On the meaning of YOLO

So many decisions seem to come down to yolo. Otherwise known as “you only live once” and therefore a motto for making the most of your life experience, yolo is the college student’s excuse for doing anything seemingly counter-productive. Do you get $1 slices at Papa John’s at midnight with your friends or study for your test tomorrow? Do you check out the new takagism room with your friends or write that paper due in two days? Do you splurge on that trendy dessert place or cook at home?

Most yoloing relates to eating out late and not studying; sometimes spending money you instinctively didn’t want to spend.

Yoloing encourages us to value friendships and experiences more than the traditional notions of studying hard, being frugal and maintaining a proper lifestyle. In the long run, which are more valuable?

“Now is the time…” psychologist Meg Jay said at a TED talk in February. Yes, now is the time to try all; yolo.


The moment school is out for the summer students want to kick back and relax. Yet college students especially fear an unproductive summer, one without an internship, job, or transformative experience that will keep us from a future job. Others don’t worry so much, for to them college and youth is time to have fun. Some travel.

But when elementary school children we watched grow up attend high school programs at ivy league colleges like Brown, we in our twenties grow anxious.

Facing a stagnant economy and bearing the experiences of parents who worked office jobs, today’s youth want to explore their creative side. That is the edge many professionals say young people have in the job market, especially since education apparently does not necessarily guarantee one a stable job. We thus accept that creativity is the way to go and all aspire to be the next great singer or artist. YouTube sensations find more fame and money than most white-collar workers, so why bother with education? The rehashed argument about the worth and structure of higher education gives many the excuse to try an alternate route, perhaps by yoloing.

But alternatives often require more work.

The world does not produce a million Van Gohs but a few billion ordinary individuals and one great artist respected after his death.

Is creativity, often born out of the bounds of the 9 to 5 work day, just an excuse for laziness? Do we have a duty to first give back to our parents who worked so hard for us to be successful? Yoloing our way through college, through post-grad life may not necessarily create the future we dreamed of.

“I am discounting exploration that is not supposed to count,” Dr. Jay said, “which, by the way, is not exploration but procrastination.”

Looking at the lives of great people, or even those in their late twenties who are well into their careers, I realize how important focus is. Even when relaxing, every step brought them closer to their dreams. We can become expert candy crushers in three years, or publish two books like 27-year-old Zhao Xing has.


You only life once, yes, you really only do, and what may not be the most fun now will pay off in the future. We were not really meant to rest until retirement, if we retire.

Yolo means you only have one chance to work hard and it’s up to you to take it.



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