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.
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.
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
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“.
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.
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”.