New Year Blues or One Nasty Case of FOBO

Confession: I love new beginnings. I love cracking open the cover of a new book, running my fingers over the pristine pages of blank notebooks, and lining up a new pack of pens in a neat row. I love the first day of school and the first day of spring and the first day in a new place. I love making neat To Do lists, crossing things off of them, and planning for the future. I like having goals. Sure, when things get tough (or boring) and I get tired (or lazy) I can half-ass it with the best of them, but I always start strong.

Not so this year. We reached New Year’s Day and instead of that bright, crisp my-lungs-are-full-to-bursting feeling of possibility I normally feel in January, I felt nothing. No anticipation, no excitement, and no motivation.

“It’s just that there’s nothing I’m looking forward to this year,” I whined to my husband. “I’m looking at 12 months of being in the exact same place and doing the exact same thing as I am now. What’s exciting about that?” And admittedly, the past few years when we were living in Korea spoiled us with frequent international travel and near-constant opportunities to experience new things. It’s not really surprising that life now seems bland in comparison. What’s surprising is how quickly I’ve become unhappy with our (admittedly) comfortable life.

I’m an introspective person (shocker, I know!) and I spend a lot of time evaluating the whys behind what I do, think, and feel. I think the reasons why we make the choices that we do are important and that our motivations, both positive and negative, matter. After some reflection I think I’ve found the source of my pessimism. I have a nasty case of FOBO.

What’s FOBO? Like its trendy cousins, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and YOLO (You Only Live Once), FOBO is a motivation for doing things that is rooted in fear. In this case, Fear Of Being Ordinary.

Sometimes I feel like I’m at war with myself. There’s a part of me that genuinely likes the trappings of domesticity. I LIKE cooking and hosting dinner parties and burning candles and wearing perfume and going to bed at 9:30 PM. I really do. But there’s another part of me that thinks about living that kind of life – settling down somewhere, buying a house, having a couple of kids, waving to my neighbors through the window of my minivan on my way to the church potluck with my famous casserole – and feels utterly stifled by the idea. It is this part of me (as juvenile and prideful as it is) that wants “ordinary” people to be able to look at me and know that I am not like them. The same part of me that wants to wear Marc Jacobs lipstick but still put purple streaks in my hair.

Over the summer my college roommates and I had a reunion. We puttered around the lake in the speed boat and talked about our lives and where we saw them going. The other girls talked about feeling settled – one felt happy to stay near her family, another had recently bought her first house with her husband, one talked about her and her husband’s dream of maybe building a house with a lot of land, and the other talked about visiting her cousin who lived in a beautiful golf-course community and how she could imagine a life like that someday. And I looked around the boat at these women I love, who have such sweet hearts and pure desires, and realized that I don’t want the same things that they do. That even when I feel tired of moving and tired of temporary homes, I can’t imagine settling down in one place. I’m struggling now to think about staying in the same place and doing the same thing for the next year. I can’t imagine living for years and years in the same place, doing the same things. And yet, I can’t deny that there’s a sweetness in that desire too, even if it’s one I don’t share.

I wonder when the word “ordinary” started to burn my tongue like acid. When did living a good, honest, regular life become something to fear or worse, disdain? Was it wrapped up somewhere in the words of the parents and teachers who urged us all to be exceptional? Did I absorb it from the shiny plastic worlds we see on TV? Or is it just a product of my own brokenness and rebellion?

I’m realizing that my attitude towards the ordinary is not OK. I don’t have to resign myself to living a cookie cutter life, but I might just have to make peace with living through a season where my life looks undeniably normal. I might have to lay down my pride and accept that I am living an ordinary life right now and that I don’t have to convince everyone around me that I am a special millennial snowflake. So I pray for the eyes to see the simple value of the ordinary and to sense the sacred motions of the mundane.

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16 comments

  1. Hey, great post, thanks for sharing! FOBO is definitely real, but like you said, not a bad thing. We can still live ordinary periods of our life yet have happiness and joy. The circumstances don’t dictate how we feel, our mindset does:) All the best to you in 2016, hope it’s awesome!

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    1. Exactly. I will probably always have the urge for adventure and excitement that not everyone has, and that’s part of how I’m wired. But that doesn’t mean I have to be so negative about ordinary life in the seasons where my life isn’t so exciting. Ordinary life can be a good life too. 🙂

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  2. Nicely written Lily, and thanks for sharing. I’m starting to learn that our day to day life is only ordinary if our mind views it that way. You can create amazing experiences and memories anywhere 😉 That being said, I also believe there’s definitely good reason to move around and change things up! Have a great week

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    1. Yes, I like that a lot – this past year when I did my 52 Weeks of Adventure series I realized that after I moved back to America I had to work a little harder to find my adventures, but they were still there, they just weren’t always as obvious as they were when living abroad. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to go a long time without changing things up though. It’s in my blood. 😉

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  3. Hi Lily. I guess what I am reading, and maybe partially between the lines, is a desire to LIVE with some uniqueness and excitement, not be complacent or your idea of boring, and this seems understandable given your travels and living abroad. There is such a big exciting world out there! Just an idea but maybe you can shake up your world, wherever it is at any given time, with things like dinner parties of Korean food, day trips and jaunts on weekends, maybe volunteer work that is … interesting and exposes you to lots of new people. You don’t seem “ordinary” in any boring sense of the word; you seem vibrant and inquisitive, so hopefully you and your vibrancy will banish any FOBO; we All ordinarily would be vibrant and interesting like you, in a perfect world. Happy New Year! ~ Peri

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  4. Hi Lily,
    Reading this post made me first of all wonder how you feel coming even close of being ordinary. you think different from your ex roommates, and what I get from reading most of your posts from last year you seem lots of things but ordinary, more like different. Why don’t you just enjoy the moment letting the mysterious future surprise you with opportunities?

    Besides that: people with purple hair wearing Marc Jacobs lipstick are by definition not ordinary people 😉

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    1. Haha. I get it. I know I’m being really overdramatic – like five months of a more settled and normal lifestyle negates everything that came before it. I tend to feel like we don’t live abroad and travel as much that all of my adventures are over. But you are right that you never know what mysterious surprises are waiting in the future. And if life is feeling a little boring, I can always try dying my hair blue. 😉

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  5. This is something that’s been on my mind lately too. Here are two articles that have shaped my thinking on this subject, and which I thought you might enjoy reading. They come at the issue from opposite perspectives, which is usually healthy and interesting.

    1. “The Ordinary Christian Life,” by Michael Horton. He explains how getting constantly caught up in “the Next Big Thing,” can prevent us from seeing the grace and beauty that comes to us through the everyday (he wrote a book on this topic too). He also explains how ordinary doesn’t have to mean “mediocre.” http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/ordinary-christian-life/

    2. “The Mother of All Questions,” by Rebecca Solnit. http://harpers.org/archive/2015/10/the-mother-of-all-questions/ This is about the author’s decision not to get married, have children, buy a house–you know, all the things that are supposed to guarantee us “happily ever after.” Here’s a quote from the article: “The problem may be a literary one: we are given a single story line about what makes a good life, even though not a few who follow that story line have bad lives. We speak as though there is one good plot with one happy outcome, while the myriad forms a life can take flower — and wither — all around us. Even those who live out the best version of the familiar story line might not find happiness as their reward.” I think I’m going to write a blog post inspired by this article, because I feel like the church in particular contributes to this toxic idea that the categories themselves (wife, husband, mother, father, etc.) are the keys to making you and God happy, when in reality, the content matters much more than the form.

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    1. Ooh, cool! I will definitely check these out. I have definitely seen that tendency to always look for “The Next Big Thing”and miss what’s in front of me. I’d say it’s one of my most consistent struggles. And I really love that idea that the problem with the “good life” is that we’ve reduced it to a single plot line. Really interesting to think about. I’d love to see that blog post from you. 🙂

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  6. Ooooh, I SO relate to this post! I lived in China for five years and am still struggling with the ordinary feeling, though I’ve been back for five years! In fact, I wrote a post last week called “White People Are Boring,” to which some friends pointed out that I probably mostly fear that I myself am boring. Thanks for this today! Love the FOBO acronym! (found you on the Jan. Leigh Kramer link-up).

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    1. Wow, I imagine you know exactly what I’m talking about – probably even better. White People are Boring is a hilarious title, and I completely sympathize (obviously) with that fear of being boring and not wanting to be associated with anyone or anything I consider to be boring. I’m so glad you found me. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your experience!

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