As I come to the conclusion of my trilogy on fear, there's one more fear I wanted to focus on, and it is one I believe is somewhat unique to my own generation (people born in the mid-80s to mid-90s).
I love the Internet. It is to me a natural extension and representation of humanity. It broke down geographic barriers and allowed people to communicate across the planet in real time. It pooled together the wealth of knowledge, talent and entertainment our collective species have created, turning it into an acceleration of ideas, innovation and global situation awareness.
People can share ideas, or join interest/opinion-based communities and spend quality time with like-minded people. Love can be found anywhere in the world, and can be experienced or expressed in so many more ways even while it is long distance. The brick and mortar retail stores, once a vibrant business, were also quickly becoming obsolete with the emergence of far more varietied and affordable online stores you can browse from the comfort of your bedroom. The Internet has been such a game-changer for our species.
However, these very opportunities, possibilities and their rapid adoption by industry and society may have nearly killed the fun and experience of the Internet for me.
When I decided to study Computer Science instead of Medicine or Law, which may have been better choices by traditional measures, I had a fresh passion for IT. I wanted to leverage this new communication and sharing platform to make a real impact on the global scale. I wanted to make something creative, something useful, something inspiring, something everyone can enjoy or at least benefit from without being charged an exorbitant fee. The thought that I went into uni was simple: I wanted to create an online product or service that a million people would happily pay a dollar for.
2011 was my Honours year at uni and also the year I began applying for jobs. I started these applications as early as March/April for various graduate programs, as the recruitment process usually takes several months to go from shortlisting to screening tests to interviews. The job market was also tough since the previous year, as the world was facing another major financial crisis, leading to only a handful of graduate positions being opened up across the country. However the students kept pouring out of graduate schools, and rumour has it that some of these graduate programs with only a dozen positions would have received as much as 5000 applicants, which meant that even for those with remarkable CVs, the competition was insane.
During this year, as I waited for replies from each of the applications, I also pondered about the possibility of reviving my first year ambitions of being entrepreneurial and doing a start-up company with skilled classmates and/or friends. My taste of failing in second year uni made me shelve these plans and take the safe route through my uni life. It was unfortunate timing as well because I did draft a few concepts that resembled now big-hits like Instagram, Reddit and QuizUp.
It wouldn't be until I've started working before I started revisiting these ideas, but by then it was too late. Others have already monopolised on these simple and successful apps/services. The Internet giants have either created or acquired almost every possible niche. All that's left for us third-wave entrepreneurs to do is either backend web development, variations on a theme, kickstarter gambling, or direct content creation on platforms like YouTube and WordPress. Being unable to come up with a worthwhile project, I accepted the best job I got offered, and began my Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm routine in February 2012 in the low key Australian public service.
Now the work I was doing was challenging and was filled with learning opportunities. Once again I found myself at the base of a new mountain, one that is an order of magnitude than the one from uni. Everything I struggled through in uni was just the basics for my job. I only realized how little I knew post-graduation once I had to solve problems that had no textbook answers.
The difference between final year of uni and first year of work was like shooting in an archery range versus shooting other combat-saavy tributes in The Hunger Games. It was for real, and missing the mark performance-wise has real consequences; not just a number on a piece of paper. My fear of failure was still somewhat kicking, so I put in the extra effort needed to ensure I perform well during my probation period and meet job performance baseline.
However, by the start of this year, I began to feel more comfortable and secure at my job. I slowly allowed myself to think about doing something after work and on weekends, which is where this website was born.
At the beginning (November 2013), I couldn't decide what I wanted to do. All I knew was that I had a wide range of interests:
The list of things I wanted to do kept growing the more I thought about it, and even though cost-wise I could technically afford to feed each of these habits financially, my scarcest resource was time. Subtracting work time, sleep time and time spent driving to/from work, I get somewhere in the range of 45 hours a week to spend on everything else. This time would have to be shared between eating, hanging with friends, family, doing chores, running errands, and still entertaining each of the interests I mentioned above.
My first cut strategy was to package the activities related to my interests into either standalone projects or ongoing projects. What this meant was that I would spend a set number of hours a week on each ongoing project (e.g. one hour each night practicing piano, or one movie/review per week), and put a deadline of reaching some milestone by the end of one month for the standalone project. This allowed me to have some measure of productivity, and ensured that I gave some time to each interest. But it has so far not paid off.
I was trying to do a bit of everything, and was on some level sacrificing quality for quantity, which I disliked. I was satisfied enough with Gasketch to deliver it by my self-proposed deadline, but the list of improvements and features I wanted to add was so long, I really should have spent another month on it.
During this past week I also fell sick, and so I had to take a break from my main project of the month, and it is during this time I could pause and reflect on my motive in doing all these projects. It hit me when I read this article.
My psychologist readers may know what the correct term is for this, one friend calls it "over-commitment", but I'm sticking by what other bloggers have coined as well. I kind of wanted to talk about this specific fear on Sunday, but for the purpose of establishing the context I decided to talk about other fears I've was inflicted with in my past before I talk about the current one.
I have a fear of missing out. Life is short, and having been wired to enjoy so many different things, I find it frustrating that I won't be able to really dig my teeth into all of them. I am inherently a person who enjoys mastery over my craft, and at some point I would have to make a decision on which hobbie/interest takes priority. The rest I must set aside most of the time. But what always stops me from making such a ruling is doubt. Doubt that the temporal and emotional investment I make on that one or two things may be wrong. Mastering a craft is like buying a car; you must live with your choice for an extended period because the penalty of changing your mind too early is high. It is a roller coaster of effort; slow to climb up but really fast on the way down.
But after six months of trying to juggle my movie reviews, piano practice, app/website development and curating physical and digital contents, I'm not gaining as much pleasure as I hoped. I stubbornly wanted to rotate the projects, but it really did slow down my learning and experience-building for all of them.
I really do admire and envy some of my friends who have only one thing they want to do, and everything else orbits around that one thing. It could very well be something I haven't even considered yet; it may be none of these things I'm currently working on. So what should I do?
I'm sure I'm not the only person who faces this dilemma. The Fear of Missing Out (or FoMO) is an artifact from being part of this Facebook-using, Youtube-viewing, sharing-oriented world. We are constantly hammered with content from the best and brightest, inciting the innovation or addiction regions of our brains. This is why web series, musical covers, parodies and humor-driven communities have proliferated to the point where content is being created faster than we could possibly view them: content creators have non-stop train of ideas they want to try, and addicts have an endless need to consume.
Participation in this cycle is not really an option either. We view these contents because our friends did and they have already shared their reaction to them. The way we can better stay connected with them is by also watching the content, which forms the larger overlap of their lives instead of, you know, actually meeting up and doing things together. Also, by having content constantly thrown at you, eventually something will stick, which propels you down a spiral of viewing/reading/playing marathons regardless of whether your friends are still interested.
Content browsing can become content addiction. Even as the quality of a contents from a particular creator begins to degrade, you still persist for longer than you should because you don't want to miss out. You have already invested so much time and energy to it you want to see it to the bitter end. This is why film franchises, including the really bad ones, can keep making open-ended stories and box-office millions, even when people generally believe the next one is very unlikely to be good.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining to this situation. As time goes by people begin to take caution in consuming the contents presented to them. "Should I bother checking this out" is a question people are asking more often, not only because they question the quality of the content, but also because they have quantified their free time as a form of currency.
We are subconsciously though sometimes subjectively assessing the value-for-time the content will provide before actually viewing it, as we have grown in appreciation for this non-renewable resource we have so little of. We also recognize our propensity towards subculture attachment. If you were once a Farmville-ager, a Candy Crush-er, a 9gag-er, a MMORPG player, or a YouTube marathon runners, you should understand this experience of addiction. For people like us, we will eventually transform this fear of missing out, this inability to let go, into a fear of having wasted even more time on it.
This is a good thing. If the number of articles on my Facebook feed and the number of musical covers of pop music I see created everyday is any indication, the era of "Big Data" has yet to peak. Indeed, the only logical way to survive in an global information flood is to build a mental ark, inviting in only a select sample of the contents you deem worthy to exist in a meaningful way post-flood. For one day the trend will be done, the internet storm will settle, and all that lives are those very select few things you have let in your vessel.
And this is the answer I found after having been a captive to FoMO. All this time I have been working on these projects, learning various tools and experimenting with ideas was a selection process. I didn't realise it but my subconscious was vetting each of these interests and assessing whether I was wanting to do them for profit, for pride or out of true passion.
I know my use of the ark as an analogy regarding decision making doesn't really match up with the biblical story (since God told Noah to take in a sample of every species, not every sample of one species, which was what I may have accidentally implied), but I think this is what most people my age will eventually think about too, intentionally or in passing.
We wish we had more time so we could do all the things we loved with the people we loved, but our days are truly numbered on this small rock, and we are bound to miss out on something; a skill we'll never learn, a country we'll never visit, a movie we'll never watch. But the true blessing is knowing that these opportunities were available to us. We are born and raised in an increasingly privileged world where our need to worry over food, shelter and other survival problems have been mostly eradicated. If our remaining problems is having too many choices of what to do after work, then we should be grateful.
The fear of missing out, like the fear of rejection is a first world problem. It is a completely logical problem, and it is a modern problem. But when you think about it, it's not really a problem at all. It is part of maturing as a young adult, and I believe all of us will eventually stop worrying about missed opportunities and focus on just the one we choose. For there will always be a storage shed in our homes for regrets, an appendix of stories we wanted to share in our life novel, but it should not be our focus, and it should not enslave us to the point where in an effort to miss out on less, we end up missing out on even more.
So I've gone on a very long, over 6000-words ramble about my various fears, past and present, as well as my view on these fears. It was not quite a rabbit hole into my psyche as I first thought, but still a thoughtful trip I hope. I guess a one-liner summary of the conclusion I from this is that fear is something we won't live without, but it is something we shan't live within.
So what now? Do I start from scratch and only focus on one project?
I don't have an answer to that at this moment. This may be because I am still vetting what I have in my basket, and it may take another week or month before I can reach a conclusion. But one thing hasn't changed. I am as eager today as I was yesterday and last year to share whatever I am working on, because all my interests do have one thing in common: they are things other people can use or enjoy.
So yeah. Thanks for those of you who have journeyed with me thus far (figuratively, and in actuality for some). More stuff to come in the near future! But perhaps it will be a bit more focused. We shall see.