The spiritual discipline of missing out on things
A couple weeks ago I was supposed to go to Comic-Con International, the premier U.S. convention for everything pop culture. I have been going nearly every year for the last 15 years, and I look forward to it every time I go. For me it is a really fun, positive experience.
Then, two days before I was supposed to leave, I got really sick and I had to cancel. And the strangest thing happened: I felt relieved.
Now, maybe some of that was an instinctive reaction to making the right decision. But I have felt the same way at other, similar moments, like when a friend has to reschedule a lunch or dinner, or when a flight gets canceled. It’s as though suddenly I have been given an unexpected gift. Out of nowhere my life has more space in it.
Sometimes not getting to do the thing that you want can actually feel kind of wonderful, even luxurious.
For some time now people have talked about FOMO, the fear of missing out, and how it can drive our choices, sometimes in nonsensical ways. Did I really need to see Beanie Feldstein in “Funny Girl” before she left? Based on the reviews, definitely not. (Sorry, Beanie.) But then if I didn’t go, I wouldn’t know what everyone has been talking about. Excuse me, but huh?
I wonder if there is another dynamic deep within us that we may not be aware of: the Joy of Missing Out. Sometimes not getting to do the thing that you want or that you think you need can actually feel kind of wonderful, even luxurious.
It shouldn’t make sense. Missing out is frustrating. But maybe it’s like this: When our hands are full, there is really no chance for us to be given anything else. When we lose out on something, even something genuinely great, suddenly our hands are free to receive other things. Put another way, there is room within us for new possibilities.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying, “Wouldn’t it be great if none of us got to do the things we’ve been hoping to do?” And this is not a sneaky attempt to draw you into my misery, either. It’s more like recognizing the glory that is a snow day, not only for kids but for adults.
When we lose out on something, even something genuinely great, suddenly our hands are free to receive other things.
I think there’s many different varieties of JOMO, too. At Comic-Con Kevin Feige, the genius behind the Marvel Cinematic Universe, released a list of all the new Marvel movies and TV shows coming in the next few years. Among them were some pretty exciting stories, like the sequel to “Black Panther” and the Captain Marvel/Ms. Marvel movie.
Still, looking at the list, I felt like I had been signed up for a graduate seminar without my permission and now I had all these things I was going to have to read.
TV watching these days can be similar. Part of the problem of there being so many channels and shows to choose from is that you end up feeling like you are always behind. Our poetry editor Joe Hooverwrote a great article about this phenomenon a couple months ago. “I think I have a sign permanently affixed to my shoulder blades: Tell me shows to watch,”he wrote.
But guess what? We don’t have to catch up on any of those shows. We don’t have to find out if Mando and Baby Yoda manage to liberate Mandalore, or learn whether Meredith Grey ever leaves Seattle, or listen to one more word about “Succession.” (Thank you, Jesus.) We don’t have to watch the next Marvel movie when it comes out, or ever. If we give ourselves permission to “miss out” on some of these things, even just temporarily, we may find we don’t even miss them. Is it me, or does that possibility feel kind of delightful?
We can only discover the delight and relief that is waiting for us by choosing to miss out on something that was great.
It’s the same for a lot of people with social media. We might be on a platform to keep in touch with friends, to raise our own profile or maybe just out of a sense of that anxiety that we don’t miss anything. If the Chicago White Sox win the World Series and I’m not on Twitter to see the “Na na na na, Na na na na, Hey hey hey, Goodbye” tweets from other fans, am I still a part of that moment?
But then how many studies have we seen about how great people feel when they leave social media or do a social media fast? Charlie Warzel at The Atlantic writes a lot about the relationship between the internet and human flourishing.In a recent interview with his colleague Kate Lindsay, who was talking about how often social media is conveying news of various crises, Warzel mused, “It’s tough to live in a place that’s always in a state of emergency.” We don’t want to bury our heads in the sand, but we don’t need to be confronted about it all right away or at every moment, either.
We hear a lot these days about burnout. And some of that is a function of the amount of money we need to live today and the work that is being asked of us. But sometimes we also put ourselves on a hamster wheel of expectations and fear—if I say no to this, they may never invite me to do anything again—and before you know it we have built a prison for ourselves.
I do not mean to imply that walking away from things is easy. Missing out takes courage. We can only discover the delight and relief that is waiting for us by choosing to miss out on something that was great. It’s a spiritual discipline, really, the ordinary practice of the leap of faith. Perhaps it helps us to be more ready for the bigger, existential leaps that sometimes come our way. But more immediately maybe it gives us access in our everyday lives to unexpected pockets of delight. Truly, when a bit of JOMO happens, it feels like you’ve gotten away with something, or uncovered a secret that no one else knows.
You can miss out on things and still be happy. Maybe even happier.