Have you ever experienced one of those squirmy moments where you’ve had to listen to people all day ranting about an upcoming billion dollar Powerball Jackpot knowing full well that you are not planning to buy a ticket? You can feel the gravitational pull from the huge potential payout. You know the odds of winning are unimaginably slim. But your friends who have always talked trash about lottery have grudgingly bought tickets. Traitors! You are now borderline hyperventilating. You could use one billion dollars, right? You can't win if you don't play. The pressure cooker is on. This envy-related anxiety about missed experiences can be excruciating. I am talking about the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
Although FOMO is currently fueled by the constant updates in social media it’s not actually a recent phenomenon. Recall “keeping up with the Joneses” another envy-related anxiety that has wreaked havoc to many lives for centuries? Well, this is just a digital baby of it. I like to think of FOMO as a continuation or a branch of keeping up with the Joneses.
The fear of being left out is not new to Kenyans in diaspora. You probably heard about these stories before. You probably know someone who is always falling into these traps. If people are deep into buying penny stocks, options and forex from a shady guy at work. He wants in. It doesn’t matter that the accounts are in some unverifiable location. And there is no shortage of pyramid schemes. There is always some guy claiming to have access to a lot of money. Well that and selling coffee or something. He wants to you to have a piece of it. He is that generous. Wink!
And yes you probably know her. She has always wanted to go Disney world. Now, friends have beat her to it. They have been posting dozens of pictures. All smiling. How did this happen again? Well, this is where she draws the line. She will take a loan if she has to. That should be her posting pictures. Now she suddenly turns antagonistic. How come they didn’t even have the decency of telling her they were going to Disney? Yet they have the audacity to post hundreds of pictures. Savages! You also must know this guy too. Friends are going to Vegas but he is scheduled to work that weekend. His other circumstances do not allow him to be away. His wife just had a baby. His is burning inside. Insert your curse word here.
We can all relate. We all hope “to move up to that deluxe apartment in the sky”. So we look around. Everybody is in transport business except you. You start shopping for truck. Did you get the memo that people are moving to this state with a leaning tower of ‘pesa’? You start packing. And that Nairobi real estate prices are rising on daily basis. People are scooping pieces of land back home like hot cakes. You must buy now and ask questions later. You have no idea! They are building towers with their names on it without even filing for bankruptcy. You missed out, “Yuuge.” Everyone is buying a bigger home is USA. Whaaaaat? So you start looking. You fall for it. You disregard your own situation and personality.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not about all Kenyans per se. I am just picking on some of them. This is not a diatribe against those making decisions to get into the above mentioned businesses. In the most part Kenyans in USA are focused. We must give credit where it is clearly due. Those who work in the healthcare industry for example pass up a thousand amazing life experiences when preparing for the grueling nursing certifications. I am not saying that the rest of the American population is not gullible either. Far from the truth! Some communities in USA still fall for “someone claiming to be a deposed prince with millions of dollars and wants to transfer it all to you ... he just needs your bank account information first” kind of stuff. That’s a topic for another day.
And it’s not about moving. Moving is good for growth. This here is just an observation about those who feel the pressure to do something without assessment. FOMO or keeping up with the jones is not limited to Kenyans by the way. Unfortunately, there seems to be an unending parade of stories of people hopping from state to state looking for greener dollars only to end up fighting with their hosts. Many Kenyans in diaspora do to fall in these Fomo traps. We are talking about the desire to seek approval from others. The desire to keep up with others. This compulsive concern that you might miss an opportunity may affect your physical and financial health. It might end up costing you opportunities. You may start having serious financial issues. This can also have a negative effect to the status of your relationships. What should one do? Good question!
To begin with, you must learn to love yourself and accept what you have. This acceptance will greatly contribute to your happiness. Staying true to yourself will boost your chances of working through the talents that you can here on earth with. What is best for your own situation and personality? Don’t let success of others derail your plans or discourage you.
Online activity for instance should not be a competition. For some weird reason, people feel a compulsion to post everything in their life for the world to see. I guess it makes them happy. That does not mean your life is boring or you are missing out. And here is a tip. There is a lot of cherry picking when people post their happy times on social media. It’s a natural instinct for self-preservation. I would take most things with a grain of salt. Give yourself a more complete understanding of the situation.
When it comes to business and finance, learn to reject the lies. Don’t get carried away by “the next bus in-line”. I am sure you've heard of "caveat lector". Buyer beware! Improve your knowledge of savings and investment opportunities over time. Chances are that you will continue thriving. Panic real estate deals for example only increase the chance of being scammed or buying land which has no title deed. You might end up starting too many projects and getting into debt. Suppose you take popular college major because everybody is doing it? You will soon be wrestling on how to make it relevant to market and personal needs. This time you will be alone.
Don’t confuse my rant as being against inspiration and mentorship. We all need role models in life. Somebody once said that people never improve unless they look to some standard or example higher and better than themselves. We have great people in our society that we look for inspiration. Sometimes we even copy their style. That’s very different from FOMO. No one will ever be happy keeping up with the joneses or trying not to miss out. It might give you a temporary high but that’s it. This is because that sudden change may not be conducive to your current circumstances. The high only leaves you emptier. And that’s not all. It also leaves you in a worse financial position. Your facade will always eventually show the cracks. Just another episode of “Keeping Up Appearances”. You social economic inferiority will come do light.
“Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like”. - Will Rogers
By Mahugu Nuthu. Mahugu is the author of the book Nuthology