Fear of missing out or FoMO is "a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent". This social angst is characterized by "a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing". FoMO is also defined as a fear of regret, which may lead to a compulsive concern that one might miss an opportunity for social interaction, a novel experience, profitable investment or other satisfying event.
While you are likely familiar with the FoMO and have probably experienced it firsthand, resulting in your following fashion trends, going to popular clubs/festivals and jumping on the latest investment bandwagon, you may be less acquainted with FoMO’s ugly cousin, FoFA (The Fear of Failing Alone).
Where FoMO is characterised by the belief that everyone else is onto a good thing which must be replicated immediately lest one be left behind, FoFA has a much more cynical bent, for it begins with the belief that you actually know better than others.
In a pessimistic inversion of FoMO, FoFA focuses on failure as the base case of outcomes. Whereas a person experiencing FoMO is likely to think to themselves “I want a piece of this success and don’t want to be left behind”, someone with the FoFA instead thinks “I think the herd is wrong, but in the event that I was going to fail, would I rather fail with the herd, or alone?” Naturally, someone with the FoFA is steered away from their natural instincts by the gravity of the herd, whereas someone with FoMO actively seeks to join the herd.
A great example of FoFA is the Asch Conformity Experiment whereby around one-third of respondents to a very simple question about the lengths of lines on a page were made to respond incorrectly when the rest of the group were secretly instructed to give the incorrect response (as opposed to 1% incorrect response rate when the rest of the group were instructed to give the obviously correct response). It is this internal conflict surely felt by some participants that characterises FoFA.
The logic is, if you join the herd and fail, at least most other people will fail too. You will be comparatively no worse off than your neighbour, and it is hard to blame any particular person for the group’s failure (except maybe ‘the government’ or ‘the system’). But if you were to fail alone, while others became comparatively better off, you would feel like it was your own purposeful fault, and not the mere laziness of inaction.
Now perhaps you are the kind of individual who doesn’t mind failing alone, a person who doesn’t mind risking missing out on something which most other people are a part of. This can be both a blessing and a curse, as in general there is a reason why herd mentality is so prevalent: most of the time following the crowd is the right thing to do.
During ‘business as usual’ periods of stability, following the herd is not a bad game plan. Sticking to the beaten path has the advantages of benefiting from the errors of those who have come before you, and typically enjoying a relatively hassle-free experience as the infrastructure has developed around the standardised process with the inherent benefits of scale.
But you don’t want to fool yourself into believing that the herd always knows what’s best. If you can withstand rather high levels of social pain, going against the herd in a selective manner can pay off in a really big way.
There is unlikely to be much untouched ground in the herd. Opportunities for advancement are largely forsaken in a trade-off for limited opportunities for individual failure. It is a mass of mediocrity, whereby not much risk is taken and thus not much is either gained or lost, comparatively. Outside of the herd with limited competition, you can lose and be damned, or win and win big.
It is for this reason The Spear at least tries to be somewhat contrarian in his thinking. He figures if he can selectively go against the grain whilst trying to keep with the herd in most circumstances, he can possibly produce an asymmetric payoff profile for life in general. Or to put it another way, The Spear likes to try and create his own luck.
The aim should be to set up camp in that limited ground whereby the potential benefits of drifting from the herd outweigh the nagging fear of failing alone. Just don’t set up in the same paddock as The Spear!