While visiting my old stomping grounds in rural upstate New York this Christmas, I had the chance to catch up with some old friends who, despite their opportunities to leave, chose to remain in our hometown. The area is struggling economically and suffering from the opioid endemic. The nearest town of about 30,000 doesn’t offer all the glamour and diversity that larger, up and coming cities afford. Yet, my friends are deeply rooted in the community, and committed to making a difference. They are teaching in schools where the senior class is 40 students or less, converting their barn into a local CrossFit so people can work out in the cold wintry months, preaching sermons on loving those outside their comfort zone, providing rehab classes for drug addicts, building friendships with the small contingent of Muslims at the local Islamic society, and renovating old industrial buildings into coffee shops.
On the flip side, I came across this article in the airport as I was departing NY. The article describes a couple paid $200k per year to “travel” (“advertise”, really). As they confess, it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Chasing the next expense-free trip ad contract, they’ve lost the ability to travel authentically - as a means of curiosity, education, and service - while maintaining the mirage that the nomadic life is the norm, the new American dream. This is treacherous, as it turns people into anxious consumers. After all, what are they really advertising: a vacation destination or a way of life that can only be lived vicariously through Instagram?
Almost all of us have experienced that the more we attach ourselves to social media, the more prone we become to comparing ourselves to others. Social media, when used to promulgate a virtual lifestyle, is a breeding ground for FOMO.
Admittedly, I sometimes will seek out the next travel opportunity partly due to a fear of missing out. But when I think back to my friends in NY, I am challenged to step back and think about the roots I am growing in the community around me. One could say that a town, or even a life, is only as glamorous as the community and commitments that knit and bind it together. Ultimately, what the world needs, what we need, is to resist the sway of social media and FOMO, and be true to our own calling.