Personal Perspective: Martin Lee

Former staff writer Martin Lee shares his experience with overcoming “fear of missing out” (FOMO) and discovering his passion for traveling the world.

“Fear of missing out,” commonly referred to as FOMO, is defined by the anxiety of, or as the name suggests, the fear of one falling or being left behind by their peers. Though it can be said that everyone experiences this feeling at least once in their lives, I would like to think that I have a unique experience with this social phenomenon.

I crossed the vast Pacific Ocean on an early flight that cut through what felt like endless darkness when I was six years old. Many of my memories from my first few years in this strange new land are a blur. I remember when my family lodged in a hotel for a few months until we could find a place to stay. I remember when my mother tried her best to do laundry in the cramped space of that room while I watched American TV playing strange American cartoons. I remember the first time my father, a struggling engineer at the time, brought home a rotisserie chicken from Costco; it was so big that it almost matched the size of my entire torso. And there I was, dedicated to the idea of absorbing America through every pore of my body, every second of the day. But no matter how hard I try, I can never remember feeling that I truly belonged in this American land. That was the first time I experienced FOMO.

Elementary school was, and remains in my memory, the hardest time in my life. Driven by FOMO, my only wish was to become a true red, blue and white-blooded American, rejecting my Korean identity. I picked up basketball to play with American boys, made American friends and ate American food at home religiously, despite my mother’s protests. But still, I could not shake the FOMO out of my body. Because at the end of the day, my skin was not getting any whiter, my hair was not getting any blonder, nor did my family have the luxury of throwing birthday parties like my peers did.

As for my time at TPHS, I would surmise that my case of FOMO had reached its peak. All my life up to my junior year of high school was focused on one thing and one thing only: to fit in. But the fact of the matter is, there is no such thing as “fitting in.” You can’t just fit in with a group that comes from generational wealth when you’re an immigrant whose parents had to run a coin laundry. You can’t just fit in with students when their parents have attended Ivy League colleges, make seven-figure salaries and have connections to other elites when you’re an immigrant who only has his immediate family. But that’s what I realized: it’s only natural. For all these years, my FOMO had trained me to want to fit into the “crowd.” In exchange for temporary relief, I was not only selling my individuality, but my life. By the time I snapped out of it, I had already spent nearly all of my teenage years living the life of someone I wasn’t.

To be honest, I had no plans for the future up until my senior year. Though it seems ridiculous now, I was instead constantly looking over my shoulder, fixated on the progress of others when I really should have been concerned with my own.

I think a lot these days about the case of lemmings committing mass suicide by jumping off cliffs. Though a myth, the story is one that I lived through myself. I was following my peers, overloading on AP classes, committing to extracurriculars just because my friends did them and destroying my mental health with no real benefit. Naturally, I couldn’t keep up with the peers I was tailing. If I was a lemming, they were swans; the cliff was a dead-end for me, while it was a runway for them.

But the funny thing about life is that it doesn’t end when you fail; it moves on. Even if it may feel like it, it’s never the end of the world. Failing and missing out sucks, but it also gives you perspective that winning and fitting in doesn’t.

Looking back, I don’t think I would have had as much passion for life as I do now if not for journalism. The conventions the Falconer staff went to in Los Angeles and San Francisco reignited a life-long dream of mine that I had lost so many years ago. Visiting new places and experiencing different cultures taught me that the world is gargantuan, and people find a way to live fruitful lives one way or the other— as straight-A students or not.

They say that it’s a small world, but I disagree. TPHS is a small world; life is not. Though important, high school is a grain of sand compared to the outstretched beach I’ll travel for the rest of my life.

As for my life-long dream, I made the decision to graduate early so I can travel to Europe and Asia during the spring, even if all the money comes out of my pockets. I want to see the world in its grandeur and the people that star in it. Some may think that missing out on the TPHS senior experience is a shame, but quite frankly, I simply don’t care anymore. The only FOMO I have now is missing out on living my own life.

photo by Anna Opalsky/Falconer

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