I turned 23 yesterday. In the days leading up, I was asked what I wanted, to which I altruistically responded, “Oh, nothing at all!” Hm. A friend hinted that I write a wish list. Sp I jotted just a few things:
- personal trainer
- the new Mac OS
- iTunes gift card
- leather wallet
- skinny jeans (coral color)
- replacement pair of Gucci sunglasses
- bonus: a handsome smart young man
What a saint.
It’s not difficult to come up with things we could have that could make our lives better. There is always room for improvement. However, the second I start thinking about all the things I need, I start viewing life through a scarcity lens. An entity lacking this, needing improvement in that, and at its core, not good enough. Before I could finish my wish list, I had descended into a spiral of anxiety about everything I did not have and had not become.
I’m 23. There are many things I have yet to see or experience. Thinking about all the possibilities makes my mind whirl! The pressure to “make a difference” seems engrained in our generation. There is even an acronym for this affliction, outlined in this article by Priya Parker, “Millennials paralyzed by choice“. FOMO, or fear of missing out, stems from our hungry ambitions and desire for optimality. It happens when the media shows us cool images of what others are doing and where we could be, which almost always seems better than our own state. This is more than just an evil marketing ploy; FOMO trickles into our social media updates – “look, I”m doing this – how fun!!!” – tapping into our envious desire to one-up each other in life interestingness. Arranging our adult lives in optimal fashion is becoming a generational obsession. How do you get the best job in the best city, while keeping all options open?
There’s nothing wrong with wanting the best. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always wanted to live in New York. But every once in a while – usually while I am stressing about running late or how my dress is squeezing tight in the gut, – I remember an old man in Vietnam. He sat on the side of the road, dirtier than dirt, beaming dimple to dimple, crooked missing teeth and all. While complaining about the heat and voraciously fanning myself, I barely paid him any attention. He smiled at me, which struck me as supremely odd, for what had he to smile about? It was hot and disgusting. He had nothing and I wasn’t giving him anything. Yet in a single moment, ever so fleeting, I realized how wrong I was. Indeed, the man had nothing but he, in fact, had everything simply because he was happy with what he had. My life, ever abundant in tourist pleasures, was intrinsically starved. I continued fanning myself.
That was three years ago. Yesterday, I spent my birthday with my parents. We went grape-picking, ate dinner at a local Italian restaurant, and attended a classical piano concert. I got calls, messages, and cards from a handful of friends. The day was a hodgepodge of simple moments with the people who mean the most to me. There were times when I wondered what I’d be doing if I were in New York. A night out in the city would have surely been a birthday production…and what a shame if it weren’t, with all the options available! The operation would have been documented, yielding picture-perfect moments against a beautiful New York City backdrop (perhaps with a touch of Instagram editing) – – surely worthy of double-digit likes.
Yet back in Tennessee, I was wading through thorny bushes, spider webs, and buzzing bees (only to find rotten grapes). For a few minutes, I yearned for some city grandeur. Then I heard my Mom’s Chinese shrieks. She had found a perfectly ripe batch of grapes. Her cute little visor bobbed in the trees ahead. Lest the vineyard owners call the cops on her for disturbing the peace, I had no other choice but to see what she was referring to. So I stormed through more spider webs, tripped, and got caught in laughter, wondering why I would ever in my right mind trade this comical experience for uncomfortable heels, birthday shots, and exorbitant tax fares.
I was in bed before midnight, which was glorious. As I went to sleep, I came to the conclusion that when faced with choices, I want everything. It’s selfish and causes unnecessary stress, not to mention incredibly self-deprecating. So, what do I really want? To be content with my one life, the way it is, the way I am- simple, true, and loving.
So, that is what I am giving myself: freedom. Freedom from FOMO. Freedom from the should-haves, could-haves, would-haves. Freedom to know I am not missing out and that, in fact, I have everything I already need.
Thank you to all my friends, family, and well-wishers who are shining reminders of life’s abundance.