Missing out (and the crippling fear of it): A personal essay

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When the summer sun peeks through the blinds, it illuminates the room with a different light than the usual somber awakening before classes. Just as that sunshine opens my eyes, my sight is immediately drawn to the light of my phone. And another day on my phone means another wave of seeing people’s successes bombarding my screen. With that bright sunshine comes the realization of what a semester’s worth of time away from Berkeley means for a person. In a post-exam, pre-career limbo as students clamber for internships and escape on vacations, a dull moment feels more like a bell ringing, warning me against what my idleness could mean for my own future success.

And another day on my phone means another wave of seeing people’s successes bombarding my screen.

Peers and colleagues seem to be making their mark all over the world during this short break. Students transform into Silicon Valley yuppies and Euro-trekking adventurers in just three short months, having summer experiences worth gushing about for months and memorable enough to regale for years. When everyone comes rushing back to school as the semester starts, they’re filled with innumerable stories worth sharing.    

And then there’s me. In a far too intimidating world oversaturated with social media highlights, having a simple summer feels like a waste of time. Seeing my close friends work for wealthy companies and achieve great things sparks a sense of competition in me. If I didn’t have the flashiest summer break, I would be a failure. And that nagging insecurity can be more crippling than I realize.

But why does it have to be that way?

Why does a restful moment on the couch feel so insignificant compared to a night out on the town? Why does being in my hometown for a break feel like a misuse of time compared to traveling the world?

The idea of missing out on life, and the subsequent fear of it, has been an ever-present annoyance looming over my head for so long. Constant comparison and competition devalue my quiet moments, making my daily life feel insignificant and, quite frankly, lame.

Growing up, I’ve spent countless summers hanging out with old friends and enjoying my time at home, but returning to UC Berkeley after those relaxing months felt vaguely unrewarding. So, when I got the opportunity to work an internship this summer, the academic, competitive, career-driven part of my brain jumped at the chance. Instead of just lounging with friends, my days were spent working in an office or going on trips.

I thought having a packed schedule was supposed to make my summer worthwhile. So why did I still feel unsatisfied with how much I still seemed to be missing out on? Instead of experiencing a sense of accomplishment, I was missing Berkeley and all my friends that were still in the area. I was missing out on adventures in other states, because I lived at home. I was still missing out on myriad opportunities.

It seemed like no matter how much I did, there would always be more to do. I would always be missing out.

But I wouldn’t always let that be the case. It may have happened overnight, or maybe it was building up over the years of anticlimactic summers, but enough was enough. I decided that I wouldn’t let that fear decide how successful or memorable my summers are.

By virtue of the brevity of life and the limited resources given to anyone not born into unrealistically extravagant wealth, there’s only so much time to do what you want to do. By focusing on what other people were doing and comparing that to what I was not, I was subjecting myself to an unfair, unwinnable comparison.

By focusing on what other people were doing and comparing that to what I was not, I was subjecting myself to an unfair, unwinnable comparison.

While I may have been missing out on many great things, I was fully experiencing my own fantastic summer, even if it was more low-key. I had to treasure my little moments — those were the ones I truly couldn’t afford to miss.

I couldn’t afford to miss out on my nephew almost beating me in Jenga. Visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa would pale in comparison to seeing his three-year-old coordination manage to balance the blocks like a pro. 

I wouldn’t dare miss out on playing video games with my two oldest friends who I miss throughout the academic year. No amount of payment from a lucrative job could have been as rewarding as an afternoon of us laughing at every stupid mishap on the screen.

There was no chance I would miss out on brunch with my family at our favorite local diner, especially when the chances to go have recently been few and far between. How could even the most refined and unique foods ever measure up to the breakfast and peach tea I grew up with?

Getting over the irrational FOMO, the “fear of missing out,” I feel when seeing other people do great things may never fully happen. But shifting my perspective to look away from the highlights of other people’s lives and toward the highlights of my own has made me treasure the experiences I’ve had that everyone else is missing out on.

As the summer sun is replaced by Karl the Fog and an academic onslaught, there will still be so many things that I’m afraid of missing out on. But fortunately, the things I don’t miss are the memories I’ll keep forever.

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Contact Emmanuel Ronquillo at [email protected].