Wherever you are in this moment, in whatever chair or couch or passenger seat you occupy, you cannot be somewhere else. And just as certain as the sun rises in Kathmandu before Kona, things are happening without you in all of those infinite places where you are not.
This has always been the case; things have always been happening in all of the places where our parents and their parents their parents’ parents were not. But in the last few years, thanks to social media (yes, this blog included) and phenomena like “Facebook image crafting,” longing to be where we are not has slowly eclipsed our attraction to the very things that are happening around us, right where we already are. For some of us, a seemingly innocuous interest in the reality someone else is occupying develops into an affliction known as FOMO, or the Fear of Missing Out. FOMO is the ultimate manifestation of a bright green lawn on your neighbor’s side of the fence.
When I secured the IRONMAN World Championship (a.k.a. Kona) qualification in July, I had a big decision to make. For me, my wallet, and my vacation days, I could only choose one final race to end the season: Kona in October or IRONMAN Arizona in November. Knowing that Hawaii would be too far for my parents to travel, and that Arizona was both driveable and chemo-friendly for my dad, I traded 1st class Kona for runner-up Arizona. (More on that.)
But before officially declining the slot, I shared with my confidant and fellow Kona qualifier my intention to do so. He questioned whether I might regret my decision once October arrived and pictures of crystal-clear water, fancy tri swag, and pro triathlete cameos overtook my friends’ Facebook feeds. As I weighed my options, FOMO fluttered in my stomach. I started to fear all that I would miss if I passed up the opportunity to race on triathlon’s greatest stage.
I’ve written at length on this blog about the ways in which my Peace Corps service in rural Nepal and Ecuador continues to enrich my life today. In July, as the final hour approached to claim my Kona slot, a certain Peace Corps story cured my FOMO, and left me at peace with my decision to let the slot roll.
That story goes something like this: Upon finishing my Peace Corps service, I had a conversation with a young graduate hesitating to submit his application to the Peace Corps. (The Peace Corps is a two-year, voluntary service commitment that sends volunteers to work in rural villages still undiscovered by cartographers.) Like a product of his generation, this young man was afflicted with FOMO. “But two years is soooo long,” he worried. “Imagine what I’ll miss!” I smiled and thought of my villages and my work and all that I experienced in Ecuador and Nepal. “It’s true,” I replied, “but imagine all the things you’ll miss if you stay right here.”
Each of us has the choice to cure our own FOMO–the choice to embrace, to own, to partake in the things happening all around us, in the exact location where our successes and failures, our priorities and obligations have led us. Instead of fearing all of the things we are missing out on where we are not, we have the choice to enrich all that is happening right where we are.
Best wishes to everyone racing on the Big Island this weekend! I’ll be cheering for you from across the ocean and across a continent, from my little green(ish) lawn.