The Tragedy of Missing Out

Zen Habits

Hailing from Guam it's a pleasure to introduce Leo Babauta, who will be providing the Chelsey community with inspiration and tactics on setting and achieving your goals each and every week, check out his blog Zen Habits

A father and his son went fishing on a small boat, hungry.

Busy Week

The father helped his son reel in his first fish, and it was a beauty. “Great catch, son,” the father said.

“Yes, but I’m worried I’m missing out on better fish,” the son said. “What if I could catch a bigger, tastier fish?”

“Maybe you should try,” the father said.

And the son did, catching an even bigger fish an hour later. “A real beaut,” the father said.

“But what if there are better fish out there?” the son asked.

“Maybe you should try,” the father said.

And the son did, catching a bigger fish, then wondering if there were better fish, catching another, and so on.
At the end of the day, the son was exhausted. The father asked, “How did the fish taste?”

The son hesitated. “I’m not sure. I was so busy looking for better fish that I didn’t taste any of them.”

The father smiled contentedly, patted his belly. “Don’t worry. They were delicious.”

We are all of us like the son. We all worry, at some time or other, that we’re missing out on things.

It’s why we’re so busy — we take on so much because we don’t want to miss out. We take on dozens of goals and aspirations, because we don’t want to miss out.

But here’s the bare truth: we will miss out, no matter what. It’s inevitable. We cannot do or try everything in the world, even with lives twice as long. We cannot see every town and city, read every interesting book, watch every important film. We will always, always miss out.

Here’s the second, more important truth: if you always worry about what you’re missing out on, you will miss out on what you already have.

Don’t make a reading list a mile long — focus on the book in your hand. Don’t pack your vacation itinerary with every highlight of the city you’re visiting — walk around and enjoy what you find. Don’t worry about traveling the entire world — be delighted with the world around you. Don’t worry about what you’re missing online, or in the news — what you’re doing is good enough.

And let go of your long to-do lists and goal lists. They are a futile attempt to keep from missing out. You will miss out, but in striving to do everything, you’ll miss out on the wonder of the thing you are doing right now.

What you’re doing right now is all that matters. Let the rest go, and enjoy the fish you’ve already caught.

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  • Wice says

    The more I read from this writer, the more I get the message that he is living in a very different, dreamlike world from most of us. In an earlier article, he talked about how he meditated and read, wrote and went for walk, maybe fitted in seeing his wife and children for a cup of tea! I get the feeling he has cut himself off and just does whatever he pleases ignoring the rest of the world more or less.

    His advice seems to be very black and white. He doesn’t take a middle line which is so often reality. Today he talks about missing out. The story is very selective in its focus. The child who is ambitious to discover something greater is frowned upon. In his story, there is no possibility given to the fact that the child may enjoy his catches along the way and still hope for something better. There is no praise given to the child’s perseverance. This is ignored. OK, it is supposed to be a parable, but in my view, not a particularly good one because it hardly matches life’s reality.

    That’s my problem. Babauta appears to ignore the real world and further, I find him quite patronizing. Of course we all know that most people want the fullest lives they can achieve. They want to experience as much as they can of what life offers (even through this is usually with the least effort). This doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate what they have; that they are able to feel proud along the way as they achieve steps to their goals. Sometimes getting there, demands we push ourselves – but not always. Even when it does, I believe more people have trouble motivating and pushing themselves than the other way around.

    Babauta says “Throw away your long-to-do lists and goal lists!” I wonder why he see such useful things so negatively. Lists and goals are not, as he puts it “futile attempts to keep from missing out”. They are positive reminders to follow one’s dreams and achieve one’s potential! The are a map for us to follow to get the best out of life rather than frittering it away wandering aimlessly.

    PS: I love my ‘to read’ list. It’s like a box of presents ready to open!
  • Starlite5 says
    I think the simple message that Babuta is trying to convey is just to "Live in the moment"...too often we seem caught up in all the grey areas of our life that we forget to just throw caution to the wind and get on with it.

    After spending years of working long hours and trying and I do emphasis "trying" to juggle work, kids, potential life partner, relationships both personal and professional, I think I was over analysising how I wanted my life to be like. I was forever chasing the "next big thing" and all it did was burn me out!

    Now I've learnt to savour each moment and the wake call was when I had my last baby and realised that I had missed so many moments in my older kids lives because I was trying to get to my goals faster than I would had liked if I had only take the time to savour and celebrate each success I had.

    My to-do-list and goal setting though, is my constant companion and my reminder that as long as I can tick things off then it's my movtivation to keep achieving the things that make me happy.

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