Awaiting the big nocturnal departure

One of the things that keeps us madly surfing, madly dashing about – or delivering our kids about – is the fear of missing out. And now Coronavirus, with its isolating mitigation measures, has taken FOMO off the table.

With everyone staying at home, we don’t have to get Kayla to her soccer game or her after-school STEM activities. She is not missing out – out isn’t happening! For possibly the first time in history, nothing is happening without us!

I saw one writer on Thrive embracing the opportunity to pause. Yes! Finally, a break in all the noise, so we can sort out the necessities of life from the dross. Our ad-based, fast-paced landscape has trained us, a very adaptable species, to grab everything, quick as possible, and toss it in the cart (consider the value later). They train us by unloading the magazine of options past us at such a high, AK-rate of speed, we feel we’re grabbing for our lives.

Now we have that moment we promised ourselves to consider the value. Since we can only visit grocery stores for our dose of community, some of us have transferred the acquisitive frenzy onto grocery stores. If you work in one, you clearly see this 7-am panic. Like prey species, shelf-stockers know to cut and run as these hoarder/predators range the aisles like hungry tigers in a drought.

We’ve probably all been those predators. Think toilet paper. But most of us soon see the point, lurking up ahead, when we could easily turn into that person, the hoarder, and we slam on the brakes.

And then we start to take stock. The cool thing about “harbor in place” is that we are finding alternatives. So not only do we critically examine that soccer team, saying “what is this doing for my kid?” but we are creating alternatives (playing with Kayla ourselves, for instance). We may even be surprised to find these “plan B” alternatives very rewarding or fulfilling.

I am heartened by the discoveries I hear about – people in wonder over nature, in all its proliferation, returning to the desolate streets and canals of Italy; the friends who have connected with family via more genuine means than that tired Self-Image Helper, FB. Young people are reading! Office workers are getting out of doors. All good things.

As we have grown more densely populated, we have also become more competitive – driven by a sense of scarcity (and ubiquitous marketing). We drive those hours to get the good jobs, rush online early to get the good concert seats, on and on. Now, I can suddenly be at a remote rally or join my meditation group without traveling an hour. Suddenly, there’s no-one to compete with. Nothing’s happening “out there” that I must be afraid to miss out on. Personally, I am loving it.

I even see corporate HQs that were stalwart enforcers of the location-based office establishing remote-office protocols. While corporate managers view these concessions as temporary, their corporate culture is developing habits that may outlast the pandemic. After Rosy the Riveter’s similar concessions during World War II, American culture was never quite able to put her back into the box. Hopefully corporate employers are also learning that remote offices demand no sacrifice in productivity. Many capable professionals just want to work. They don’t need a megaphone of “Go team, go!” in order to produce good things well. I think the work style of the self-fulfilled worker has been made invisible by deniers and the frenzied, bean-counter anxiety that drives most corporate environments. Perhaps all this can change.

I get that roughly 50% of people prefer social environments and do their best work in the company of others. But another roughly 50% has been ignored or denied for a long time – way too long in the face of our technical potential. Hopefully companies learn to give workers the choice.

I also get that people are suffering in this laid-off, isolated, uncertain moment. That workers are home without paychecks and parents are home with unschooled children or at jobs deemed essential while their kids are unsupervised and no school meals and closed gyms and empty college campuses.

I get that for social people, home-alone is hard. But humans are an adaptable species. I agree with Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein, that there is opportunity in this moment for positive systemic change. We have all claimed, especially on Thrive, to want off the stress treadmill inherent in our competitive, hyper-productive system. With FOMO off the table, we have a brief window to shift the system itself, confront fear of missing out, and even the more hidden and insidious FOB – fear of boredom. Perhaps reducing the feverish, game-show pitch of our lives will give us some creative quiet for fashioning activities that fulfill us. It’s amazing the amount of time we spend in activities that better “position” us or justify our lifestyle or trigger our salivary glands or entertain us. Perhaps this odd opportunity of quarantine gives us a glimpse of the fantastical myths and bugbears FOMO and FOB often turn out to be.

We can panic about the emptiness, the holes in our former lives without the fear of missing out, the fear of boredom, the need to compete. But if we just ask ourselves to savor, for the briefest moment, what remains, we may also taste a little freedom, a small window for doing things we actually find fulfilling. I am interested to see how I and others fill in these blanks.


  • Marianne Messina

    Editor and Journalist

    Editor and journalist Marianne Messina spent 10 years covering performing arts for Metro Silicon Valley, CA. At the same time, as a marketer, she developed and managed four online magazines for a matchmaking website, created a web community and magazine for the arts, and led the rebranding and migration of a college website. She currently covers wildlife and conservation issues, most often for Mongabay, and writes  "recreational" opinion pieces on impulse.