Fear of an Ordinary Life

My anxiety: It’s not FOMO but FOOL

Last week, I was given the thoughtful gift of a book “How to be Bored“.

It describes the anxiety arising from the Fear Of Missing Out, made famous as FOMO. I have a hard time sitting at home doing nothing productive. I have a sense that I am wasting my time.  Classic FOMO.  (I won’t mention the clues of social media addictions…  I had to delete facebook from my iphone…  it was becoming too consuming).

Summer amplifies this anxiety as I have too much time to think.  I don’t teach too many classes and spend a lot of time reading, reflecting and thinking.

As I reflect, I think my fear is less FOMO – fear of missing out, and more FOOL – Fear of an Ordinary Life.

I am a F.O.O.L.

…it does cause anxiety late at night, through the morning, before lunch, after lunch…  etc.

Fear of an Ordinary Life

It strikes me as supremely arrogant to believe that I deserve a greater than “ordinary life”, but there is definitely a striving inside myself pushing me to live a meaningful life. I have the feeling that I was given great gifts in this life: where I was born, when I was born, the brain I had, the health I had, the options that a good education has opened for me.

As a meditative exercise I sometimes reflect upon how tiny I am in this universe. It is 11 billion years old, and more enormous than I can imagine. I am miniscule. In 100 years I will be forgotten. In 1 million years… why does any achievement or lack of achievement matter?

This meditation takes away the rational questioning about whether I should care about doing meaningful things or not, but it doesn’t take away the underlying unease with myself.

The Buddhists say that this is an itch I should not try to scratch. I should learn to observe the itch without being driven, moved, affected by it.

I am a poor observer of the itch. FOOL is running like a clogged back-end server process on my brain’s CPU.

Where’s Ctrl-Alt-Delete?

11 comments

  1. Ly Smith · · Reply

    Good article. What you wrote, resonated with me, it’s a universal feeling I suppose. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Funny while reading this Fleet Foxes’s Helplessness Blues came on my shuffle.

    I was raised up believing I was somehow unique. Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes unique in each way you can see.
    And now after some thinking I’d rather be, a functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me.

    Hard to believe a kid write that.

    Timing is indeed everything.

  3. […] was thinking about my post on Fear of an Ordinary Life from yesterday and the responses that it […]

  4. “I have a hard time sitting at home doing nothing productive. I have a sense that I am wasting my time.”
    This describes me perfectly, and my every weekend. During the week I work hard, and don’t have to think or confront inactivity.
    It’s a real pain in the ass.
    I am going to buy that book “How to be bored”, and maybe implement the findings.
    But that, too, will be a bit of a paradox, because that will be my “new project”.

    1. Glad to see that I am not alone 😉 let me know if you figure out anything that helps!

  5. skmurphy · · Reply

    I look at it a little differently: to whom much has been given much is expected. I would try to translate your “Fear Of an Ordinarily Life” into a desire to make significant contributions. Can you feel a pull for where you talents and experience would do the most good? My two cents.

    1. That is a nice, positive reframing – a desire to contribute sounds better than a fear 😉

  6. You may be a “FOOL” but you’re no fool. The other night, I lay out it the back yard taking in the meteor shower. I had similar thoughts gazing up at the sky – and back in time, given that many of those stars no longer exist.

    The Buddhist philosophy is similar to what Andy Puddicombe says on the Headspace meditation app that I use. If you are feeling something, don’t try to change it; just observe it. It’s hard at first, but it gets easier.

    As for FOOL, I am the same as you. But I try to approach things with a Contentedness vs Satisfied lens. Be content, but not satisfied. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but when you strike it, life is exciting for what could be, but enjoyable for what is.

    1. Allowing myself to be not satisfied… nice idea. Content, but ok with a slight lack of satisfaction. That sounds like a good aim.

      Do you use the headspace app every day or how do you work it into your life?

      1. Yes, I use headspace every day. I am up to 129 days in a row. I highly recommend it. You can download the app for free and then do the first 10 sessions for free to see if you like it. Well worth the effort. Greetings from Washington DC.

      2. From what I’ve seen you are a big supporter of the power of silence. If headspace gets anything right (which I think I does in many aspects) it is this.

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