By Dorian Martin
I Start Wondering Founder
We live in challenging times with global conflicts, environmental changes, health alarms, financial challenges, and cultural crossroads. Separately each issue can be a major stressor, but when everything comes at us at once, it can feel like an onslaught of worries. Couple this with our personal issues and we can quickly feel overwhelmed.
So let’s take one piece of the equation that causes us stress: the dreaded FOMO – the fear of missing out. It’s primed by advertisements that proclaim “You only go around once” and “I’m worth it.” (And yes, all of those slogans are true.) Our social media feeds to add to FOMO through showing others living what appear to be fabulous lives.
FOMO can drive us crazy, especially in a time when everything is changing so rapidly. It also prompts us to act in ways that are based on pure emotion that we haven’t thought through very far. People rush around trying to get their to-do list accomplished, angrily pushing their way to the front of the line, or getting frustrated by travel delays.
And the rush of technology and 24/7 access makes the urgency of FOMO feel even more palpable. We can order just about anything online and have our products delivered the same day (or hour, in some cases). And thanks to our devices, we feel we must cram as much as we can – whether it’s multitasking or binge-watching – into each day.
But this rush to “grab the gusto” leads me to ask: what are we missing with all this constant push to feel like we must be doing something? How do we learn to appreciate the gifts of slowing down and being present?
Trust me, I do get the concept of needing to be in control. I have been a driven Type A professional who could push my agenda with the best of them. Just ask my colleagues and former team members (some of whom are part of ISW’s team). And I also have greedily scanned the culture, looking for the latest thing—whether that’s a restaurant, an activity, or a hobby – to try.
However, as I’ve reached middle age, I find myself increasingly watching for life lessons when things don’t go my way on my timeline. And it seems to me that everything that has happened and continues to happen since 2020—the pandemic, the recession, the global conflicts, the rapidly changing climate, the supply chain snafus – is a call to listen to more deeply.
What do I mean by “listening more deeply”? Ultimately, I believe it’s important to literally stop all activity and be quiet – and then listen. Can you sense what truly lights you up? Can you determine if you want to buy that thing to impress the neighbors – or will it truly bring you joy long term?
Listening also extends to those around us. Can we stop long enough to listen to what our spouse, child, or friend wants to convey instead of instantly coming up with a response? (I admit I’m guilty of the latter but am committed to becoming a more present listener.)
And listening extends to the external environment – and then choosing an appropriate response. For example, I live in an area of Texas where we are experiencing a significant heat wave and drought. I feel like Mother Nature is sending a message about our changing environment. For me, what I’m hearing is prompting me to limit my travel, choose to turn my air conditioning up a few degrees, water my trees, and provide food and water for the birds.
And ultimately, I do believe in times like these that it’s important to tap into one’s higher power, however one defines that source. For me, that means sitting quietly in meditation or out in nature just listening. Sometimes that’s all that happens – just sitting quietly. Sometimes it’s getting a sense that things are in chaos for a reason and forward movement isn’t possible; instead, it’s a time to rest. Other times, I get an a-ha – that can be a small spark or a full-on eureka moment – that propels me forward. And oftentimes, that a-ha moment or path forward isn’t one I concocted, but instead a way that emerges that has a different—and more important--outcome.
Seeing Things in a Different Light
And while I occasionally received hints from that higher source earlier in my crammed-to-the-brim life, I was too busy to hear or see them until mid-life when I had an experience that really brought forth my internal wisdom.
It started in August 2001 when our area received a record deluge of rain, and almost every room in my house flooded. The damage required that all the carpet be removed. And because so many people in my area were affected, I faced a significant delay to install new flooring. Therefore, I was forced to carefully dodge exposed tackboards while walking around my home.
It would have been easy to have gotten really worked up about this delay. But as supply chain issues and limited availability of carpet installers continued, life just wasn’t “flowing” in its usual way. It made me wonder if there was some lesson forthcoming.
Everything came into perspective a short time later as I watched the events of September 11 unfold in real-time. I stood glued to the television next to a co-worker who had a friend who worked at the time in the World Trade Center towers. I focused on helping my colleague remain calm as she tried unsuccessfully to reach out to her friend. (We found out a day or so later that the friend was safe.)
As the world returned to some semblance of normal, I realized that I was being offered an important life lesson. In the grand scheme of things, the flood in my house was just an inconvenience while the events of 9/11 constituted a crisis on a personal level for so many, a societal level for Americans, and geopolitical upheaval.
That lesson quickly sunk in. I no longer get worked up by inconvenient experiences—whether traffic delays, last-minute changes of plans, or technology snafus--that happen regularly in life. And I also appreciate learning about the importance of showing up for people during the truly challenging times of life.
I’ve also learned that some stressful situations can have unexpected gifts, such as when one of my father’s dear acquaintances by chance found out that his health was rapidly failing and reconnected with him on the last day of his life.
Coming to My Senses
These and other experiences have taught me to sit back and relax, when I can, to let go of my previous “it’s my way or the highway” approach to life. And it’s made me listen a lot more deeply to what is going on around me and appreciate the journey.
I also am starting to consider life’s events through the lens created by Michael Brown in his book, The Presence Process. Brown suggests that we start considering that we have needs, wants, and requirements in life. Needs are the things that we need to have to stay alive – food, water, shelter, clean air, etc. Wants are the things we enjoy in life – Hulu, organic food, TSA-approved status when we travel – but aren’t essential to being alive.
And requirements? That’s what life offers you as a growth opportunity. So ultimately, everything we’re facing right now is something that life (or God or the Universe) is placing in front of us so we can grow as human beings. It’s not personal – but we do have a choice in how we respond.
So in moving forward in my life, I’m trying to slow down more and listen. To see that situations may turn out to have unforeseen gifts. To drop the stories of what happened before – and to be open to what emerges in the future. And to realize that I don’t need to always be in control – and that ultimately, I’m not missing out at all.