Recently I spoke with a young friend about “FOMO,” the “fear of missing out.” Many people of her generation – she’s just turned 29 – experience it: The sense of missing something important or “better” by virtue of a choice you’ve made; a text message you’ve missed. Or simply feeling overwhelmed by the options ahead – careers, relationships – and which might prove “right” or “wrong” down the road. However, It struck me that baby boomers and members of 60s generation, now at midlife, experience our own version of FOMO. But it comes with a twist, and it highlights the importance to create a new reason for being, now -- during midlife and the years beyond.
To explain, in young adulthood, most of life lies ahead. You’re facing forward into the unknowns to come, whether about sex and relationships, careers, twists and turns of the unexpected events of life in general. FOMO includes uncertainty and indecision about all these possibilities and unpredictable, future experiences. For midlifers, FOMO has two sides: One is knowing what you have, in fact, missed out on, as you look back at your life choices and the events you navigated through: The relationships you didn’t pursue or maybe messed up; the educational or career paths you didn’t follow; the advice you took…or rejected, about life decisions.
But there’s another side of FOMO: Anxiety about what you’re truly living for and choosing now, and into the limited number of years you have left. Assessing your life up to now by looking back and looking forward converge into needing to know what your core reason for being is, today -- when there are far more yesterdays than tomorrows.
Whatever was your “reason” for being up to now won’t work so well during midlife. That’s because of two new challenges that confront you. One is your personal karma, so to speak: Old, unaddressed or ignored emotional issues and actions that have negatively impacted your life. They take an increasing toll if you haven’t unraveled and resolved them, nor dealt with their consequences by now, in your middle years.
The other challenge is to learning how to live in synch with impermanence and constant change. Learning to flow with it in your personal life and in the world that swirls around and encompasses you in its constant flux; where there’s no center that “holds.”
Passing years feel like months; and months, like days. You can try just loping along, hoping you can hold on to life as it’s been. (Or worse, you can just settle into becoming “old,” and wait for the “comfort” of death). But clinging to what is ever-changing is a ticket to stagnation and despair at midlife. That doesn’t help you resolve old emotional issues or rectify their consequences. Nor does it enable you to live positively with the impermanence and change you experience more acutely, every day.
Weaken Your Personal Demons
Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” But if you come to terms with it, you can learn to interrupt and shift its otherwise inevitable course in your life. What happens is that your unresolved emotional issues that shaped your personality, your conflicts and overall life path tend to come back to hit you upside the head at midlife. Your old defenses like denial or rationalization begin to crumble with increased age. You may have kept yourself unconscious about the truth, but it keeps rising up, demanding attention. It’s your karma, and it’s unrelenting.
Traumas or negative parenting – from indifference, humiliation, neglect, rejection, abuse – they take their toll over time. So does the impact of your parents’ own unresolved issues, upon you. For example, a depressed, narcissistic mother who instills in her children a belief that they must protect her; which then distorts the children’s capacity for healthy adult connection. Or an emotionally closed father who never speaks to his children, and whose subsequent adult lives contain unfulfilled needs for love and support that poison their own relationships. Here, good psychotherapy to help you uncover and heal from your own issues -- the one’s you’ve absorbed and those you created for yourself -- is essential. Wishful thinking or inspirational messages won’t do it.
Embrace Life’s Flow
Baby boomers entered young adulthood during the 60s and 70s, an era of considerable social change and upheaval. But now we’re living in a world of hyper-everything – interconnection, rapidly changing technology and general unpredictability. All that can make you feel like you’re the slow person in the race. Everyone around you is younger and seems clued in to what’s going on. But, because your experience of change and impermanence is heightened at midlife, you have a good opportunity for clarifying your reason for being by embracing the reality of life’s constant flow.
That is, all life, all things, are impermanent; in constant movement from one form to another. With midlife’s perspective, you can see that daily life feeds an illusion: that we are happiest and best served by clinging to what we think we “need” for fulfillment. But everything in existence constantly changes and evolves from one form into another – your mind/body/spirit, the people in your life, your physical surroundings. Embracing impermanence can become an ally for handling the anxiety of change. With it, you can experience the positive side of the continuous unknown in life, but in which you also play an active, conscious part to shape and evolve it.
Reframe The Meaning Of Your Life Obstacles
That, in turn, helps you see a point to the blockages, frustrations and “failures” you’ve experienced. All of your difficult, negative experiences – in your relationships, in your parenting of your children, in the educational or career paths you followed, the values and beliefs you developed – all contain a message about a theme or life issue you’ve needed to face, learn from and grow beyond. Try identifying what that is by looking at your “obstacles” from the perspective of the universe; from the “outside,” looking in. What message do you see within your “troubles” that reveals what you continue to have an opportunity to grow through or learn?
Grow Your Personality
Most people know there are “parts” of themselves -- personality traits, creative or imaginative capacities, sensitivities -- that have remained stifled or dormant. As you identify them, envision nurturing your dormant qualities so they can bloom, expand, and become visible in your personality and life. Family experiences and social conditioning into your beliefs and values have created a limited, constrained definition of who you are. That’s become a now self-imposed view of yourself. But you always contain the ability to activate your otherwise dormant personal capacities and qualities. If you do, you will increase your consciousness about your reason for being, at this point in life.
“Forget” Who You Think You Are
Your consciousness can grow and evolve if you want it to. Research in neuroplasticity shows you’re able to “rewire” your brain through conscious effort, which strengthens desired attitudes and behavior. Meditative practice helps you unlock your inner life, embrace impermanence and allow more of your true self to emerge and flower. Meditation also helps you see yourself in the context of the much larger panorama of life, as though looking through the eyes of the universe. You don’t have to be a prisoner of the social conditioning that’s defined and shaped the values and choices you’ve acquired. Try to “forget yourself” – your old, socially conditioned self. It tends to be highly focused on self-interest, possessing and holding on to that which is ephemeral.
Clarifying your reason for being at midlife often coincides with discovering new paths you want to take. A good example is described by Marc Freedman, founder of Encore.org, an organization promoting “second acts.” He points out that some are "turning to careers in which meaning and purpose are front and center.” And that “…thoughts about one's mortality begin to surface, along with some tough questions: Have I lived my life well? Have I made a difference?”
Looking back and looking ahead in the above ways – healing the past, embracing continuous change, and growing your latent capacities -- will likely lead you become more accepting of who you are, more transparent in your relationships, and more in synch with a meaningful purpose. You’ll think more about the life “footprint” you’re creating and becoming a “good ancestor” to those following you. And less about FOMO!
Center for Progressive Development
Blog: Progressive Impact
© 2013 Douglas LaBier