When we are young we tend to think of ourselves as invincible. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say we have no concept of mortality. Eventually however, this changes.
There can be any number of triggers. Midlife (and the realization that we are statistically closer to death than birth), serious injury or illness, or perhaps the death of a loved one. Anything can happen to make you realize that your time on this earth is limited.
One of the relatively recent catch phrases/acronyms (whatever you want to call it) is YOLO, or “you only live once”. This has become a mantra for a whole generation, and it carries with it the following connotations:
- Do what you want
- Do whatever makes you happy
- Live for today
- Don’t worry about the future
- Don’t care what others think about you, live the way you want
Do you notice a trend in those? Kind of like my post What’s in it for Me?, it’s all about you. It’s all about your own pleasure, happiness, and instant gratification.
Often when you hear people use the term YOLO it’s in response to behavior that most would consider immature. Calling in sick for work because you were out drinking with buddies during the week? YOLO. Cheating on your partner because a “better opportunity came along”? YOLO. Going into debt to live a lifestyle you can’t afford? YOLO.
In fact Urban Dictionary refers to YOLO as “The dumbass’s excuse for something stupid that they did”. That description seems a bit harsh, but when you see the way YOLO is used it’s actually a fairly accurate definition. The way many people use YOLO, it has become an excuse for a lack of personal responsibility.
What is Freedom?
In the YOLO mindset, freedom is the unstated goal. The freedom to do what you want, when you want, with who you want and how you want. “Responsibility” is treated as a bad thing, because it is viewed as the antithesis of “freedom”.
I struggle to understand how responsibility is a bad thing. Yeah, I’ll admit that it would be nice to not have to worry about a mortgage and bills. But guess what, that’s part of life. Unless you are living as a gypsy and living off the land, you kind of need some form of income.
When you’re 20 it’s fine to live at home with mom and dad. Maybe even when you’re 30 (depending on the situation). But when you’re much older than that, it’s probably a good thing if you are able to handle responsibility and support yourself. I don’t know about you, but I fail to see how living paycheck to paycheck while living with mom and dad, or just living day to day with no plans or direction for the future is a sign of “freedom”.
I would think real freedom comes from having some sort of control over your own life. You may not be able to do things on a whim, but if you set priorities and make plans you are often able to accomplish almost anything. How is that a bad thing? I see that as empowering, not restricting.
Living In The Moment
Another problem with YOLO is that it focuses on instant gratification. All that matters is the here and now. You only worry about the future when it comes. But that sort of short term thinking often means you don’t have a future. Or it means your future is much more limited than the one you hoped for. Impulsive decisions tend to have consequences, and some of those consequences aren’t pleasant.
Oh, I’m pregnant!!! Hey look, an STD!!! Oh snap, I killed someone while driving drunk. Ah well, it’s no big deal, I was living in the moment!!!
Balancing the Future and Present
Short term thinking can cause all sorts of issues for people.
From a financial standpoint, it can lead people to spend their money on things they want (not necessarily need), or spend more than they have and go into debt. Credit cards and loans may seem a great way to get something, but they are less appealing when you are struggling to make payments.
It can also damage your future emotionally. This doesn’t always apply, but often affairs happen because someone is looking for something missing in their relationship, and the affair is easier than putting in the work to address the problems in the relationship. Often the thing people are looking for is something they could have had in their relationships, and they are just as guilty as their partner for the breakdown of whatever they feel is missing.
Some people go the opposite route and focus too much on the future at the expense of the present. I’ve been guilty of that, and I recognize it. I’m now making it a point to do enjoy today a bit more, and not worry as much about the future. Neither approach is healthy. You need to balance today with tomorrow.
I get that it’s easy to focus on today. What you need or want now seems immediate, and it is hard to make sacrifices today for a future that may seem out of reach; especially when there are no guarantees of the future. But although the future isn’t guaranteed you still need to prepare for it.
For me, setting goals for the future is something that gives me hope, and gives me something to strive towards. It gives meaning to the grind of the routines of day to day life.
Where YOLO does get things right is that it is true that you only get one life. Even if you believe in an afterlife, the life we have and know is finite – once its gone, its gone. But that doesn’t mean you should focus on yourself. I don’t think that’s what life is really about.
A family member was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and it’s been a reminder of my own mortality. My response has not been to go out and spend all my money on “wants”, or to feel that I need to accomplish all my goals “today”. I haven’t spent my days in a drug and alcohol induced haze and gone off seeking pleasure wherever I can find it.
Rather, I have re-examined my own life and looked at my own priorities and what is important to me. The most important things to me are my wife and my children. My family. The people who matter to me. They are infinitely more important than the car I drive, the house I live in, or what I did last night.
Sure I have goals and dreams. I have things that I want to accomplish in my life. For example, I love travelling. I love seeing new places, trying new foods and experiencing new cultures. There are a number of places in the world that I hope to see during my life. But to me, the experience means more when I share it with someone I love. What is the point of doing any of that if I lose the things that matter to me in the process?
When I look at YOLO, I have a different approach. To me it means:
- Do something that matters
- Live how you want to be remembered
- Make the most of it
I’m just one person and I have limited influence. But I still hope to leave the world a better place than I found it. The thing I can influence the most is my children, and hopefully raise them to live their lives with integrity. I try to involve myself somewhat in my community. Nothing major, but enough that I feel I have made some sort of mark.
Even this blog. I don’t know who reads it or if my words resonate with anyone. But if I can make one person actually think or give them some sort of hope, then I have accomplished something (though I will likely never know it).
That’s what YOLO is about to me. Its not about doing what I want when I want. Its not about avoiding responsibility. I only have one life, and I want to live it in a way that I can be proud of.
Your Last Day
What if today was your last day? What would matter to you?
If today was my last day, I wouldn’t spend it getting drunk, getting high, or looking for a quick thrill.
I would want to spend it surrounded by the people I love, and the people who matter to me. I would want to play with my children, read to them and draw pictures with them.
I would want to spend the day outdoors with my family. I would take the time to enjoy the feel of the grass under my feet, and the warmth of the sun on my skin (well, not if it’s winter. I hate winter. I can’t say I enjoy the feel of my skin freezing).
Maybe I would have a dinner party with my closest friends and family, where we could enjoy a good meal, tell stories and just enjoy good company.
After I would put my kids to bed, and tell them I love them. Then I would spend my last hours with my wife, reminiscing about all the good we have had in our life, and trying to laugh about the times that weren’t so good. I would hold her, tell her that I love her, and we would make love one last time before drifting off to sleep in each other’s arms.
In retrospect that would probably be pretty traumatic for her to wake up with me dead, but hey, I’m assuming it’s my last day not hers. But that’s what my last day would look like.
You only live once. So make the most of it.