The Belly of the Beast

Last month, I attended my 15-year reunion at Harvard Business School. This was a momentous event for a lot of reasons. First, I’m very attached to my alma mater and keep in close contact with a lot of my classmates. Second, I continue to have a working relationship with HBS and I volunteer for my class to raise money for the school. So for those reasons and many more, the school is in my blood.

Of course, there is another element of my HBS experience that would - no exaggeration - change the course of my professional life forever - it was at HBS that I created the terms FOMO and FOBO way back in 2003. This year, thanks to the move of the FOMO Sapiens podcast to Harvard Business Review, I finally brought FOMO home to the place where it first started. It was now time for me to return as well.

Being back among my classmates, soaking up not only nostalgia but the atmosphere of the place, reminded me of why I came up with the FOs in the first place: HBS was an incredibly choice-rich environment that makes you want to do everything, all the time, without stopping or slowing down.

It turns out, some things never change. At the reunion, life as a graduate student all came rushing back to me: my weekend back in Boston felt just as overwhelming and FOMO-inducing as life did when I was a student there! I had to choose from among nearly 50 presentations by some of the world’s most influential minds - and I could attend, at most, only four. I was among hundreds of people I hadn’t seen in years yet I could only really catch up with some of them. Then there were the parties. There was so much going on - both at events on and off campus! Taking all of these opportunities together, I could easily have started at 8 am and continued on until 2 am without a break. It was a lot. 

As I found myself becoming overwhelmed with pangs of FOMO, I thought to myself “have I really made no progress?”Can a FOMO Sapiens never change its stripes? And I wasn’t the only one to recognize that things were devolving back to the way they were when we were students. My classmates were also feeling all of the FOMO. I even heard about one guy who attempted- and apparently succeeded in - attending 10 separate reunion-related parties in the course of a night. Of course, all of this FOMO also generated massive FOBO and a ton of ghosting. There was so much ghosting it was a graveyard.

After getting over the initial culture shock, though, I realized I had a lot more control over my FOs than it had seemed. While some things hadn’t changed - mainly the temptation to give in to my FOs, something else had changed considerably: me. I now had the presence of mind to consider my realistic range of options, make choices quickly and stick to them, and accept that if I tried to do it all, I wouldn’t achieve anything. I decided to make time for sleep (including a few much needed naps), exercise, and meditation, so as not to disrupt my routine. I was still very much immersed in the action- I was out and about from 8 am to 2 am for three days, but I didn’t spend all that time chasing options.

How did I make choices that I’d stick to and not regret? I remembered that some of my options were exclusive, like seeing guest speakers I’d likely never encounter again. I also remembered that having real conversations was more important than saying “hi” for 3 minutes.

The result? Great stuff. I gave a live interview for the HBS Skydeck podcast (which will air July 30)! I spent a leisurely morning getting to know Alumni Board member Jo Tango, VC and founder, who shared his own great insights about overcoming FOMO. I caught up with friends and found out how they were really doing.  I attended a few amazing lectures, including a fascinating analysis of the American political spectrum by Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter. In all, I got so much out of the weekend, both personally and intellectually. 

At this point in our lives, my classmates and I are all at a stage where FOMO has become pretty manageable, because we’re all so busy that we’ve made choices and filled most of our dance cards.

I had to miss out, of course- that’s what making choices (even great ones) and sticking with them means. I didn’t get to talk to all my NY friends, because I decided I could track them down locally. I missed hearing Tal Ben-Shahar, the happiness expert. And I didn’t attended only one of the ten parties that other guy did.

But I had an amazing time and I think made the absolute most of my reunion, at least on my own terms. In that way, I guess you could say I’ve become a “mindful FOMO Sapien.”

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