Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
You’re about to go to a school full of passionate, fascinating, funny people. But what if none of those passionate, fascinating, funny people want to hang out with you? This concern (and others like it) are part of a larger phobia. Its name? FOMO.
While most noticeable in freshmen, FOMO (or, “fear of missing out”) has been known to afflict virtually everyone. FOMO is often linked to a desire to do ALL the activities, go to ALL the parties, and make ALL the friends. FOMO is the evil twin of that desire: it’s the fear that ultimately, you won’t do any of the activities, go to any of the parties, or make any friends.
As a wizened rising junior, I’d like to give you some advice on the best ways to fight FOMO. But before I do, let me tell you my own experience with the affliction.
The summer before freshman year, I had serious FOMO. I looked for every sign that could point to future social ostracization. According to the floor plan, my room was at the end of the hall. Disaster! The most oft-cited piece of advice for college students is to leave your door open so that as people walk by, they’ll drop by, make pleasant conversation, and become your best friend. But I could leave my door as wide open as the roster for an 8:30am Orgo Lab, yet still no one would come in my room. Meanwhile, everyone in the middle of the hall would be having a grand old time. Without me.
Another concern was my wall decor. I had a poster of my favorite painting, Arnolfini Wedding by Van Eyck, that I was determined to display. But what if my future roommate thought it was weird [and by extension, I was weird]? On the bright side, considering I was stranded at the end of the hall, no one besides my roommate would ever see it.
As it turned out, both of my fears turned out to be completely unfounded. Our room and the alcove outside turned out to be a hot spot for gatherings and conversation, almost to the point where it was impossible to get any work done there. And due to the slanting walls in our room that made the tiny space even tinier, I only had room for my Adventure Time wall calendar. Although I had similar concerns regarding the calendar as I did towards the poster, it ended up being a great conversation piece. I credit the calendar with converting one of my friends into a devoted fan of the show. And yes, despite all of my fears, I did end up making friends.
Now that you’ve moved in already, you’ve probably made some of the same realizations I made in my first few weeks at Swat. But beware: FOMO can follow you beyond those initial few weeks. Without further ado, here’s my accumulated advice and knowledge that may come in use as you seek to rise above FOMO:
1) Don’t be afraid to go into Sharples alone. FOMO has been known to strike most sharply in Sharples. Walking into the hustle and bustle by yourself can feel isolating. Making plans with people is fine (early text conversations with one of my friends consisted solely of “Lunch?” “Sure! Meet at the top?”), but if plans fall apart, don’t head straight for the box of ramen on your shelf. Walk around the dining rooms, and, if you don’t see anyone you know, either find a group of friendly-looking people (or surly-looking people, if that’s your type) or sit alone. Bring a book if you want to look like you’re doing something, or simply contemplate your peas and pearl onions in silence. Who knows — someone may even choose to join you! And then the two of you can be alone together.
2) You’ll make friends after Orientation. If you feel like you didn’t meet a lot of people during Orientation or if there’s someone you secretly want to become friends with, don’t worry: there are plenty of opportunities to make new friends throughout your four years at Swat. Although a lot of friend groups seem to cement during that first formative week, things are often a little less stable than they seem. While you’ll probably keep a few close friends from Orientation week, in a month or a year, you may end up with a completely different crowd. And that’s OK! After two years at Swat, some of my closest friends today are people I befriended during the first few weeks, while others are people I barely knew freshman year.
Side-note re: Facebook: Part of my FOMO manifested itself as enthusiastic participation in the Facebook group. It wasn’t even move-in day yet, and people were already making friends?! I couldn’t miss out on that. Once I got to school, though, I found that meeting someone I’d talked to on the Facebook page provided a nice introductory “I remember your name!”, but little else. TL;DR: Be prepared to have a new social scene IRL.
3) It’s never too late to try out a new activity. It’s easy to get serious FOMO looking at all the cool clubs you wish you’d joined. It’s impossible to try out every single club on campus in the first month of school. But over four years? It just might be possible. It’s easiest to join at the beginning of the semester, but during the year, look out for one-time club events that are geared at or open to non-members and beginners: dance groups will have dances, publications will have open houses, and sports teams will have casual scrimmages. I didn’t start writing for The Daily Gazette until my sophomore year, and I’m glad I started when I did.
So there you go, my advice on how to deal with FOMO. Go forth and do great things. Miss out on others, but do so without fear. After all, you have to save some new experiences for the next year!