A couple of years ago, I offered to co-host a baby shower for a friend. Unfortunately, something else came up and I had to go out of town for a month. The other host took over, planned it all and left me off the guest list. She knew I’d be traveling, of course, but it still hurt my feelings. “You couldn’t go, anyway,” my husband laughed. “I know,” I told him. “I can’t go, but I still want to be invited.”
I Can’t Go, But I Still Want To Be Invited should be the title of my biography. We’ve all experienced the fear of missing out (#FOMO), but when you’re a multipotentialite constantly drawn to new enterprises, there are even more opportunities to miss out on stuff. You want to be part of so many different communities, but in reality, you don’t have time for them all.
You may also get slapped with that dreaded F word: flaky. When you have a handful of different projects going on, the challenge of juggling your schedule often affects other people. When I have to cancel a meeting, say no to someone, or ask someone for a last minute favor, I beat myself up for being a flake. Part of it is that I want to be kind to others, but part of it is that I’m not being kind enough to myself.
More often than not, the problem is that I’ve overcommitted in the first place due to this FOMO. It’s probably impossible to conquer this fear once and for all, but I’ve found a few strategies that can at least help keep it from getting in the way.
Remember: Saying No Means Saying Yes
I once heard that if you can’t say “hell yes” to something, it should be a no. This sounds great in theory, but not if you’re the kind of person who gives an enthusiastic yes to everything. Want to go a writer’s retreat? Hell yes I do! Want to help produce a documentary? Oh, hell yes! Should I take a cooking class? Hell yeah, I should!
Then you realize you’ve booked three different events on the same weekend. You cancel the cooking class, you decline the retreat. FOMO Mode activated.
Saying no isn’t just about opting out. It’s also about protecting your time and emotional energy so that you have the bandwidth to say yes to something else. No, you can’t go to the cooking class or writing retreat next weekend, but you can help out with that documentary, and how much of a blast will that be?
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard about deciding when to say “yes” is to prioritize the projects that energize you. I’m not sure this always applies to work (some work isn’t always energizing in the short-term, but it can still be fulfilling), but I do think it’s applicable to prioritizing commitments. Which ones make you feel the most energized? Do any of those commitments feel obligatory or stressful for you to juggle right now?
The point is, when you focus on what you’re saying “yes” to, it’s much easier to swallow the FOMO that comes with saying no. And when you’re saying yes to things that make you feel alive and excited, the FOMO isn’t as strong.
Create Some Rules
Speaking of saying no, I once wrote about something called the “Refusal Strategy,” which is based on a 2012 study:
“A study in the Journal of Consumer Research by Professor Patrick and Henrik Hagtvedt found that saying ‘I don’t’ as opposed to ‘I can’t’ allowed participants to extract themselves from unwanted commitments. While ‘I can’t’ sounds like an excuse that’s up for debate, ‘I don’t’ implies you’ve established certain rules for yourself, suggesting conviction and stability.”
People are more likely to respect your time when you make your boundaries clear. You don’t schedule meetings on weekends as opposed to you can’t schedule a meeting on the weekend. This tactic works when dealing with others, but I think it works on yourself, too.
For example, I have access to five or six different Slack communities that are active all day long. I used to try to keep up with them all. When I couldn’t, I constantly felt left out of the conversation (I literally was). But if I participated in all of those communities, I’d never get anything done!
FOMO feels like something that’s happening to you versus something that you can control. Instead of telling myself I can’t keep up with it all, I make it a rule that I don’t keep up with it all—I only allow myself to be active in two of those groups at a time. Creating this rule takes the focus away from my fear of missing out. I’m in control, making choices with my schedule, which goes a long way toward keeping FOMO at bay.
Practice Being Direct
I’m part of a casual business group that occasionally meets for drinks. One member can rarely make it, but when she declines she says, “Sorry, I have something else that day. But I still want to be a part of this. Keep inviting me!”
I love that: Keep inviting me! She’s basically saying what we all feel. I can’t go, but I still want to be invited. Her directness works out for everyone. We know what to expect, and it’s no biggie to keep her in the loop. Yeah, I know—what a novel concept, being upfront about what you want! But so many of us aren’t. We’re trained to keep our emotions, wants, and needs bottled up so that we don’t embarrass ourselves or inconvenience other people with our silly little feelings.
But being direct can help you bypass so many social hurdles. There’s no need to feel left out when you tell people to keep inviting you. There’s no need to feel like a flake when you tell someone you don’t do meetings on weekends (as opposed to saying yes, then canceling later).
Whether it’s a book club or a business group or a baby shower, if you struggle to keep up with your commitments, it may help to simply tell people where you’re at and what you want. “It looks like I won’t be able to help host this shower after all. Apologies, but I’d love it if you could send me an invite anyway so that I can send a gift.” You’re not just being nicer to yourself when you’re direct, you’re also being considerate to other people by letting them know what to expect from you.
As multipods, we get excited by new possibilities all the time. And often, that leads to overextending ourselves. This becomes even more of a challenge when we try to fight through it, whether it’s out of guilt, shame or obligation. As a result, we stress out. We find ourselves with zero free time. We feel like we’re missing out and we call ourselves flaky.
Ironically, being nicer to yourself—by allowing yourself some space, respecting your boundaries, being upfront—also makes life easier for the people around you. Sure, you may still suffer from the occasional bout of FOMO, but as it stands, there is no known cure. You might as well be nice to yourself in the meantime.
Whether it’s a project, a party, or anything else, it’s impossible to do everything at once. Multipotentialites, how do you deal with your own fear of missing out?