FOMO – Fear of Missing Out

As we are about to embark on our second year of homeschooling high school, I pause for awhile to think about the year that is behind us. Oh, how different this past year was compared to what I thought it would be. It was both worse and better than I could have hoped for. When doors of opportunity closed, or when we found ourselves somewhere we weren’t meant to be, we moved on and made things happen elsewhere.

Our purpose at the beginning of last year was to hone in on the activities and opportunities that furthered our goals. The flip side of that meant that we began to pull away from what no longer interested or helped us. We put that old Polish proverb to good use: “Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys.” We became experts at saying, “No, thank you.”

As a result, our social circles shifted. We learned a lot about the effects of social media, both good and bad. We chartered a 4-H Arts Club (the absolute best part of our year). We changed churches. Kat found a congregation where she feels connected. I am struggling to adapt to the 21st century mode of worship — loud, smoky, bouncy. I have been far too long out of the regular Christian fellowship of other homeschool moms.

As the new school year got closer and closer, I wondered how to fold last year’s lessons into our new year in a positive way. Leave it to God to show me how.

In August we caught the tail end of a sermon series by our new pastor. He taught on living with integrity and having a grateful heart. Both of these topics stuck with me as they seem so very relevant to what we experienced personally this past year and how we want to start the new year. I am especially intrigued by his use of the slang term “FOMO” in illustrating his sermon on gratitude.

We begin to get off track in our integrity and become ungrateful when we let FOMO guide our decision-making process. What in the world is FOMO? Fear of Missing Out. How does that lead to an ungrateful heart and a lack of integrity?FOMO Collage 02

When we operate under a fear of missing out, two things happen. First we become “pickers and choosers.” What’s wrong with that, you ask? Aren’t all homeschoolers “pickers and choosers?” To a point, yes. But the truth of the matter is that this mindset can very easily be driven by a heart rooted in entitlement. Where we go off track is the place at which we come to believe deep down inside that we or our spouse or children are entitled to be, do, or have a part of every latest, greatest thing that comes along. We want it. Need it. Can’t live without it. Can’t possibly miss it… whatever “it” is.

This leads to the second thing that happens when we operate under a FOMO mindset. Our integrity suffers. With all this running to and fro, back and forth, picking and choosing, trying desperately not to miss the latest, greatest thing, we can’t possibly keep our commitments. We have no concept of loyalty. We let people down because we change our plans mid-stream to that “something better” that came along, because we can’t say, “No, thank you.” If we’re not very careful, we can become undependable, dishonest, and selfish. Ouch…

It seems that social media is raw fuel for FOMO. New events pop up every day on most of our news feeds. We have invites from this group and that, lots of people and “stuff” jockeying for our attention. But even in a high-traffic world like facebook and social media, it’s really our rotten entitlement hearts that make us waffle back and forth between integrity and our bizarre need to be everywhere at once. We have become FOMO monsters.

Kat says we can’t use the same homeschool slogan as last year. Perhaps she is right. We will continue to apply the Polish monkey test to everything that comes along, taking it one step further. Our goal for this year — maintain a FOMO-free zone by keeping our commitments with integrity.

On the one hand, keeping commitments is super hard with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. The temptation to call things off can be strong when pain is a constant companion, your brain doesn’t function properly, and you’re worn to a nub. On the other hand, FOMO is ridiculous to even worry about because who’s got the energy for all that?

So forward we go into this new year, determined to keep our little part of the universe FOMO free and to encourage others to do the same. Our families, churches, workplaces, and communities will be better for it.

When All You Can Do Is Coast

When it comes to our day-to-day activities, all of us want our schedules to run efficiently and our plans to turn out perfectly.  We want to get where we’re going on time, with as little inconvenience as possible.  And then comes reality, those annoying “speed bumps” that get in our way, impede our progress, hinder us.  We have no choice, really, other than to slow down and proceed with caution.

What’s the first thing we tend to do, even before we’ve begun slowing down?  Complain.  We may complain out loud to those around us or silently in our hearts.  But if we are willing to pause and look back, we can sometimes catch a glimpse of God’s hand in those circumstances.  That happened to Kathryn and me just this week.

We were on the road Friday evening.  I was driving Kathryn to a birthday party just a few miles from our home.  I’d been struggling for several days with fatigue, nausea and brain fog.  We’d stopped at a store on the way to the party.  I noticed that my legs were not being extremely cooperative.  They were stiff, and I was slightly off balance.  Like all fibro flares, I wanted this one to be over.  I’d done OK in keeping my spirits up and trying to be positive for the first few days of the flare.  But I could feel the complaining begin to set in.

“I need this fog to lift. Why won’t the fog lift? Why do I feel so sluggish and move so slowly? How long is this going to last?”

We made our purchase, got in the car, and resumed our trip down the road.

When I feel physically tired, I make it a point to drive with extra caution.  You might say that my driving becomes lazy, like a Sunday driver.  (This just thrills Kathryn to no end.)  Friday evening was no exception.  We just could not be in a hurry, even if we’d wanted to be.  My legs would not cooperate.  I was not moving fast enough physically or mentally to be in a rush.

“God, don’t You care about my dilemma?  Don’t You see me struggling?”

We were approaching the site of the party.  One last traffic light to go through before we arrived.  Wouldn’t you know it?  Red.

“Really, God?  On this quiet little back road we have to stop at a red light?  Can’t we catch a break?  I feel so bad already.”

Because I was sluggish and not as alert as I would have liked, I was taking it very easy with my driving.  When my legs are extremely tired or hurting, I try not to apply heavy pressure to the brake pedal.  Coasting helps.  So as we approached this light, I took my foot off the accelerator ahead of time and let our Honda begin slowing with no help from the brakes.

And then we heard it… thasphalt roade awful scream of sliding tires that are not getting good traction — the sound you hear just before a crash.  It took a couple of seconds before the shiny red Mustang came into our line of sight.  We were headed northbound, and it was flying westbound.  The car was careening out of control while attempting to make a left-hand turn which would cross it in front of us into the southbound lane to our left.  There was no one between us and the intersection.  I held my breath and found the strength in my legs to step on my brakes firmly and quickly.  Our Honda stopped well short of the light.

Next thing we knew, the Mustang fish-tailed wildly into the intersection.  By then, the light had changed.  It was now green for us and red for the Mustang.  But the car barreled into the intersection anyway, right into our north-bound lane of traffic.  Right into the space where we would have been sitting had I been able to drive normally that day.  Where were we?  Stopped safely short of the intersection, just out of the way of danger, and just in the nick of time.  The driver finally slowed down enough to recover some control of the car, fish-tailed a bit more, and sped off southbound out of sight.

The adrenaline from that event did wonders for my foggy brain, let me tell you.  I was more alert than I’d been all day.  “Ask and ye shall receive,” perhaps?

I began to understand that even in my discomfort and our mutual inconvenience, there was plenty for which we could be thankful.  We did not get in a horrible accident because I was not able to drive like I usually would have driven.  We were not harmed and our property was not damaged because I was just a few steps behind…literally.

There are multiple lessons to be learned from our experience.  Thankfulness in all circumstances and not questioning God come to mind right away.  And while I am prayerful that God will heal me of this one day, I am so incredibly thankful that all I had the energy to do in that pivotal moment was to coast.   As always, He was waiting there for us all the time.

“Keep me safe, my God, for in You I take refuge.” – Psalm 16:1

Not my circus, not my monkeys

It’s a catchy little phrase. Grabs your attention. And then the words sink in. Really takes hold once you stop to ponder the meaning.

Nie mój cyrk, nie moje małpy is an old Polish proverb literally translated “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” Figuratively this catchy little phrase means, “Not my problem.”  While you probably should not use this phrase in reply to your grandmother, boss, or pastor in polite conversation, there is quite a bit of wisdom in it if we look a little deeper.

The word cyrk or circus used by itself can mean chaos, or an out-of-control situation, especially one that might be seen as amusing — much the way we sometimes use the word in English. No matter what the language, monkeys are almost universally associated with trouble, bedlam, chaos. Put the two together (chaotic circus + trouble-making monkeys) and you get the mental picture.

Performing Monkeys Vintage Poster

Performing Monkeys Vintage Poster

How many times have our well-intentioned plans devolved into just such a situation? What was meant to be low-key, manageable, and enjoyable spiraled out of control. Chaos… calamity… monkeys run amok! We are left scratching our heads wondering how that happened so quickly. Frustration levels run high, especially if we didn’t listen to that little voice inside our head. You know the one: “Don’t get involved.  You don’t have the time.  Or the money.  Or the energy.”

With high school coming again to our household in just a couple of months, it is time to revisit the art of time management and chaos control. One way to minimize the chaos is to get your activities and extra-curriculars under control. Keep a mental picture of the monkey circus in your head as you ask yourself a few questions.

  • Time: Will I have time for this? Is there extensive travel time involved? Do I have time to take care of what needs to be done BEFORE the day of this event arrives?
  • Money: Can I afford this? If I can afford this, is it really a good use of my money? A good return on investment? (Don’t forget to factor in indirect costs of an event like gas, food, special clothing or gear.)
  • Energy: Am I up to this?

For those of you in generally good health, this may seem like a silly question to ask yourself every single time an event pops up on the horizon. However, if you have a chronic illness, you really cannot afford to skip this question. And you cannot afford to be dishonest with yourself. If you know that you cannot make it, don’t commit to it…period. And don’t forget that your kids get tired, too. Even they have their limits.

  • Commitment:  Am I overbooked? Is it too far ahead of time (or too close to the deadline) to commit to this?

Just because events don’t overlap does NOT mean you can do them all. A very good rule of thumb, especially for those with chronic conditions, is to only book the number of events per week that you KNOW you can tolerate. Anything more is going to cause major problems sooner or later. Another good bit of advice is to pencil in events that have been announced way ahead of time. The commitment can come later after you have a better handle on your resources and energy near the time of the event.

  • Goals: Is this activity a good fit for us right now? Does it help further our homeschool goals? Am I doing this just because all my friends are doing it too? (Don’t laugh… this describes way too many homeschoolers!)

This is not to say that a “fun day” with friends now and then is not a great idea, or even a necessity. But balance is a must in keeping chaos under control. It is crucial that we understand the unique needs of our own family in terms of our social lives. What constitutes “balance” for one homeschooler may not for another.

To give an example, our family is not what you would call “party people.” We prefer low-key events and small crowds. Museums, galleries, living history and other learning activities rank higher on our scale than do social events like movies, sleepovers, and beach days. That’s not to say that we don’t like movies, sleepovers, and beach days. We just feel out of balance when the majority of our extra time is taken up with those things. And church almost always takes precedence over secular activities.

So now that you’ve got a handle on the process of vetting activities for your family, here’s a little disclaimer: This is where it gets hard. Those monkeys don’t come under control easily. Old habits can be tough to break.

If you are one to say “Yes” to too many things, it will take practice to develop a pause in your response. I learned a very helpful hint from a friend several years ago. Let your “yes” be a “maybe.” When someone puts you on the spot by requiring an immediate RSVP for an activity, don’t give it. Delay your response until you have had time to review your calendar in private. This will give you time to go through the checklist above and make an informed decision.

Will you miss out on activities by doing this? Occasionally. If you find that an event you can attend has booked up, get on the waiting list. Chances are, there will be more than one person on that list who has overbooked or overcommitted and will have to drop out. It happens with almost every single homeschool field trip or event I’ve ever been involved with. And if it doesn’t, it is not the end of the world.

Another difficult part of implementing these changes is that there are some dear friends we’ll see in person less and less. The transition years from middle school to high school are times of change. Interests grow and develop. Some are cast aside and others are picked up. Goals change. And so do our kids. Many friendships that blossomed at one stage do not carry on in the same way to the next. This is all part of the growing process.

So are you ready to get those calendars out and prepare for high school? With a few simple considerations applied consistently, you can learn to evaluate activities more effectively than before. Remember to pause first and then think “time, money, energy, commitment, and goals.” After you’ve done that, don’t be afraid to say “Not my circus, not my monkeys” to anything that is not a good fit for you.


Shaking off the dust

These past couple of years have been rough ones.  Fibromyalgia has become an all-too-constant companion.  My attempts to re-enter the work force at part time have not been successful over the long term.  This is due in large part to the fibro and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  We lost my daddy in April of this year to COPD.  And my husband continues to struggle with Degenerative Disc Disease, fibromyalgia, and several other painful conditions.  Many of the grand plans for this blog and for our personal lives remain just that — grand plans.

However, with Kat about to start high school, the feeling of new beginnings is taking hold.  Curricula is being reviewed.  Lesson planning is in full swing.  Discussions are taking place often about new priorities and new commitments for the upcoming school year.

This time of change, both positive and negative,  is a great motivator to pick up worthwhile pursuits that were left behind or forgotten — to “shake off the dust” and move forward with purpose again.

So how do you balance the moving forward with a chronic illness?  Honestly, I’m not always successful at the whole “balance” thing.  But I’ve learned a few tips along the way that help, especially when it comes to homeschooling.

  • Be realistic.  Listen to your body.  Be honest with yourself and your family about your current energy and pain levels.  Take a break when you need it.
  • Re-evaluate…often.  Keep a close eye on your calendar and activities.  It is very easy to find yourself in over your head — especially with teens.  Don’t make long-term commitments if you don’t have to.  Give yourself permission to say “not right now.”
  • Find positive support.  Whether you are in a season of debilitating pain and fatigue or are doing relatively well, support is crucial to your well being.  If you do not have support from family or friends, find a support group.  Even the understanding from online friends can go a long way towards lifting your spirits.
  • Be positive support.  Help someone else.  Your acts and words of encouragement to another person may not seem like much.  But there are many times that even just a small remembrance from an empathetic friend carries us through a rough day.

What plans, hobbies, or dreams have you put on hold?  What brings you joy and enriches your life?  Rediscover your inspiration.  Rekindle the fire.  I love the planning and organizing that goes along with a new year of homeschooling.  Riding the tide of that enthusiasm will help me to get dormant activities — like writing — up and running again.  Remember what motivated you and revisit it.  Take it slow if you must.  Take baby steps if you must.  But don’t give up.  Shake off the dust!