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MIT blogger Ankita D. '23

FOMO: Fear of Mis-Optimizing by Ankita D. '23

ice cream teaches me a thing or two

a brief respite finds me on the second floor of Lobby 7.01 MIT's main entrance, located on 77 Mass Ave i let my shoulders sag against the railing behind me and throw my backpack to the ground; it falls with a feeble “clunk.” exhaling, i attempt to mentally outline the rest of my day, but a sickness-induced lethargy02 i've gotten the freshman plague twice. ugh swamps the remaining mental capacity i have. i contemplate abandoning my responsibilities, returning to my dorm, and sleeping, but a desire to commit to the events on my schedule quickly stifles the rogue thought. 

soon, i’m back on my feet. as i propel myself towards my next event, i push away the cloud of uncertainty that shrouds me—am i doing the right by trading new endeavors and experiences for the academic standards i’m comfortable with? could i, perhaps, be managing my time better? am i not doing enough?

my day slips by, and despite the fact that it’s been allocated into more vibrant, color-coded chunks than i can name, i feel as if i’ve gained very little.

the realization is a blurred, murky grey.

i first heard the term “fear of mis-optimizing” (FOMO) in a conversation with Scott Alessandro, the Director of Undergraduate Education at Sloan. i was connected to him in my first week on campus by one of my FPOP03 Freshman Pre-Orientation Program -- I did DEAL, Discovering Entrepreneurship and Leadership counselors (a super inspiring upperclassman!), so i reached out asking for his guidance on my prospective major(s).

he told me two things:

1. in my case, there’s a minimal difference between double majoring or just sticking with one major, so i should choose whichever path i’m more interested in.

2. choosing whatever i’m interested in is easier than it sounds. i’m probably going to be okay regardless, so worrying about these things—especially as a frosh who hasn’t yet experienced anything—is a waste of time.


Scott proceeded to explain FOMO, a very valid and prevalent fear among MIT students. indeed, when we’re surrounded by all these incredible opportunities and people, and can forge our paths in so many different ways, we can never really be sure that we have our shit together, right?

the concept of FOMO immediately resonated with me, almost to the point at which it prompted a semi-crisis. this seems dramatic, but i’m the kind of person who will take an eternity to contemplate which ice cream flavor to get. sure, ice cream is ice cream and i’ll be happy regardless of what my choice is, but how can i be content when i know that i didn’t achieve p e a k happiness???

(all this turmoil means that when i finally decide, my ice cream will most definitely melt due to my egregious lack of chill)

the truth is, when i’m faced with options, i will invest a significant amount of time and energy into ensuring that i make the best decisions. as seen in this post, which i co-wrote with Nisha back in April, during CPW, this manifested as a meticulously-planned spreadsheet. to summarize, i wanted to make the most out of my experience, which entailed figuring out where i wanted to live and which activities i was interested in, but i ended up spending quite a bit of time just chilling with friends. even though i’m glad i outlined the events i wanted to attend, i don’t regret any of the experiences i had.

much of my high school experience (junior year in particular) was a cycle through task managers and bullet journals and time tracking apps that would budget my day into tinier and tinier chunks. at some point, i’d slip and scroll through Facebook for three hours straight, or binge a TV show or two ten, and this would evoke such despair that i’d force myself to be cognizant of every “wasted” second; eventually, i gave up on Toggl and Todoist and internalized my time management mechanisms. no longer would i fall prey to the Hellish Void that is YouTube—i’d do something like Japanese flashcards every time i did anything i considered to be “mindless” in order to be ~my most productive self~.

when i got into college, my desire to have complete control over nearly every aspect of my life acquiesced to the Senior Slide. 04 when your motivation takes a tumble downhill mid-senior year...or maybe even at the beginning now, i’m left with a general sense of “you have to have your shit together,” which is arguably more enjoyable—and healthy—than my prior infatuation with productivity.  

but under PNR, these old feelings are resurfacing; i feel an overwhelming compulsion to “branch out,” to fill every blank slot in my Google Calendar, to push myself to run from place to place meeting people and experiencing new things and taking advantage of the countless opportunities around me.

wow she thicc

when i’m constantly being told to put just enough effort into classes, to experience all there is to experience in this interval where academics don’t really matter, i have to reconcile my desire to find the level at which i can just barely pass my classes with the academic drive that got me here. feeling like i don’t have control over academics (and being destroyed by 8.01 psets!!!) is gross and unsettling, but oscillating between “have fun and do whatever you want, it’s PNR!” and “develop good habits lest be screwed by the spring semester!” is worse.

anyway, to put things into perspective, i’m wrestling with the fear of mis-optimizing as a freshman under PNR. the rest of my four years here will undoubtedly confront me with more legitimate fears that will impact my life in much, much more tangible ways.

for now, i’m just going to take Scott’s advice and do whatever i’m interested in. but as i do this i’ll strive to not to become this meme, keep my limits in mind, and maintain (some semblance of) the academic standards i’m comfortable with.

wish me luck!!


  1. MIT's main entrance, located on 77 Mass Ave back to text
  2. i've gotten the freshman plague twice. ugh back to text
  3. Freshman Pre-Orientation Program -- I did DEAL, Discovering Entrepreneurship and Leadership back to text
  4. when your motivation takes a tumble downhill mid-senior year...or maybe even at the beginning back to text