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Getting Over the Fear of Missing Out

I knew summer was coming to an end not because my calendar changed to August or back-to-school sale advertisements started up, but by the daily increasing number of emails I received on my Harvard College account. I didn’t want to face the reality. I remember all too well the unexpected sense of loss that comes with deleting emails that publicize events, throwing away fliers placed at my door, and ignoring the people posted in the dining hall. I’ve come to identify this feeling, which hints of disappointment but also relief, as FOMO—fear of missing out.

FOMO is an acronym I was not familiar with until I stepped foot on this campus a year ago. Yet, it quickly becomes this ever-present, tangible thing that students—including me—battle with regardless of class year. It is relevant in many situations, but mainly the amazing opportunities that can’t fit nicely into your schedule with classes, work, and extracurricular activities.

There is always something going on that you could be a part of, and it easily leads to getting caught up on what you would be missing out on—the possibility of meeting new people, making connections that could be important in the future, or even experiencing something that could totally change your life’s course. With all these possibilities left unexplored, it seems like with every choice comes a missed opportunity.

Harvard is an amazing place that provides so many daily opportunities that we are privileged to have. We have access to nationally and internationally known figures who frequently come to campus and interact with students, award-winning professors and scholars, and so many free resources. It is truly humbling that this is our normal. But as the emails advertising various talks, meetings, and other events flood my inbox, it quickly becomes overwhelming. It gets to a point where I have to start blocking anything more out because my mind, much like my calendar, is already full of dates. There is an anxiety that comes with realizing the enormity of a task, even if it is just showing up.

Every opportunity is so wonderful that it seems foolish to turn any of them down. Realizing that these perks are a part of the privilege I have through attending this college, I feel guilty when I ignore the notifications. When family and friends back home ask about my college experience, they don’t want to hear about my difficult classes and heavy workload. That’s to be expected—after all, it is Harvard—and students from other schools can easily say the same. They want to hear about the famous people I met and the unique experiences that could only happen at Harvard.

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This leads me to ask myself, am I really making the most of my Harvard experience? Probably not. But, at the same time, if I tried to make room for everything, something would pay the price. Grades would plummet as I cut into study time or my health would be compromised as my hours of sleep progressively decrease. It is hard to admit, but even as students at one of the best universities in the world, we can’t have it all.

So once we’ve come to terms with that reality, how do we handle this fear that will only persist as our time here comes closer to an end? We must first remember who we are and own it. It sounds cliché, but it’s true.

Because too often, the fear of missing out causes us to do things we wouldn’t normally do or stress ourselves by trying to accommodate every opportunity, just for the sake of what could be. In the process, we lose ourselves.

Instead, if you are sure of yourself and your decisions, there will be no need to worry about missing out. Stand firm regardless of what your friends or peers are doing. You know yourself best, so you know what you need at any particular time. Don’t confuse your interests with those of others. If a Supreme Court justice is visiting campus and your friends who are into government get super excited, that’s great; but if that doesn’t personally excite you, don’t waste your time.

Granted, college is all about trying new things and exploring interests you never knew you had, but not every interest is worth the opportunity cost that comes with exploring it. The question that then arises is how will you know if this random opportunity is worth it? The truth is, you don’t. But, I’m a firm believer in things happening naturally: if it feels forced, like you’re going through multiple obstacles just to make this one small thing happen, then it’s not meant to be.

Finally, before we let the fear of missing out consume our every thought, we need to remind ourselves that tomorrow is another day. With a new day comes new opportunities. Saying no every once in awhile, or even often, in the grand scheme of things won’t have that great of an effect on the quality of our eight semesters at Harvard. It’s really about seizing every moment we say yes and creating memories that will make us glad we had the power to say no when necessary, simply because it made our yeses—though farther apart—that much more worthwhile.

Ifeoluwa T. Obayan ‘19, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Leverett House.

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