I’m sure you have all heard of FOMO by now (fear of missing out), that feeling of regret and anxiety you get when you think you are going to miss out on a fun experience. You may have felt this way when you had to turn down an invitation for one reason or another. While I feel FOMO on occasion, sometimes I feel like I suffer more from the opposite—FOJI or “fear of joining in.”
It’s mid-December and holiday celebrations in Boston are well underway. ‘Tis the season of giving, receiving, and attending holiday parties. If you are a social butterfly and your inbox is filled with invitations, you may have a few competing offers. Having to choose one event over another can stir up some feelings of FOMO. However, if social engagement is not your number one priority, then you may have felt FOJI at some point or another.
If you feel FOJI over social situations, then you may be thinking about the downsides of engagement. Example one, you have an important project due 11:59pm on Sunday evening. However, on Friday, you get an invitation to attend a party with some friends who rarely are rarely ever up for these sorts of things. The party will start in the evening, so you convince yourself that if you work all-day Saturday and Sunday, you will be fine to make the deadline. However, you are struggling a bit on the project and were already planning to go to bed early on Saturday. If you go out on Saturday, then you are sure to get a late start on Sunday. You could put the project in jeopardy if you go out. Do you accept the invitation? If you have been in a similar situation and did not immediately jump at the opportunity, then you were probably feeling some FOJI in the moment. You may be conflicted because you have a strong need to see your friends but also a strong sense of urgency to complete the project. Is a very stressful Sunday and fear of missing the deadline worth a couple hours of fun on at Saturday night?
If you say yes – Sunday stress is worth a fun evening with friends—then you were probably experiencing FOMO rather than FOJI. For you FOMOers out there, the call of engagement is stronger than the risks of engagement. If you say no—one night out with friends is not worth risking the project—then you are probably of the FOJI ilk. This may mean that you are more motivated by risk aversion rather than reward.
Example two, another reason you may be feeling FOJI is because you are an unsocial creature, let’s call you are a lone wolf. For you lone wolves out there, social gatherings may not be your thing (social anxiety, lack of interest, little time, etc). Say you get invited to a holiday party and although your schedule is clear, you still have reservations about attending. What if your friend who promised to show up bails on you at the last minute? What if the group that meets is very small and there is nothing to talk about? What if the venue is not at all what was promised, and half the party is crammed into a small corner? If these sorts of thoughts do not cross your mind, then you probably tend towards FOMO. If the negative “what ifs” are the first thoughts that come into your mind, then, perhaps, you are experiencing FOJI.
I experienced FOJI today for fear of missing a deadline and fear of social engagement reasons—my feelings of FOJI caused me to miss an event. For me, the consequences of joining in were way riskier than the potential benefits. Ultimately, I feel ambivalent. I feel happy because I was able finish (some of) what I wanted to accomplish and because I was spared of social interactions that put me on edge. Simultaneously, I also feel very bad about missing the event. My absence was noted, I’m sure it made me look bad, and, perhaps, I even made others feel bad ☹
I don’t know what sorts of decisions you will have to make, Dear Reader. However, I have learned that sometimes, when the stakes are low, one should think less and do more. Dwelling on things is not productive and preoccupying oneself with an uncertain future can be damaging to one’s emotional health. When it comes to the little things in life, I say trust your gut and do the thing that will make you happy. At the end of the day, we all want to feel good about our decisions.