Last week I told you about how I deal with Fear of Missing Out, or FOMO for short. In that blog entry I focussed on the part of FOMO that has everything to do with the sheer amount of options we have to spend our free time with all kinds of different media. What I didn’t focus on in that article, however, is how FOMO is not just about really missing out on things, but also feeling the need to please others by following their recommendations. Today I’ll try to shed some light on how I deal with this and hopefully the same will work for you too.
You can’t change what others think of you
Stoicism with a capital S has a large foundation in the belief that we cannot change what lies outside our circle of influence. In the past I wrote a blog about the so called trichotomy of control. This is a modern version of the original dichotomy of control, but as the trichotomy points out, sometimes there are things that are maybe not entirely within our control, but definitely enough to make a difference on the outcome. This last part is quite important in dealing with other people, because in our interactions with others we do have control on how we act, but not so much how they do.
Since what others think of you is ultimately outside of our control, a true Stoic would say that we should not be bothered with it. However, for most people what others think of us is to some degree important. For me personally, I hold my loved ones their opinion of who I am to them very dear and it would bother me if they’d think badly of me. On the other hand I care little of what strangers think of me. That doesn’t mean I’ll behave badly around strangers, but it just means I won’t lay awake at night fearing they might not like me.
FOMO and feeling peer pressure
“Jeffrey, this show on <Insert streaming service here>, you absolutely have to see it!”, said nearly everyone I know at some point or another. During the earlier days of Netflix I’d immediately put said shows on my watchlist. Nowadays, I never do and politely tell people to stick their shows someplace the sun don’t shine. The problem is when everyone is talking about something on social media, you’ll start feeling peer pressure. What if this really is the best show ever to be produced and you’ll totally miss out on something good if you don’t watch it? Well, what if it’s absolute garbage to you, once you start watching? Or what if people say stuff like: “It doesn’t start off very good, but once you hit the third season, that’s where things start to get really great!” and there’s like ten seasons of this slow-paced drudgery? Are you really willing to make such a large investment in time only to pleasure a friend? Would they do the same for you?
Depending on what you answered on the questions above, however you package it for yourself, you’ll be watching something to please someone else. If you happen to like whatever it is they recommended, well, more power to you and congratulations on enriching your life. However, more often than not, I found whatever people said was good, was an absolute snorefest and not at all worth my time. The question then becomes, what do you do next? Because the peer pressure is still there and you don’t want to disappoint people you like.
How honesty saves the day
One of the things I value most in life is honesty. 100% pure honesty. If someone asks me how I’m doing and I’m not feeling well, would I rather tell them “I’m fine”, which is the preferred social answer on any given day for most people, or should I be honest and tell them I’m not feeling the best I’ve ever felt? While I’m not one to complain, I think it’s important to be honest and this is something I’m learning in my relationship with Bren. Before, when I was single, I’d have no one to really share my mental issues with. So I’m learning to be candid with her and this is a great benefit to my mental health. One thing I learned from this is that you need to be honest with not just people close to you, but basically everyone, because if you’re not honest with them about your feelings, you’re not honest to yourself. And I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years.
Pouring over the dozens of self-help books, one thing that has always stood out to me was that when these books were more business orientated the writer would often say things like “be genuine”. I know no other way to be myself than to be genuine, because I see no reason to package myself differently for other people. I am what I am, and honest to myself in who I am and what I stand for. But the only way you can really deal with peer pressure, or feeling the need to please others is to be genuine and honest. If you don’t like something they do, tell it. Don’t put up some sort of play, because before you know it they’ll keep giving you books, or other gifts you don’t like, because you pretended to like them. This is not just unfair to them, but also to yourself. Does that mean they’ll like you less for it? Well, honesty can often be seen as bluntness and the Dutch people are known for being straightforward and honest. This can be a hard pill to swallow for some people, but in the end, you will always know where you stand with one another. It really is this simple. The only thing that is hard is actually practicing this. And people will definitely not like you better if you’re always honest with them, but in the end honesty is a virtue to hold in high regard and living according to nature, it is your duty to be honest about how you feel when someone is pressuring you into doing something you know you won’t enjoy.
If you’re a major people pleaser, you probably know how exhausting this is. I know this too, because I did this for years. In the end, however, you really need to think about yourself and your own needs as well. You can’t just live your life for the sake of others. You have to take care of yourself too. So start being honest with others and yourself. It’s only that way that you can finally let go of that fear of not pleasing others, because they know where they’ll stand with you. If people really know you and what you stand for, there’s a much bigger chance they’ll leave their recommendations for what they are, without any need for you to pursue them, if you do not wish to do so. They’re called recommendations, not obligations for a reason.
I hope I managed to tackle this part of FOMO well for you, dear reader. This is how I deal with FOMO in its entirety. Sure, it’s not always easy to shrug the feeling, or to fear that you might hurt someone for being honest. But the truth is not always pleasant, nor will your tastes align 100% with any given person. It’s only through this realisation that you can be honest with yourself and start living in accordance with your own nature. Only then can you be a truly genuine person.
I hope you have a good one!