My three Gen-Z kids worry about their futures. Are they doing enough? Will this messed up world get any worse? What is their life’s purpose? As their mom, I worry too.
Last week, thinking about my kids, I went down the YouTube rabbit hole, as one does when one has a hundred other things one should be doing. I typed in “FOMO”, which seems to be the umbrella term explaining the general anxiety experienced by Millennials and Gen-Z’ers.
At the top of my search results was a TED Talk from last year by Chloe Hakim-Moore titled “Stop Chasing Purpose and Focus on Wellness”. Sounds interesting, I thought. Maybe Fear of Missing Out could be addressed by exercising self-care. But the algorithm had erred. This wasn’t about FOMO; it was about, what I call FOMU—fear of messing up.
And that’s a whole different kettle of fish.
Whereas FOMO asks, “When my one and only chance to claim my golden ticket comes, will I be there to grab it?” FOMU asks, “How do I so orchestrate my behavior so that I never make a mistake”? FOMO says, “If I DO miss that chance, I might not get the right job or meet the right person who will change my life.” FOMU says, “If I make a mistake, I will be abandoned, harmed and maybe even killed.” Or at least that is what it feels like. Many of these fears are irrational, but the feelings aren’t.
Where do they come from?
Some of it is biology. We have a negativity bias that allows us to sense danger. This is a good thing. It protects us. But if we experience trauma, especially at a young age, we develop coping skills that, while they help us survive our childhoods, aren’t beneficial in our adult lives.
I grew up in a home, where messing up had dire consequences. I learned early on that to avoid beatings I had to be perfect. I couldn’t just NOT do bad things, I had to do excellent things. So I did. And at the ripe old age of five, I trained myself to be the best of the best of the best…or else. When I got older, I got involved in Christian youth movements that reinforced the message that there was something wrong with me, and I had to behave beyond reproach to save myself from hell. But it was never enough. There was always an angry father. And there was always a vengeful, ever-watchful God.
Beliefs are so powerful, especially when they are wrong. Beliefs become the words of the stories we create about ourselves and our lives. And the only way to release ourselves from false beliefs is to look honestly at the stories we’ve been reciting by heart, to do a deep analysis, word by word, line by line, and pick apart all the threads that make up our concept of ourselves. And we keep what is true. And we discard what is not. But this takes time. It’s hard, and we need lots of support—from friends, partners, therapists, from good music, good coffee, and lots of warm baths.
We are going to mess up. It’s part of life. It is how we learn. I’m learning how to rewrite my story. I am learning not to believe the old ideas in my head, filling me with anxiety as I attempted to plot out my perfect future. I am learning to let go of any idea of a perfect future, and instead put my energy into healing, into loving myself and loving others. And I find a lot of solace in the poetry of powerful women. My newest find is “The Renunciations” by Donika Kelly. She begins her powerful new collection with the following quote by Anne Carson, which I offer to you as an invitation: “To live past the end of your myth is a perilous thing.”