DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Finding Freedom From FOMO

Written by: on October 7, 2019

Over the course of his years of study at Portland Seminary, my friend, John Ray, would stay with us during his times of face to face learning. Each time, without fail, he’d ask me two questions: 1) “Have you read_____________?” and he’d fill in the blank with the latest and greatest text or author he was reading for school or pleasure, and 2) “When are you going to apply to seminary?” My answers to these questions were the same each time: “No, I haven’t read________. I’m not a reader,” and “No, I have no intent in ever applying to seminary.”

Five and a half years later, my answers have changed. I am becoming a reader, and I am a seminary graduate. Two things I never would have elected to do on my own, but rather were Divinely chosen for me.

I entered seminary after being out of school for 20+ years. In this classroom setting, I was surrounded by many students half my age, who understood research methods and how to navigate academic technological advances. The extent of my recent reading experiences had been primarily in the mother-daughter book club my daughter and I belonged to, where we read books like The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, Iqubal,and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Furthermore, I had participated in Bible Study Fellowship for 13 years and had a deep appreciation for reading and studying scripture. But listening to and participating in my first few biblical studies courses caused me to wonder if the bible I’d been studying in my “intensive” bible study, was even the same bible we were discussing in class?

It was clear I wasn’t a reader and I wasn’t an academic, so to remedy that, I read every word assigned in each class.

Every. word.

For the first three and a half years of school my reading log was always 100% complete. Each assigned text was underlined and highlighted, with questions and notes written in the margins. I looked up words along the way, trying to understand this new seminary language that filled the pages.

This compulsion to take in the whole of a text stemmed not only from a deep desire to learn, but also from a deep “fear of missing out,” or FOMO. I was afraid if I didn’t read every word, I’d miss a key concept or idea, that I wouldn’t understand what others were discussing in the online forums, and that an opportunity to connect in that academic environment would pass by like a cloud moving swiftly is the summer sky. I was afraid that if I didn’t have all the facts or knowledge, others would realize what I believed in my heart to be true, that I really didn’t belong in those spaces of learning.

It wasn’t until I was in a church history course that a glimpse of freedom from FOMO came. I remember sitting in class and listening to the discussion regarding our upcoming research papers when my Oxford educated professor shared he did not read one full book for his doctoral work. Not one. His explanation as to why echoed that of Adler and Van Doren’s in How to Read a Book, specifically regarding the fourth level of reading: syntopical reading.

While analytical reading is great for a single book, when looking at a larger question and quantity of content, translation of material is more important than direct interpretation of material. Skimming through books in a bibliography, pulling out only that which is necessary, and crafting it into content to fulfill a specific purpose happens in syntopical reading. Here, instead of the author being the master of the text, “the (reader) must be the master of the situation,” meaning the reader “establishes the terms (of the text) and brings authors to them rather than the other way around.”[1]This happens through five primary steps:

1) Skim pre-reviewed books for relevant passages

2) Formulate a neutral terminology thread from various authors’ material

3) Establish clear questions and neutral propositions

4) Define the issue, including affirmations and oppositions

5) Carefully order questions and issues so as to maximize issue visibility and clarity.[2]

Though I still have much room to grow in this skill, great freedom from FOMO came in knowing that even academic greats haven’t read all the words. Instead they have searched for and utilized specific words to answer specific questions in specific ways.

After earning my Master of Divinity, it is safe to say that I am slowly become a reader, not because I had a technique to implement, but simply because I was a learner first. In the becoming, I’ve realized it is impossible to retain all the words I thought I needed to read. Indeed, I’ve learned that “many books are hardly worth even skimming; some should be read quickly; and a few should be read at a rate, usually quite slow, that allows for complete comprehension.”[3]

As I move forward in this lifelong learning adventure, knowing where to find the information is more important than knowing all the information. When I have questions like how to read a specific text, or what questions would be appropriate to ask of a text, I know to pull How to Read a Book off the shelf and utilize the tools within.

So, now when John Ray asks me his standard questions, I can answer, “No, but I’d love to read_________” and “Yes, I have applied, graduated, applied and am attending seminary again…because I love all the learning and all. the. books!”


**Photo by Eugenio Mazzone on Unsplash


[1]Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading(New York, NY: Touchstone, 1972) 310-327.

[2]Adler and Van Doren, 327.

[3]Adler and Van Doren, 39.

About the Author


Darcy Hansen

17 responses to “Finding Freedom From FOMO”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Darcey, I used to get that same feeling of FOMO when it came to books. I think it stemmed a lot from maybe an almost reverent feeling when I was reading. The thought of, “Well, the author devoted a lot of time to this, so maybe I should show him/her respect and read through it” filled my mind and drove me to struggle through some pretty…dry books. Because of this, I got out of the habit of reading for pleasure until about midway through last year.

    I think what Adler says about being the master of the situation is key. In a lot of ways, reading is situational as we try to discern what is actually being said and whether it’s relevant to our own context or whatever it is we’re trying to study.

    Something I’ve also found helpful though when it comes to reading is using the audiobook simultaneously. I used to be very anti-audiobook because in a way, it felt like cheating. Plus I felt I would zone out and miss something (even though when I read a physical book I also zone out at times and miss points). But this past year, I’ve found that reading a book with the audiobook playing in the background helped keep me at a consistent speed when reading and has also forced me to read faster (my record this year is 25 books in one month). It has its drawbacks of course (I think I’ve become a borderline binge reader because of it), but it’s also been helpful for me.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      The respect to author is a real struggle. I have many of those same thoughts. If its contained in a book, and edited by an editor, then it must all be there for a reason. To miss part of it makes me feel like I miss the whole. I really appreciate your suggestion on the audio books. I utilized such a tool for OT when I just couldn’t keep up with all the reading. I’d listen to Book of the OT being read as I ran on the treadmill each morning. Listening to it as story was helpful. Do you find that to be the case for books that aren’t necessarily story? Like for the books that are more analytical content driven? What strategy do you employ for those types of books when listening to them?

      • mm Dylan Branson says:

        It can be hit or miss at times. A good narrator can make a world of difference – even for analytical books. Some people know how to make them engaging while others just kind of drone on.

        But for me, I’ve gotten into the habit of buying the Kindle/physical copy of the book as well as the audiobook. For more analytical books, even if I’m out for my nightly stroll I’ll have the Kindle edition pulled up incase something catches my attention. Then I’ll do a quick search for the phrase, highlight, read it to myself, and continue on with the audio.

        With Kindle, I think the “Popular Highlights” feature is also helpful, as it can give a benchmark for various sections of a text. I know after looking at it that when I get to chapter _____, a lot of people found this section to be helpful, so when the audio gets there I’m quick to open the Kindle app and ready for that section.

  2. mm Joe Castillo says:

    To master reading skills takes a lot of time and discipline, I only wish I have the time to do it, but I am comforted by the fact that we need to be more selective and smart about it. I also related to Dylan in regards to feeling like you’re cheating but more along the lines of the idea of just skimming the books. Now I know is perfectly acceptable.

  3. mm Jer Swigart says:

    Hey…you’re incredible. I’m so grateful that you dared to step back in the classroom after 20+ years and that, now, we share the same “classroom.”

    As I read your piece, the image that I got was that of a student as an artist sampling from the thoughts of others in order to develop the appropriate pallet for the work ahead of her. That student doesn’t want/need to be burdened by every idea of other authors, but of the essence and very best offerings of those she reads. I’ve never thought about it that way before but am grateful to consider reading this way. Thanks for your reflections.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Thank you for the affirmations. I suppose reading and writing are simply creating, making something that is reflective of what is, but also something that is new. Yes, it is an art and involves lots of choices of what to include and not include. May we all choose well in the weeks and months to come, so as to inspire new insight and imagination for the NPOs we hope to bring clarity and solutions to.

      I was visiting with my counselor about an area of life I feel stuck in. We discussed how it takes time to learn, unlearn, and relearn. It also takes a ton of intentional practice. Indeed, spiritual disciplines fall into this category. Its also helpful to know that all are not needed or necessary, and some serve us better than others at various seasons of our lives. Wisdom and discernment kick in when we have to decide what to keep and what to release. I suppose the same will be true throughout this DMin process and beyond.

  4. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    I’m so pleased to hear you are being freed from reading every word. Please do read every word of my reply, however :). Do you get a sense of how Adler’s suggestions might increase your ability to learn more? I’ve found, when I’m trying to read quickly, my intensity is increased and I’m asking a lot more active-reading questions: How does this relate? What’s their point? I missed that connection… oh, ok… that’s how they got here, etc. Netflix’s new Docuseries on Bill Gates highlights some of his voracious reading, but his peers contend he has a 90% retention rate! Certainly not my case.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      My hope is that I will become a more focused and intentional learner by implementing Adler’s strategies. Historically, when reading through quickly, my intensity doesn’t necessarily increase. That will definitely be an area of growth for me. Asking the questions will be key. Writing them all down and having them handy will be my first step, because there were too many questions for me to simply “know” to begin. In time, I hope the asking will become second nature:)

  5. Nancy Blackman says:

    Oof. I did the exact same thing in my Master’s program for different reasons. Was it exhausting at some point? I wish they had included “How to Read a Book” in the Master’s level courses. Why do we wait to get here?

    I am an avid reader. Have been all of my life, but I think in order to keep up and read large quantities of material (not at Bill Gate’s level— but in order to get through graduate programs, you have to let go of the FOMO and grasp concepts and ideas early.

    What I take away (#lorenkerns) from this relates back to Sarita’s message about how to engage, how to be observant and suspend judgment. You don’t have to read the whole book to get a sense of what the book is about. You just have to know that you might want to go further then the Table of Contents and reviews on the back jacket cover.

    What I gathered from your post is that you are a learner, which after spending some days with you, I would say is accurate. What I learned from the Medium article is that we need to be in a deliberate practice in order to be deliberate learners. This isn’t that different than spiritual disciplines practices. Thoughts?

    And, by the way, you are a reader and a learner and a brilliant woman! Don’t let anyone tell you differently.


    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      It seems to be a delicate balance to take what is needed from a text and to approach the text with observation but without judgment. Reading Adler I often heard Serita’s voice in my head, too:) Indeed, learning to read cultures, books, and people are much like spiritual disciplines. Lots of practice and lots of grace needed to navigate new territory while developing discipline and discernment along the way.

  6. mm Steve Wingate says:

    You wrote, “I was afraid if I didn’t read every word, I’d miss a key concept or idea…” I resemble that remark! There was no measure of selective excellence in my train of thought, as far as reading goes. It was either all or nothing. I guess it’s a bit like a tourist: I will speed up on some and either slow down or stop other times.

  7. mm John McLarty says:

    What would happen if we didn’t need to be in on what “everyone else” seemed to get from their reading and merely content in the one little nugget of insight from the text that seemed to be just for me? Asking for a friend. – signed, the guy who didn’t read all the books and often wondered what everyone else was talking about

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Too funny!! And yet you still thrive in ministry and life!

      The interesting thing was I had intended to write a different post. I had all my favorite books piled up and was ready to pull out the one liners that had literally changed the way I thought or believed or functioned in this world. One sentence here and there can do that. But the deal was, I read all the words to find those few sentences. So if I’m not reading them all, will I still have those ah ha moments where my paradigms all shift in ways I could not have imagined? Or will I just be getting by, only taking what I think I might need to serve an end that I imagine will be good?

      I suppose the answer to your question is, “I don’t know.” Thoughts?

  8. Simon Bulimo says:

    Darcy, I did experience the same when I was doing my first degree after so many years at home, doing some jobs. Later decided to go back to school. It was interesting and challenging. However, I did a accomplish the assignments and here Am. if we would have time to share testimonies then you would feel you are better than most of us. This is encouraging

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