The Fear of “Missing Out”

For probably the last fifteen years or so, I’ve enjoyed building my own PC out of parts. I like the process of putting the pieces together, figuring out if everything works, and really understanding what’s inside my computer case.

When I first started doing this, I found myself often stressed out about computer parts. Whenever a new generation of microprocessors or memory or video cards would come out, I would often look at my computer and feel a mix of annoyance and worry.

I was “missing out.” My computer is dated.

I’d imagine things that I could be doing with my computer that I couldn’t because of the “old” hardware I had. Mostly, those visions were completely unrealistic or, in a few cases, actually realistic but not worth buying new hardware for (like running SETI@Home a bit faster).

I’d keep fretting and worrying about “missing out” until I found myself at the local hardware store picking up a new chipset or a new video card or something.

I’d go home, install it, boot up my computer, convince myself that there was a big speed boost (there was usually a really tiny one that I could barely notice), and be happy. For a while. Until the next hardware cycle came out.

I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. I had friends who felt this way about clothes. About golf clubs. About restaurants. About tennis rackets. About cars. About kitchen gadgets. About cell phones. About going out on the town with friends.

That sense of “missing out” can be powerful. It can stir up a lot of feelings about self-worth.

Here’s the catch, though: most of those feelings have nothing to do with the thing you’re buying.

For me, at least, they had a lot to do with self-confidence and self-worth. It was a lot easier to believe that I was “succeeding” if I had the latest and greatest version of something, and without that sense of “succeeding,” I was left with a sense that I was somehow failing.

It’s a false dilemma, though. Finding “success” through spending money and buying consumer products is a never-ending route to financial hardship. You will never find a lasting sense of peace if your self-worth hinges upon having the latest and greatest thing.

If you’re going to use something as a measuring stick for comparing yourself to others and feeling “successful,” use an authentic measuring stick, not a product. Use your net worth or your professional productivity.

Better yet, stop measuring against others. The best yardstick you have for figuring out your own success is internal ones.

Are you in a better place now than you were a year ago? The only way you can “miss out” on life is if you use anything beyond that as a yardstick. When you start looking exclusively at the things that actually make your life better – things such as the amount of savings you have, the career you’ve built, and the friendships you have – the yardstick you’re using is an internal one.

Judge yourself based on your hard work and your strong choices and you’ll never feel like you’re “missing out.” You’ll always be ahead of the best comparison there is – yourself, as you were in the not-too-distant past.

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