Facing FOMO: The Fear of Missing Out

Laura Behan O’Grady beats FOMO on Georgian Bay. COLIN FIELD PHOTO.

“It makes me feel like I’m missing out,” he said, referring to images in the summer issue of Mountain Life Ontario. It was a huge compliment. Because this guy’s social media posts suggest that I’m the one missing out. As one of the best windsurfers around, if it’s blowing, he’s out there launching off waves, throwing loops and absolutely killing it.

by Colin Field

The acronym for this feeling is FOMO: Fear of Missing Out. It was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013 and is defined as anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be currently happening elsewhere.

This conversation and the idea of FOMO came to mind as I prepared to photograph surfers from the water. I packed my camera into my water housing, threw on a wetsuit, borrowed some flippers and stumbled into the Bay. As I got thrown about in the onslaught of waves I tripped over submerged slippery rocks and my own flipper-clad feet. I contemplated why I was putting myself through this.

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Someone, somewhere was cracking an ice cold beer. There was an old friend lying on a beach in Costa Rica. A whack of friends were at one of the best mountain bike events in the province. And this was all happening right now. Was floundering around in Georgian Bay a valuable use of my time? Should I be somewhere else? Was I missing out?

On wavy days, the cross-shore current is strong. As I waded deeper into the water, my feet left the ground and the current pulled me sideways. I huffed and puffed against the unrelenting undertow. The surfers easily paddled past me as I bobbed up and over the waves, fighting the current while anxiously awaiting the sight of someone dropping in.

Then Ali Gholami started paddling with everything he had, straight towards me. But my clumsy, one-armed swim stroke couldn’t get me out of the way in time. I was helpless. At the last second, Gholami bailed out so we didn’t collide. The wave crashed on top of me sending me under, further down the shoreline and deeper into the impact zone. I surfaced just in time for the next wave to break on top of me, starting the rinse cycle anew. I fiercely white-knuckled my camera as the current threatened to yank it out of my hand.

While my body reacted with survival instincts, my mind clicked; my FOMO was gone. The intense focus this situation required was keeping me in the moment. The polar opposite of what FOMO does. I wasn’t having any fun, but there was nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.

Once I resurfaced and got reoriented, I continued the endless and exhausting paddle. Much like the current I was fighting, I realized that FOMO is an unwinnable anxiety. We simply can’t be everywhere at all times, doing all things. And we need to be okay with that. I need to be okay with that.

Living in the now isn’t easy, but going, being and doing are the best ways I’ve discovered to beat FOMO. So put down this magazine, turn off your cell phone, forget social media and be okay with the fact that you are definitely missing out on something. Something awesome. But take joy in the fact that where you are, who you’re with and what you’re doing is exactly as it should be.


Afraid of missing out on waves in Ontario? Check Surfing in Ontario 101

Watch video of surfing the Great Lakes in the winter.