A lot of people own material things on loan, which, in a way, is not really theirs until they pay off the loan. It’s easy to take loans and show the world a life that is not real.
Be real, be YOU
Having a bad day? Accept it with grace. It is okay to have a bad day. Take some time off to sit with your feelings and reflect on what lessons you can take away from this. Comparing yourself with others, especially when you are having a bad day and asking Why me? will only put you in a victim mode. The only way to process your emotions is to allow yourself to feel a feeling completely. Be you, be real. Don’t try to be someone you aren’t. That’s such a heavy and draining thing to do. Also, stay grounded. When you are grounded, nothing that happens in the outside world can affect you. Cultivate a beautiful inner world for yourself.
Taking decisions is part of life, and for that, we need to trust our own selves more than anyone else. No decision is 100 per cent foolproof. Every choice has its pros and cons. One should, of course, weigh them before making a choice. Everyone feels anxious now and then. For example, we may worry when faced with a problem at work, before taking a test, or before making an important decision. Occasional anxiety is all right. But anxiety disorders are different. They’re a group of mental illnesses that cause constant and overwhelming anxiety and fear. Excessive anxiety can make you avoid work, school, family get-togethers, and other social situations that might trigger or worsen your symptoms. In the case of FOMO, one of the common problems now, getting in touch with reality is the main thing we should aim for and move towards.
Social media often makes us ponder over many ‘what ifs.’ What if I had done this or not done this? is a common question we ask ourselves when we see others living the life we could not. This is a useless question to spend our valuable time on. As far as decisions are concerned, once they are made, one should never look back, for that is an older chapter. Even if our choice did not work the way we wanted it to, we need to face the consequences and stand strong.
There are always many things in our lives to be happy about. We need to concentrate on the positives and remain happy. Even if one is not happy and content, one can begin all over again as life is a journey, not a destination. The main change is that whatever happened earlier is an experience, not a permanent part of life. We can always make new choices and start afresh knowing what is real for us and stick to our goals to remain content and happy. This is the main gift we can give ourselves as we have the power to make our own choices regardless of what others are doing or pretending to be doing.
Here, the main factor is knowing that what is eternally real is one’s inner self. We may make it stronger in whichever way we want, but one thing which can stymie its growth is the fear of what others may think or what one may be missing out on. If in earlier times, it was the fear of what people would say which determined our life choices, today, it is the fear of missing out on many desirable things. Either way, it is listening to others and not to our own selves. We as human beings have the power to think for ourselves. The sooner we are able to do this and remain connected to our inner self, the better our life shall be.
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