Picture of Erin RussellErin Russell is assistant editor for CMAJ and CMAJ Open


I first heard the expression “FoMo” (Fear of Missing out) about a month ago in a blog post written by Dawn McIlvain Stahl, a copy-editor lamenting having to miss this week’s annual American Copy Editors Society (ACES) national conference in Pittsburgh. According to Wikipedia, FoMo is “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.” The term immediately resonated with me, but the difference is, I suffer from FoMo while attending the conference.

Conferences are so efficiently designed that we’re all always missing out a little. This past weekend, I attended the 6th International Meeting on Indigenous Child Health; a relatively small conference with only four concurrent sessions per block (as opposed to larger conferences, which may have as many as 16 sessions offered concurrently). Still, I had to make the deliberate decision to miss out on potentially interesting sessions because no matter how quick or brilliantly organized you may be, you cannot possibly be in two (or more) places at once. So I studied the program and attempted to predict which sessions would be most interesting, entertaining, and useful:

  • Resiliency or Early Childhood Development?
  • Behavioural Health or Survey Data and Health?
  • Health Equity or Youth Engagement?

Sometimes the decision is obvious, but often it is not.

So what’s a conference delegate to do when the FoMo creeps up midsession and you ask yourself: “Am I currently in the best session or are others at this conference having a more rewarding experience than I am?”


  • “I wonder what’s going on back at the office? Should I check my email?”
  • “Oh, it’s Saturday? Should I be spending time with family and friends?”

I assume that the cure for FoMo must be some combination of mindfulness and acceptance, but it is surprisingly difficult (for me) to accept that some degree of “missing out” is inevitable. Technology actually affords us the opportunity to review the slides and abstracts of all presenters, but not the time. Some conference programs are as thick as a phone book. If you tried to review all the slides and video/audio presentations, it might take a month. And by that time, your coworkers/friends/family would definitely be missing you.

So my goal for this conference season is to practice conference mindfulness. I will focus my attention on the speaker in front of me and avoid “channel surfing” from one session to another. Also, I will try my best to avoid email and social media during sessions. Some degree of missing out is inevitable, but the fear and anxiety associated with it is optional.