A few years ago a new acronym sprouted up everywhere: FOMO. It was so pervasive in our culture the Oxford English Dictionary decided to add it in 2013. FOMO stands for the “fear of missing out,” an often social-media driven anxiety and all-consuming feeling that your friends are experiencing something better than you. Given how fast this acronym spread, it’s obviously a common fear today.
However, there’s a bigger fear we all experience far more powerful than FOMO. It’s a fear that keeps many of us from ever achieving our goals, getting healthier, or trying something new.
It’s the fear of looking stupid.
Now, I’m not sure if the acronym “FOLS” will ever catch on. But, at least from my experience, it is a much bigger fear of mine than missing out. In fact, I often keep myself from doing something with others because of anxiety around looking stupid, out-of-place, or completely inept in a new environment.
For example, this year I’ve decided to be more intentional with the gym. And by “intentional” I mean actually going instead of simply having a membership card.
Going back into the gym was more stressful than I expected. Everyone seemed to have the right clothes, know how to use the right machines in the right way and had the right look of determination. I knew I didn’t look right; I looked stupid. When I started using one of the weight machines, I was convinced everyone was looking at me and thinking, “Wow, does he look stupid. That’s not what you’re supposed to do. What a loser.”
Now, is it possible someone was thinking that? I suppose it’s possible. But more than likely no one cared at all about me – they were probably focused on their own workout. However, the fear of looking stupid in front of others was a powerful and intimidating feeling as I tried to do something new.
3 Things to Remember When You Fear Looking Stupid
Perhaps you’re feeling that way today in some area of life. No one likes to look stupid. Is it possible that fear is overpowering your goal setting? Is it keeping you from getting traction in areas like your health, a relationship, your spirituality, or career?
Pushing past the fear of looking stupid isn’t easy. When I find myself facing this fear (especially going to a gym), I try to remember these three things. They help me go forward. Maybe they will help you too.
1. We All Look Stupid Somewhere
It’s true. Now, the flip side of this is true too. We all feel smart somewhere. Some of us feel really smart in the library, at church, in the gym (I’m jealous), or in a particular work situation. And when we feel smart, it’s easy to forget that others feel stupid in the same exact situation. We are all wired and gifted differently, which means in some environments we will feel exceedingly confident and in other places, we will feel lacking.
This perspective means that all of us have a fear of looking stupid somewhere and all of us deal with insecurity, doubt, and frustration. So, be encouraged, if you’re feeling stupid somewhere, you’re not alone! And, if you feel smart somewhere, be kind and gracious! Someone is probably there who is taking a massive step out of their comfort zone.
2. No Risk = No Reward
Or, in other words, “no pain, no gain.” We know this to be true, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
If you have big dreams this year, the only way you will realize them is to step out of your comfort zone. Which means we have to ask ourselves, “How much do we really want to change?” At some point, if we want to accomplish anything big, we have to get to the place where our motivation for change is so strong we are willing to take risks… and yes, look stupid in the process. It’s the only way.
While that may be discouraging, take a moment to think back through some of your life’s biggest highlights. There’s an excellent chance it happened as a result of taking a risk and the possibility of looking stupid.
For me, one of my biggest highlights is my relationship with my wife. Like any relationship, the only way it started was because of a big risky step. We had been friends for a while in college, but after graduating, we wound up living in different states – she in California and me in Texas. However, it was while living in Texas I came to the realization that we needed to be together. So, I decided to fly out and tell her how I felt. That airplane trip was the longest flight of my life. I still remember pacing up and down the airport, envisioning the different scenarios and bracing myself for looking incredibly stupid if she didn’t feel the same way.
In the end, she did feel the same way, and the rest is history; however, even if she hadn’t felt the same way, I think I still would be proud of taking the step because, without risk, it is impossible to be in a deep relationship with someone. And, if we’re never vulnerable or out of our comfort zone, nothing will ever change.
3. Life is Short, Live it Well
In their song “Live it Well,” the band Switchfoot sings:
“Life is short; I want to live it well. I got one life and one love. I got one voice, but maybe that’s enough. Because with one heartbeat and two hands to give, I got one shot and one life to live, and every breath you take is a miracle.”
Life is short. Which means, I’d much rather look stupid today with the hope of accomplishing something tomorrow than being comfortable with nothing to show for it.
So, as you’re on the precipice of taking a big, uncomfortable, risky step, remember: life is short, so seize the day! And, in the end, the places where we feel stupid today we’ll probably feel smart in tomorrow.