You clicked on this link fully prepared to judge me.
And I get it. Because “You Only Live Once” is an uneducated man’s version of “Carpe diem.” Because YOLO is an excuse for reckless teenagers to do as they please. Because YOLO is printed on cheap t-shirts that are worn by people with “swag.”
But does the wording of a mantra or its viral nature really justify totally rejecting its message?
YOLO is a pro-active phrase that reminds us our time on Earth is limited — a gust of fresh air that pulls us back from our deadlines and meetings and sets us face-to-face with the big picture. It’s a punchy, non-negotiable one-liner that stands alone in a world of incessant need for explanation and justification, like why you need to rearrange your class schedule or why you are the best candidate for the job. This is not to say YOLO is an acceptable answer in a job interview, but rather, YOLO is a mindset to have when meeting the interviewer. It’s a kick of confidence and a call to step up to the plate because this opportunity happens once, your first impression happens once, and the stakes are all-or-nothing just once.
The sense of immediacy and permanence can be daunting, but at the same time, exciting. In your fight or flight moment when your internal dialogue has a mini-debate, YOLO steps in and says, “go for it.” It relieves you of the decision-making and you convince yourself that resulting failure can be blamed on the mantra instead of your own judgment. In reality, YOLO was just the final push you needed toward pursuing your true goals.
YOLO is an accelerator: it only brings about actions you were already on the path of doing. Instead of waiting until next week or the next time you see someone, you act when the opportunity arises because YOLO asks, “what if there is no next time?”
Two summers ago, my friends and I hopped in a dusty Jeep and drove to Rocky Bottoms, a shallow limestone waterfall just south of my hometown. Water ran beside my thighs, over the ledge, and into the creek where my friends beckoned me to jump. They splashed the brown water back and forth, dunking one another, their torsos resurfacing like statues in a fountain.
“Come on, Connie! YOLO, remember?”
We used the phrase playfully, those of us who didn’t despise it.
I dangled my feet over the four-foot drop and contemplated the pros and cons of jumping in the creek. The water felt cold enough just sitting in it, but I didn’t want to be the chicken of the group. At the same time, I was scared of cutting my feet on the sharp rocks…
Despite the overcast weather, my friends looked bright in the water, the way people never look in Pittsburgh where I go to college, hundreds of miles away from my hometown friends.
I turned to my equally skeptical friend who sat on my left.
“Brandon, let’s jump on three,” I said.
“I promise,” I said. And we jumped.
The small cut on my foot healed eventually, so I have no regrets from Rocky Bottoms. However, YOLO should come with a word of caution because — much like alcohol — it is destructive if used irresponsibly. It is the underage and immature beings who have exploited the empowering concept of YOLO. To that, I say hate the practitioner, not the practice. YOLO should be reserved for mature audiences to enjoy in moderation because living by this mantra doesn’t have to mean getting a wild tattoo or buying an expensive motorcycle. It entails living the life you want now and occasionally allowing yourself to be intoxicated by fearlessness. Every moment of your every day is your “once.”
Let me say that again. You have one chance to live every moment of your life. Don’t waste a single one. Shake it up, savor the olive, and raise your glass of YOLO. I prefer mine on the rocks.