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FOMO: Rationalizing Turning Down Opportunities

By: Misha Meyer, Peer Success Leader, 2022-2023

My whole life, I’ve struggled with FOMO of every kind: academic, social, etc. My natural tendency has always been to say “yes” to every opportunity that presented itself, and it seemed that the technique had yet to fail me. My “yes, and…” mentality offered me a multitude of opportunities, each one scaffolding into an exponentially larger pool of more exciting and exclusive opportunities.

As my time management skills developed alongside my overcommitted lifestyle, I was able to juggle my many commitments. I liked to stay busy, and I liked how I felt about myself when I was able to stay on top of everything. But because I never shed anything from my itinerary, complying with my schedule inevitably became impossible. I finally hit a breaking point in my senior year of high school. In the midst of COVID, APs, college applications, senioritis, and being co-captain of the track team and head of a number of clubs, I thought I could also handle working full-time hours as a retail employee.

My schedule was untenable.

I would get home very late, physically exhausted, but push myself to stay up the entire night to just barely scrape by with homework. It got to the point that I was constantly ill. At first, it hadn’t occurred to me that removing something from my schedule was a possibility. Even once it had finally occurred to me, I couldn’t make the move to save myself. It was horrifying that even in the face of sleep deprivation, emotional instability, and other self-inflicted ailments, resigning from a single position felt like the end of the world.

A few of the reasons I found it difficult to stop were:

  • FOMO, plain and simple
  • The perception that saying no was me giving up, or not working hard enough
  • A sense of obligation to things that I had already said yes to
  • My overcommitment was an ego safety net: I liked that if I ever failed, I could blame it on the fact that I had created an impossible workload. I had subconsciously set myself up for failure so that my inevitable failure would never speak to a lack of intelligence or effort

At the beginning of this very school year, I began to see the warning signs that I was reentering a similar era. I over-enrolled in courses, had too many jobs/positions/extracurriculars and somehow also expected myself to be extremely socially involved. I suffered through classes that I had been looking forward to taking. Activities that were supposed to be relaxing taxed me. Even my commitments to my friends—that used to charge my personal battery—were absolutely burdensome. Rather than being present to anything, I spent my days either zoned out or daydreaming about crashing onto my bed. 

So, I did what I once thought impossible. I left one of my jobs and one of my scholar programs. It felt messy and painful and unfamiliar. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was doing something wrong: I felt guilty. What made it harder was that I knew that I would have been able to keep “successfully” doing both of these things. But the question was: at what cost?

I’ve realized that every time I say “yes” to something, it’s from a genuine place of enthusiasm. Every single thing on my schedule is there because a part of me loves it. It’s hard to rationalize turning down a good opportunity—especially one that you have intrinsic excitement about. But no opportunity exists in a vacuum. When I have so many things on my schedule, there is no time or energy to devote to anything. So, I enjoy nothing and simultaneously fail to reach my potential. You have to turn down opportunities (good ones, even), to be able to capitalize on the ones you already have. 

What I’ve learned is: in the process of trying so hard not to miss out on anything, you miss everything.