You may have heard the acronym FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out. Many railfans have this affliction, and I have suffered from it myself. You hear about some special train or locomotive coming through your area and you feel like you have to go see it because other people are.

Model railroaders suffer from the same affliction when their favourite model railroad manufacturer issues a cool new locomotive or railway car, and they feel like they must buy it while it is still available.

This is a dangerous affliction, and I don’t think it’s very healthy.

In the past, I have made a special effort to get out to see unusual movements like a CP office train, or a particular locomotive like a CN heritage unit. Sometimes I have taken time off work to do so, or spent several hours travelling to view the train, especially when I lived in New Brunswick and there were no tracks nearby.

I think as long as you were getting enjoyment out of it, and your relationships don’t suffer, there is no particular harm in it, but when it becomes an obsession and you do it just because you feel like you should, then FOMO can become a big problem.

I’ve been reading about a few famous railway photographers from the generation before mine, and one common theme that I’ve seen is they tended to get divorced. The obsession with documenting trains, and travelling great distances to do so, is not very compatible with a long-term relationship, especially when you have kids. It’s not fair to your spouse to put the work of child raising solely upon their shoulders, for whatever reason, rail fanning or otherwise.

There are plenty of people who have amassed huge collections of model railroad equipment – locomotives and cars, costing many thousands of dollars – that do nothing with their purchases except put new acquisitions atop an ever-growing pile of boxes. I don’t think that’s healthy.

BC Rail heritage unit CN 3115
BC Rail heritage unit CN 3115

I used to get very jealous when I saw someone post a photo of a rare train movement, because I really wanted to see it and I couldn’t go because of family obligations or distance or work. That jealousy has lessened over time, and it has really lessened over the past year or two since I have lost most of my interest in railfanning. It’s easy to not be jealous if you know you wouldn’t have photographed it even if it was convenient. For example, I haven’t completed photographing all of the CN heritage units, and I just don’t care anymore. Interests change.

Wooden grain elevator with a green aurora behind it

Recently there was a powerful aurora event in the area and I didn’t photograph it. My wife had brought it to my attention to me that evening, and I didn’t feel like photographing it at the time, so I stayed home and spent time with my family instead. The next day I saw the amazing photographs that people took, and I felt very jealous, which seems irrational because I chose not to go. I probably would have enjoyed the experience – I usually do – but I think nowadays I need a little “push” to get out the door.

A Criminally Jealous Mind

Singer Gowan and his band perform onstage

In June 2022 I went to the Club Regent Centre here in Winnipeg to see Larry Gowan and his band play. I arrived early and staked out the perfect spot right in front of centre stage. You can see how close I was. The concert was fantastic, and Gowan tossed me his guitar pick after playing “Time For Love“.

Guitar pick at a Gowan concert

After the concert, the band milled around and talked with a few of the crowd. I talked with two of them and they were super friendly and posed for selfies. I walked out of there on cloud nine, absolutely giddy. It was great.

The next day, I was browsing Twitter and I saw that one of the audience – who had been standing almost next to me – posted a photo of himself with Gowan. Apparently Gowan had been out at the merchandise table and I completely missed it.

Suddenly all of that good feeling from the concert disappeared, replaced with burning regret. How could I have been so stupid? What a missed opportunity!

After wallowing in self-pity for a few minutes, I came around and remembered that I was perfectly happy with the concert before seeing that photo, and it made no sense to be unhappy because of one photo opportunity and interaction I didn’t get.

VIA Rail train on a bridge crossing a highway, with a camper on the highway approaching the photographer.

It’s OK To “Miss Out”

When you have that fear of missing out, that urge to buy something because you might not get that chance again, or the urge to go chase some train because everyone else is doing it, take a moment to think about whether you really want it.

Ask yourself what would happen if you did “miss out”. Would your life be ruined? Your reputation? Your relationships?

Then ask what the cost of not missing out is. Another $300 or $400 for another locomotive? Another hurt feeling from your spouse as you aren’t home again?

Every choice has a cost, every “yes” is a “no” to something else. It’s fine to go chase that train or buy that new toy, but do it with open eyes and careful consideration.

It’s OK to “miss out”.

5 thoughts on “FOMO”

  1. An interesting take, Steve. I happen to agree with you. There have been a few instances in past years when special trains came up through Ottawa, which usually causes a frenzy here, given the scarcity of trains to photograph in the city. In most cases, I take the same attitude as you. I hate to miss out, but I always remind myself that I never miss out when I spend time with my family. I see the same attitude here with the zealous devotion some people have for the one weekly west-end freight train that operates on Wednesday. I have caught this train many times, but I just can’t get excited about catching it every week and poring over the details of the consist, engine number etc. After all, it’s usually a train with less than seven cars in tow. I have made an effort this year to try and find different angles, different locations and different approaches to rail photography. In effect, it’s an attempt to be thankful for what I do have right in front of me rather than being overly fixated on chasing the next big thing, to the detriment of other parts of my life. In the end, my family and my well being will always prevail.

    • Michael, I like that – “I never miss out when I spend time with my family”. Wise words.

      Definitely I can see how one would lose enthusiasm for chasing the once weekly freight train. It would be fun for a little while then it’s more of the same. I’ve grown to feel the same way about photographing CEMR locomotives at rest.

      I’ve been enjoying your efforts at finding different angles and approaches!

  2. I never realized that this FOMO feeling existed to that extent. I have been photographing trains and sometimes just watching them since the late 60’s. But I have always paced myself, that is I never overdo it and “steal” time from family or friends. Yes I know I’ve missed a lot of good shots but I’ve captured quite a few and still spent quality time with family.

    I enjoy your photos and comments and hope you continue but moderately so you won’t get tired of doing it. You know the old saying about “fondness….”
    Thanks Steve for sharing this.

  3. Good one Steve.

    It’s easy to let things take over your life at times, to an obsession point. One has to step back and realize it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get that perfect shot. Unless of course it the source of a big payday for you! LOL! In my case, it’s just a hobby taking and processing and posting photos. Of late I’ve missed LOTS! Can’t get worked up about it. Sometimes more important things need doing, like my grass needs cutting… LOL!

    Seriously though, you can’t be everywhere and catch everything. My biggest problem currently with rail photos is not knowing the train lineups and assigned power on said trains. I don’t like hanging around lineside just waiting for trains that never arrive… Was much better when I had the insider intel and knew where everything was and their ETA’s. Got in and out in a hurry, the best way for some catches. Now, I’m in the dark… The way it is.

  4. To be honest I never heard of the FOMO acronym, but do know what it is firsthand…

    I try to make an effort to see some unique train movements/locomotives passing through, but only when I can fit it within my time allotment if I have enough $$, or working with my spouse/family time… Yes, it’s hard, but as you mentioned it has to be a collaborative effort with the family. I have done a few overnight railfan trips but it’s also working around my spouse/family… but if I do stay overnight I try to keep it to 4 days or less. I know some people that go away for a week or more on railfan trips, which seems excessive a bit. Yes, it’s not fair to dump all the responsibility on the spouse, but I think both spouses should try to support each other’s hobbies to a degree.

    It can be frustrating as well going out to see a train and then things don’t go as planned. Or you take photos of it and then start overcritiquing your own work (comparing them to your friends who chased the same train) and then in the end don’t share many if any photos…

    I guess I am lucky not to be by a CN line that I haven’t seen ANY of the heritage units’ trackside. If I happen to catch one in Winnipeg when I am there, great! If not then that’s fine. Same for VIA as well for myself… Like last summer, for instance, I was able to catch the Canadian 3x (two eastbound and one westbound). I thought that was pretty lucky considering all the times I have visited the city over the years…

    Same for the Aurora as well. Rushing outside to try and photograph it can be a challenge as well and can go either way. Or when your photos “don’t stack up” with other people’s photos either… I can relate to this. There are times I just stayed at home when I should have gone out or times I went out and should have stayed at home…

    I still get sometimes jealous of others posting either train photos or Aurora photos. But I try to find the “positive” out of the experience, as you described in your blog post. But then I have had people tell me they are jealous of the stuff I post online! Which I find surprising as I don’t think it’s extraordinary on my end what I post. I try to get out and take photos, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But I may be judging my work more harder so if I don’t think it’s great, there may be others who think of my work as stellar! It’s interesting how people’s perspectives are…

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