I first became aware of YOLO a few months ago. Waaaaaay behind every teenager in the Western world, but definitely earlier than plenty of people my own age. In fact it was teenagers who caused YOLO to first enter my consciousness – I had noticed that my handful of Facebook friends who are 15-20 years younger than me were using it in response to each other’s photos and comments, usually accompanied by an exclamation mark and a smiley face. Not daring to admit my ignorance and actually ask these kids what they were going on about (for more on this, see my post: https://throughacceptinglimits.wordpress.com/2012/06/11/is-ignorance-really-bliss/), I turned instead to my trusty friend Wikipedia.
And so I started to understand YOLO. I discovered that it stands for “You Only Live Once”, and embodies the idea that life should be embraced and lived to its fullest. YOLO means life is too short for “what ifs” and “if onlys” and that every opportunity for enjoyment and fulfilment should be grasped with both hands. I was enthralled. So, so often young people are dismissed as lazy and apathetic, supposedly unwilling to seek out the good things in life and instead sit in front of their Playstations and Blackberrys waiting for good things to come to them. Yet YOLO seemed to me to be the antithesis of this image. Teenagers had essentially rebranded “Carpe Diem” with a 21st Century twist, and were going out into the world ready to seize the day.
But then I read on. And discovered there is more to YOLO than I first realised. I read article after article crticising YOLO culture, claiming that young people use YOLO to justify reckless and dangerous behaviour. www.urbandictionary.com defines YOLO as:
The dumbass’s excuse for something stupid that they did:
Guy 1: “Hey I heard u got that girl pregnant”
Dumbass 1: ” Ya man but hey, YOLO”
The more I read the more I began to understand the true meaning of YOLO. Rather than the exciting idea that droves of teenagers are suddenly filled with a new resolve to live life to its fullest, it seems they are, in fact, excusing behaviour that is dangerous, selfish, illegal, and plain stupid – all with a shrug and a grin as they proudly state “YOLO!” Of course, the idea of teenagers pushing boundaries and behaving recklessly is nothing new. I did it, my friends did it, and I’m sure my parents and grandparents did it too. But what is new is the notion that they have found in YOLO a cast-iron justification for this behaviour.
But surely YOLO doesn’t have to used in such a negative way? Surely the potential is still there for it to represent the idea of making every day count? Surely YOLO can mean life’s too short for dwelling on hurt and anger, and that instead we should always be looking forwards, grasping every exciting opportunity that comes our way? Is there really such a fine line between bravery and stupidity? What is the difference between spontaneously seizing opportunities, and making reckless, impulsive decisions?
One of my absolute core beliefs is in the responsibility each of us have to ourselves, to make our own lives the very best they can be. And to that end, there should never be any “what ifs” and “if onlys”. It’s important to stretch and challenge our own limits, and to take risks. After all. You only live once. But of course risks don’t always pay off. Sometimes we will seize an opportunity only to find ourselves picking up the shattered pieces and cursing our own stupidity.
But when it comes down to it, I think there are two significant differences between us (what I like to think of as “the Carpe Diem generation”) and the YOLO kids. The first one is our intentions. We all make mistakes (for more on this see my post: https://throughacceptinglimits.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/i-am-not-my-mistakes/) and sometimes these have serious consequences. But if our actions were carried out with the right intentions, we should not feel bad about the outcome. The second difference is our reaction. To shrug your shoulders and proudly announce “YOLO!” is a far cry from being horrified at the aftermath of a risk-gone-wrong, and wishing we could put things right.
So, to the YOLO kids, I say this. You’re right. You DO only live once. So don’t let yourself reach my age and look back with regret. Knowingly acting in a way that is likely to cause harm or distress to yourself or others is unforgivable. But so is allowing amazing chances to pass you by. Don’t let yourself reach my age and wish you’d been a bit braver. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for other people. Make your life and the lives of those around you as fantastic as it can possibly be. Because hey …YOLO.