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#26: The Fear of Going Out

#26: The Fear of Going Out

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Welcome to another Motherf*ckin’ Monday email, the only weekly newsletter that’s been inside so long it’s forgotten what it’s like to wear shoes. Each week I spitball three interesting and provocative ideas at you in hopes that it will make you a slightly less terrible person. This week, we’re talking: 1) FOGO, or the Fear of Going Out, 2) the illusion of leadership, and 3) mental health in the time of corona. 

Let’s get into it. 

1. FOGO, the Anxiety of the (Near) Future – Undoubtedly, you’ve heard the term ‘FOMO’ or the ‘Fear of Missing Out’ the past few years. You better have, because I wrote a damn article about it a while back. 

Living the #QuarantineLife has been a quick antidote to FOMO for everybody. No more pining for the happy hours you’ve missed, the concerts you can’t go to, the vacation spots you’ll never see. 

You don’t miss out on them because they’re not even an option. And better yet, nobody else is going either, so you can’t fall prey to the envy porn that used to proliferate on social media. 

But I have a prediction: our cultural obsession with FOMO will be temporarily replaced by FOGO, or the ‘Fear of Going Out.’

FOGO is the inversion of FOMO. Whereas someone with FOMO feels constant anxiety that they may be missing out on something spectacular by staying in, people with FOGO live with constant anxiety that they are guaranteed to miss out on something horrifying by staying in. 

Later this year, new infection numbers will decline, restrictions will ease, and we will slowly begin to leave the house again. But whereas before we left the house in fear that staying home would cost us, now we will leave the house in fear that going out will cost us. 

We will ask ourselves, “Is Kate’s birthday party worth it? How much do I like her, really?” We weigh our desire to see friends and family in person versus the potential for harm, often opting for Zoom and Skype even though it’s no longer required. 

Restaurants, gyms, and events will remain closed and canceled. Flights and hotels will remain largely empty. For months, people will be on edge, refreshing the numbers each day to see how safe it is to go out for dinner that night. 

There will be a constant sense of dread in the back of our minds. What if this is it? This is the time? This children’s birthday party that I didn’t even want to go to? Many companies will continue to have employees work from home. International travel will still be too intimidating for most. What if there’s a border closure while I’m away? What is the foreign government doing to handle things? What if my taxi driver tries to make out with me? 

These will be the questions that dominate our lives for the next year or two. 

Welcome, folks, to the age of FOGO, to the fear of going out. Right now, our leaders are making a big deal about getting people back to work and getting the economy going again and all that. But don’t mistake the optimism for certainty. The invisible menace will still be present for a long time coming, if not in the air molecules, then at least in our minds. 

2. The Illusion of Leadership – Long-time readers know that my favorite author is Leo Motherfuckin’ Tolstoy. In fact, I love him so much that he’s the only person in the history of the blog to ever be christened with the “Motherfuckin’” moniker. It’s kinda like being knighted… by a fuckface. 

Anyway, I could write ten emails on why I love Tolstoy, but there’s a passage from War and Peace that I’d like to quote at length because I think it’s relevant today: 

“In quiet and untroubled times, it seems to every administrator that it is only by his efforts that the whole population under his rule is kept going, and in this consciousness of being indispensable every administrator finds the chief reward of his labor and efforts. While the sea of history remains calm the ruler-administrator in his frail bark, holding it with a boat hook to the ship of the people and himself moving, naturally imagines that his efforts move the ship he is holding on to. But as soon as a storm arises and the sea begins to heave and the ship to move, such a delusion is no longer possible. The ship moves independently with its own enormous motion, the boat hook no longer reaches the moving vessel, and suddenly the administrator, instead of appearing a ruler and a source of power, becomes an insignificant, feeble man.”

War and Peace is a brilliant book for many reasons, but chief among them is this idea—which Tolstoy argues via a 1,200-page novel—that leaders are mostly the effect of history, not the cause. When social forces accumulate to such magnitudes that they lurch the world in a certain direction, our leaders are simply the most visible people being carried by the same wave of fate that we are. Yet, we regularly mistake them for the wave itself. 

Data shows that short-term approval ratings tend to go up for politicians in times of crisis, regardless of how good or bad that crisis is actually being managed. This is because in times of great uncertainty, arguably the real value of leadership is to simply embody an illusion of certainty, an illusion of control. 

The truth is that our fates were determined long ago by the millions of value-based decisions we have made as a culture. 

Cultures that have chosen to value science will test and get accurate data. Cultures that have not will have no idea what they’re dealing with. Cultures that value collective responsibility will stay home in large numbers and trust their governments. Cultures that value individualism and risk-taking will not. Cultures that prioritize the health and well-being of each citizen will sacrifice their economies for the sake of public safety. Cultures that prioritize personal opportunity will not. 

Our cards were dealt long ago, long before the first cases were reported or the first speech was written. They were dealt even before some dude in China ate a bat and got sick. 

Our leaders simply reflect our dealt cards back at us. And depending on our own personal beliefs, we either give them full credit for those cards or we give them all of the blame. 

3. How is Your Mental Health? – Because I write a lot of life advice, people often mistakenly assume that I don’t need to hear it. On the contrary, most of what I write is because it’s the advice I myself need to hear. Trust me, I’m far more selfish than you assume.

Two weeks ago, I had my “rock bottom” moment in quarantine. I was moody, mopey, and struggling to get up before noon. Many of my work habits had gone out the window. I spent a few days researching how to stay sane in quarantine and posted my conclusions last Monday. More than any article in recent memory, it was 100% written because it’s what I needed to read. 

Well, it’s been a week and I figured I should give a progress report. I set a “quaroutine” for myself and contacted an accountabilibuddy. We checked in every morning at 8 AM, said what we wanted to accomplish that day, and checked in if we each did what we said we’d do the day before. It has worked great so far. 

Just getting up at a decent hour and being held accountable for getting shit done resulted in probably the most productive week I’ve had since mid-February. My mood was also much better. I exercised a few times. Checked news less often. Set up calls with a bunch of friends and didn’t even once stay up until 3 AM playing video games. 

Okay, that last part may or may not have happened this weekend. But what else am I supposed to do living in the age of FOGO? 

Until next week,