It's Not too Late to Join the Party
By John Linderman ‘20
Perched like a sphinx under a capacious spring sky is the Milan Cathedral, affectionately known as “Il Duomo” by the Milanese. It guards a square, that inhabits men, women, and pigeons. Selfie sticks are bought, sold, and broken. Bracelets of questionable origin and quality are offered. There is a ceaseless energy to the most tourist-y tile of Milan, and as a semi-agoraphobe from an ocean away, it frightened me. It frightened me like a cat to thunder, or tax evader to the IRS. Those who are familiar with the dasein-crumbling emotion known as “anxiety,” or for this case culture shock, know that one rule that stands out like a fancy toothpick from the bread of a restaurant sandwich: just pretend.
Culture shock isn’t just the fun confusion of two different language speakers trying to bargain over wares, but can be a monster that keeps you locked in a dim hotel room at the brightest hours of the day. Pretending isn’t just a social mechanism but the last line of defense against the tides of an invisible goliath. I’m having a blast! Look at this thing! Different people! These were my semi-truths masking a painful feeling I couldn’t really identify at the moment.
Confusion invited fear. My peers were traveling to farther, seemingly more fun corners of Europe, and I felt jammed in a mire of envy, mind fog, and Instagram. This was fear of missing out, coddled by cold, fuchsia February winds. These were my first weeks in Milan.
This Frankenstein of a feeling was no doubt my own creation. The fear of missing out, or FOMO, isn’t just fear but a reflection of many emotions: doubt, comparison, resentment, sullen-ness, and at worse lividity. Specifically, I want to talk about experience, and the anxiety and uncertainty that can hide in its shadow. We could see a close friend post their adventures on social media and can’t help but compare ourselves to them: Wow, they’re in Capetown and I’m just sitting here watching Game of Thrones and eating chips. Often, we’re hard on ourselves when it comes to missing out. We guilt ourselves in the same way we would turn in homework late or forget about a friend. The human brain can really be a circus of “should have,” and the reasons behind it aren’t so clear. Regardless of the neurochemistry, we all know that the feelings aren’t fun. You have to ask yourself, before you go on a journey on any magnitude, if you’re going to let the pain outweigh the pleasure.
Often, we’re peculiar about what we miss out on. Person X went to Place Y and I missed out on Z! This picky-ness holds us back from experiencing in the first place. My time in Milan has taught me that to get past this, you need to accept the adventures your dealt with. Not every variable is going to be accounted for. Sometimes your best friend can’t make it, and your stuck with some acquaintances. All of these factors, which we think are the main details of an adventure or an experience, become small in time. Scrutinizing details can dampen the potential of a great experience. The one, special thing that sticks with us are the lessons we choose to keep.
From all the nights out, people met, friends gained and lost, we have agency in what to make of it all. This entitlement is never lost, nor damaged. With this in mind, I want to return to what I said earlier: are you going to let pain outweigh pleasure? Will you let the fear of an imperfect experience win over a chance adventure?
Returning to the Cathedral, it’s amazing how so many crowds are drawn there in the first place. With spring now in full season, people are on every corner, each with a different story to tell and place to get to. In a sea of strangers, no one feels adrift. Merchants haggle, group pictures are taken, pizzas are ordered, and memories are made. It was never too late to join the party.