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Missing Out

June 4, 2015

What summer's complete without a trip across the country? I'm heading out to Las Vegas this weekend, for a vacation spanning several states and more than a handful of national parks. And while those eleven days are probably going to be a good time, until I have a teleportation device in my hands, that also means I'll be missing out on the things I would have done and experienced, were I not halfway across the country being roasted under the Vegas sun. That doesn't mean I regret going -- I'd pick a week in Yosemite over a week in this small town in the Midwest any day. But that does mean I'm still missing out on productivity, hanging out with friends, bike rides around town, and of course, the glorious gift of free, unlimited Wi-Fi. I've always had an aversion to missing out on something; I'm the kind of person who checks social media more than is probably normal and refreshes the news tabs I keeps open once every few minutes. I hate missing out. But like allergies and Snapchat, missing out is one of the many things that are impossible to live without encountering. And as much as I don't want to miss out on anything, I also think the unavoidability of missing out is something I should appreciate.

There is no "all of the above" choice in most realistic situations we encounter daily, and that's unfortunate, but it's also unavoidable.

I wouldn't go so far as to say my aversion to missing out is a problem in my life, but being a perfectionist, I still like to leave no stone unturned whenever I have the chance. In making any substantial decision, I'll repeat the process dozens of times to make sure I've considered every possible option, and I often wonder if there could have been a better choice in retrospect, because I really don't like to miss out on opportunities I'd have otherwise enjoyed. But as the laws of physics would have it, I can't have everything. There is no "all of the above" choice in most realistic situations we encounter daily, and that's unfortunate, but it's also unavoidable.

We've gotten used to the constant connectedness to each other and the world, and missing out seems to defeat the purpose of experience. But missing out is essential to powerful experiences.

No one person can observe and experience everything going on in the world, and that guarantees that we're always missing out on something. The choice is not whether or not we experience everything we want to, but which experiences we choose to have. In short, it's like a multiple-choice question. There might not be a right answer, but there's always one answer (or in rare cases, two). And if you try to pick more than that, you'll get the whole thing into a mess -- the number of experiences you can have is very limited.

But leaning on the hypothetical, if we could experience and absorb everything we wanted to, that's a lot of new memories, learning from mistakes, and productivity that we'd have in our lives. And by that logic, there's nothing wrong with constantly refreshing social media and squeezing out every ounce of your time to meet new people, do new things, and pack in as much "experience" as you can into each of our days. Ideally, it makes sense to chase the next moment and live for them. While they could be pretty tiring, they're also probably worth every second of it, if you spend your time well.

Still, there's something else to consider. If you're old enough to be in high school (and reading this), you probably remember the first time you worked with a smartphone. No, not a Blackberry or an old Nokia, but an iPhone-esque, touchscreen-equipped box of magic that allowed you to slide your fingers across the smooth pane of glass and see the buttons pressed, the pictures zoom, and the keys clicked with ease. I remember it, what's almost five years ago, when I got my first iPod. It was nothing short of a taste of the future; I'd felt like there could be nothing better. But wind the clock to today, and I'm surrounded by insanely high-resolution screens, a plethora of touchscreen phones and tablets, and heck, even a computer on my wrist more powerful than the most powerful tablets just three years ago. And now, sliding my fingers across a touchscreen is nothing more than trivial and habitual. And if something doesn't respond immediately with the flick of a finger or a tap of a button, I get frustrated.

There's a certain sense of uniqueness and additional value that comes with first-time experiences, and I think that attests to the value of having less, but more powerful, experiences. The basic law of resource scarcity says that with more of something, that thing loses its inherent value. And that's certainly true of moments and memories. Sure, being able to keep up-to-date with every single person you know, online or otherwise, sounds awesome. Having visited more than half of the national parks in the United States? Now that's an experience. And being fluent in six, seven languages? I bet you win the envy of all bilinguals everywhere.

We shouldn't strive to experience more, but instead work to experience the same memories deeper, because by missing out, we're actually experiencing much more.

But if you're really keeping updated with one hundred acquaintances, you're probably not as close to each of them as someone with only a handful of close friends. If you've visited twenty national parks, the twenty-first is probably pretty unremarkable. And the ability to fluently communicate with a foreigner is probably trivial to a hexalingual.

In other words, the more experience you have, the less valuable they become; there is a certain value to unique, small but powerful experiences that define us, rather than a collection or a horde of them. So we shouldn't strive to experience more, but instead work to experience the same memories deeper, because by missing out, we're actually experiencing much more.