The fear of missing out, the fear of being alone.

Zander Widjaja
10 min readMay 29, 2018
Photo by Mario Azzi on Unsplash

Table of contents:



Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash

Your mother, your father, your grandfather, your dog; everyone has this. If we are truly human, truly Singaporean, this characteristic underpins us. The fear of missing out and the fear of being alone can be found in most of us. (well, maybe with an exception for the dog).

It has also come to my attention that this fear, this unnerving emotion, binds us together and tears us apart.


There are three main contexts in which I want to explore this.
Firstly on a parental level, because criticism is always fun. Secondly on a more personal level, and lastly on a societal/state level to wrap it all off.

On a side note, it could be inferred that the state has played an essential role in shaping our lives if we look at these three factors interacting in a totality.

The interaction between the state and our intricate lives seems to be quite apparent. We’ll get to this at the end of the post.

Now let’s get started on this little adventure.


Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash

Challenging authority ( parenting )
We’ll now look at this from a parenting perspective.

The following is a brutally inaccurate characterisation, and it is not applicable to all parents and caregivers, it is just a relatable stereotype that illustrates the point.

Imagine a parent, who mandates that their children should be straight A students, participate in extracurricular activities such as the piano, the violin, and tuition. His or her (trying to be gender neutral here ) rationale for doing so would be for the fear of missing out.

This fear of missing out, I think, is two-fold in nature.

1) It might revolve around the child’s well-being, ensuring the student does not ‘miss out’ on opportunities in life.

2) It might revolve around a parents fear of judgement by relatives, by colleagues, and by society at large.

1) Maximising the well-being of children.

First I think we have to discuss some of the merits of this ‘parental policy’ so to speak
- ensures that children succeed by conventional metrics
- universities
- (supposedly) stable incomes
- more diverse options in career choice

This would work if we could prove that graduates have a higher likelihood of being able to find a job, work and things like that.

By ensuring that they comply, with these rigorous standards, it sets them up with the proper foundations to face an equally rigorous and unforgiving world.

These academic achievements, in theory, would give the child as many options as possible, opening up doors to universities, vocational work, courses, and things of the like.

Therefore in this case, where the child does heed the instructions of the parents, it ultimately benefits the child and keeps them safe. The fear of missing out has helped the child to have a ‘better life’ in this sense.

2) Personal pride and insecurity.

The thing about having a child who is able to perform well and succeed in school is that it boosts the image and status of the parent who has parented the child.

‘The child is reflective of the parents upbringing.’ There are a very strong link and emphasis between the competency of a parent and their child’s performance.

Imagine a mother who is going out with her friends for high tea, and talking about their children, their motherly affairs, and their jobs. We see that they are adorned with haute couture bags, donning ironic monograms and wearing glossy, red and pointed secretary-like glasses.

Or you could also imagine a grandfather at a dinner table, during Chinese new year.

In both cases, they may be asked to comment on (themselves) performance of their children in a seemingly benign but cunning manner. ‘How are your children doing in school?’

This question probes deeply into the child’s performance, but more importantly, how the parent compares to the other parents in terms of ‘parenting competency’.

We also have to understand that these parents are humans as well, who do need some sort of recognition, who need to feel ‘good enough’ for their social circles. This is the human condition.

The child becomes the trophy of the parent.

Issues with parenting:
I feel that this might be quite problematic, given that in the second scenario, the parent is not whole-heartedly concerned with the well-being of the child, but rather is concerned with their relative status. I find that the only solution, or at least actionable solution for me, is to empathise with the situation that the ‘hypothetical’ parent is in. I really am not in a position to criticise parents for their desire to be validated for two main reasons,

1) It would (seem to) upset the hierarchy that exists within parents to children
— doing so would result in a disproportionate amount of backlash, public condemnation, and criticism for being an unappreciative prick.

2) I suffer from the same desire to want to feel validated and competent as well.

As the colloquial and vernacular wisdom expresses aptly: ‘say people say yourself.’ ( I miss primary school.)


Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash

Individual and collective empathy

It would be rather easy to blame parents for their transgressions and dismiss the issue, as one that is only applicable to ‘them’, that this does fear of being alone is something that other people feel, something separate from ourselves exclusively belonging in the domain of ‘other people’s problems’, the counter-intuitive trick is now to look inward and see whether we are like what we criticise and condemn, so that we can live up to our own ideals.

The human condition rather common and far-reaching, for us humans at least.

Here was my previous take on the matter( not central to the post, this part is optional. ):

There was this growing sentiment, within my life, (and maybe even our lives) to be separate ourselves from the rest of the world. That we need to jump out of the system and create our own values. Independent beings who can independently dictate what is right and wrong, what is moral and immoral; to create our own value systems so to speak. The fear of missing out and the fear of being alone was demonised so that I could say that I was an independent person. I resisted the admission of ‘guilt’ that I was affected by societies whims, thus creating this repressed state.

So this may be why I had such strong and distasteful attitudes towards those who are fearful of being alone and missing out, because it would question my identity and sense of self-esteem, to acknowledge that I was dependent on others.

Thus my (former) distaste for FOBA was born.

Now back to the post.

Significant crises of significance

Growing up, as we learnt that the world was larger than ourselves, we grow up knowing that we existed in this ambivalent world. During this time, I feel that there would be this period of chaos, of seeking and not finding, of wondering and getting lost.

During this period we intuitively look outside to find our sense of significance. We look for role models, pathways that resonate with our being, people that meet our needs, and identities that make us feel significant.

This source of significance could arise from a multitude of places. Our families, our social circles, our loved ones, are all ways in which we learn to tap on to feel significant.

Thus we grow to make friends, to find sports, to create relationships that help to keep us afloat.

In doing so we may come to find ourselves adopting the values of those who are around us, in an attempt to remain on their good sides. Sometimes these values include sentiments like our fear of missing out.

I posit that FOMO is something that we learn, we’ll get to this in the next segment.

We morph into the collective tropes when our identities are dependent on others.

Any deviation may result in alienation (better off if we don’t take any chances).

We aren’t that different from our parents really, the core of it remains the same, that most of us are trying to conspire a sense of significance in this amorphous mess. Or in a more positive and less cynical tone, we are trying to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

The similarities between the supposed ‘other’ and ourselves are rather numerous.


“A shot looking up at a pillar with greek architectural features” by Dogancan Ozturan on Unsplash

Institutionalised FOMO

To pragmatically function as a state, and as a country, it was of primary importance to have these values imbued within our culture.

The birth of Singapore as a nation-state was predicated on scarce circumstances. We were created out of necessity, breaking away from Malaysia due to racial tensions and things of the like.

No natural resources, no clean water, essentially the whole rhetoric about how we were in deep shit. ( I think this is emphasised enough in our national education curriculum, so I won’t go into too much detail. )

This meant that we had to invest our resources wisely and function and even survive independently. At least this is how the national rhetoric goes.

The ubiquity of this rhetoric imbued this fear of missing out, this fear that we have to constantly maximise our potential in order to survive.

Taking the rhetoric as being successful, reaching the minds of most Singaporeans, we can see how this would lead to the creation of an environment where the fear of missing out is embraced wholeheartedly and with open arms. The status quo would be this frenzied and flustered state where we ‘at war’ and fighting for a position in the global arena.

A mad rush for unattainable ends.

But ultimately I think that this was one of the solutions to the resource-scare state that Singapore was 50 years ago.

Was it the circumstances that caused the politicians to adopt such a mindset, or was it the politician that coloured the events to their advantage.

Either way, I haven’t done enough research to validate either position, it’s an open question for us to ponder.

To tie this all back to the more benign and romanticised topic of FOMO, I think that the rhetoric of the state has contributed significantly to this mindset being introduced to our society.
It seems to be the mechanism we have used to cope with this seemingly ambivalent and malicious world.


Photo by Mariona Campmany on Unsplash

Thoughts about the writing process

This article has led to some answers and more questions about the status quo.

I think empathy and understanding seem to be the most effective problem solvers because when the underlying need is identified, it can be either addressed ( or manipulated, depending on how benign of malevolent you are.).

I’m still in this phase of trying to practice what I preach, so it’s still a work in progress. Godspeed my fellow comrades!

As always, take my arguments and observations with a grain of salt and think for yourself as well.

About the hiatus from writing:
The time off was used to figure myself out for a bit, to see where my biases were, to learn more about why I do what I do and to clarify certain ambitions and desired outcomes out of writing this blog.
My objectives are as follows:
- shed light on common issues faced by people around my age 15–18 in Singapore.

That’s about it.
The glory and recognition are nice-to-haves, but honestly, do not compare much to the people that I potentially help.


If you’ve read the entire article, I appreciate your time and it was a wonderful experience writing for you. Hopefully, I was able to paint a sufficiently vibrant image for you to remain with the subject matter at hand. Hopefully, the some of the periphery explorations about the subject matter didn’t seem to be too tangential and irrelevant to the topic.

Thanks to those also who have also been very supportive of my work and the content that I’ve been producing these days. Those messages of thanks and appreciation have encouraged me to always dig deeper and improve for the sake of the reader.

And if you scrolled through the entire thing I’ve got you covered as well.

Main points:
- FOBA is a basic human characteristic
- FOMO may be a taught human characteristic
- We all quite similar as we share these basic human characteristics
- Therefore it may be wise to empathise rather than criticise

questions that were raised:
- is FOMO still relevant
- are there any new paradigms or ‘modes of functioning’ that should be adopted

And as always thank you so much for reading, I hope you’ve enjoyed the article.

Happy June holidays.


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