I've always been a magazine junkie.
I suffer from a serious Us Weekly addiction, as I described in a recent post, but my obsession goes way deeper than that.
Growing up, I devoured every type of magazine -- fashion, celebrity, travel -- carefully cutting out pages which I then pinned (not Pinned; this was old school) to the bulletin board above my bed. I was as crazy about the articles -- the different styles of writing, the fonts, the layouts -- as I was about the glamour shots of Paul McCartney, Huk-a-Poo shirts and hotels on stilts in Bali. Just the feel of the glossy pages was enough to make my heart beat a little faster.
When I was 12, I won a short story contest in American Girl magazine. This was pre-Internet, pre-email and before American Girl became synonymous with budget-busting dolls.
I was dizzy with joy when I saw my name in print. My dad proudly drove me to the library to Xerox a copy to send my grandma. My mom and I were giddy, joking that we could tell the mailman's route by the order in which my friends Karen, then Mary, then Lisa called, squealing because the only place any of our names had ever appeared in a magazine before was on a subscription label.
It was like the world was cheering for me, and I felt totally validated. It was the most powerful feeling I'd ever had.
I couldn't wait to work at a magazine one day. I already envisioned myself at lunch with Anna Wintour.
So, in my junior year of high school, when I was offered a dream opportunity to do an internship at Seventeen, the magazine I'd been reading since I was 10, I was jumping-up-and-down ecstatic. My destiny was coming true.
I called Karen, excited to share my news.
"Are you crazy?" she screamed. "That means you have to miss senior year! No one ever misses senior year -- even if they have mono! You can't miss senior year!"
"Well, this is a once-in-a-lifetime offer," I said, taken aback and already starting to re-think the whole thing.
"So is senior year!" she insisted. "It's going to be the best time of our lives!"
I called Mary for a second opinion.
"You can't miss prom!" she wailed. "And what about the football games? And walking down the halls, laughing at the freshmen?"
"Don't forget about the secret senior beer bash!" added Lisa, completing the peer pressure trifecta. "You can't miss that!"
If I was going to be totally honest with them -- and I wasn't -- none of those things were particularly appealing to me. But I couldn't admit that to my friends. Worse, I couldn't admit it to myself.
I couldn't miss senior year!
I turned down the internship.
I turned my back on myself and a dream that meant everything to me because I was afraid of missing out on what my friends were doing.
In an instant, my internship was snatched up by a girl who shall remain nameless because I just Googled her and -- deep breath -- found a photo of her shaking hands with New York City Mayor Bloomberg. I want to stab her in the head with one of the fancy fountain pens she used to carry.
Okay, sorry. I'm back.
But do you know what she missed by skipping senior year?
Prom was cancelled that year. I didn't go to one single football game. There's nothing fun about laughing at the freshmen. And I threw up and made out with a boy I didn't care about at the beer bash.
I blew a big chance -- maybe the only one I would ever get -- to pursue my personal passion because I had succumbed to what is now recognized, even by the Oxford English Dictionary, as FOMO. Fear Of Missing Out.
It's my one regret in life.
This experience taught one of the most important lessons I've ever learned and, trust me, I learned it well.
When you follow the crowd, you lose yourself.
Since that social pressure cooker that was high school, I've never again cared what anyone else is doing. In college, when my friends asked me to hang out at the pub, I was comfortable enough in my own skin to say "no" to them and "yes" to myself. I knew I got a more satisfying buzz writing for the school newspaper and the music magazine.
Years later, when the preschool moms gathered at Starbucks, they couldn't believe the times I would choose to go to the park with my toddlers instead of hearing the latest gossip. "You're going to miss out on all the news," they said, shaking their heads. I would just laugh and wave them off.
I can totally understand why FOMO has become an epidemic, and I'm actually grateful I learned my lesson early, although I wish there had been a less traumatic way to do so. With the 24/7ness of social media, I'm sure I'd be abandoning my laptop every night to join my Facebook friends who always look like they're having such a good time at the latest restaurant or bar while I'm sitting on my couch writing blog posts -- which truly is my good time.
I've tried to impart my painfully-acquired knowledge to my kids because I know they sometimes think everyone's having more fun than they are. I've had to look them in the eye, share my story and see the disappointment in their faces as they realize what I gave up and why.
Maybe that's why I had to lose out on such a personal dream. So they wouldn't have to.
I do know that I no longer fear missing out on anything anybody else is doing.
The only person's life I fear missing out on is my own.
This post was originally published as an assignment for Blogger Idol, the premier blogging contest in which Lois Alter Mark is now a finalist. Vote for her blog, Midlife at the Oasis, by clicking here to prove that a Post 50 writer can win the whole thing. Voting is open from Wednesday at noon Central time until Thursday at midnight.