There’s a conundrum that we all face as humans: we are born and must die. For many of us, that’s the most frightening thing imaginable. It stops us in our tracks, and we can’t cogently plan for the future. We are literally scared into avoiding death because death is scary. The irony!
The cyclical loop of fear allows our minds to run wild and appreciate only these few moments right now. We don’t know how many more we’ll have. But unfortunately, that tends to come with some significant financial consequences. The attitude can quickly become: charge it now and worry later; heck, you might die before you have to pay it back.
Because death is an unknown – we don’t know until it’s too late – many try to appreciate only the present moment. The Millennial generation, with the help of popular musician, Drake, have a helpful acronym that’s all about living in the now: YOLO. The vowel-laden term stands for, You Only Live Once. In that spirit, we are tasked with spending, eating, and drinking to enjoy the moments we do have. The hope is that when death comes knockin’, we lived our lives to the fullest. Nobody wants to die without living it up.
YOLO has inspired countless teens and 20-somethings to travel the world, and eschew traditional day jobs. And who can blame them? Countless generations before them searched and scoured the world for self-discovery, too! Life seems short, might as well enjoy it, right?
What seems absent from these aspirational lives and depictions is the reality that for most people, life expectancy is about 80 years. Most of my grandparents lived well into their 80s and 90s. That means that while we are trying to live life to the fullest by spending our way into blissful oblivion, we seem to be discounting the fact that humans tend to live long lives. Really LONG lives.
A lot can be done in 80 years, and it needn’t all occur at 18, 19, and 20. In fact, it’s rather depressing thinking the only time to travel and party like a rockstar is at such a young age. Life is full of adventure and opportunity – it doesn’t end at 30, 40, or 50.
YOLO isn’t inherently a bad term, but it’s important to remember that we have 80 years to do it. And if we have 80 years to YOLO all over the place, shouldn’t we plan beyond this one moment? We compete with unknown variables of death, desire, and saving for a long future. Evolutionarily, we have come to appreciate the present moment to procreate and build foundations for progeny.
While these archaic evolutionary bases of behavior affect our behaviors today, our society has changed significantly. We no longer deal with daily threats. Most of us aren’t running from lions, tigers, and bears – oh my!
Regardless of these competing demands – one for YOLOing and the other for living well into old age – there’s an emotion we all seek: spontaneity. Sustainable, life-long adventure requires healthy budgeting and savings. To take that random road trip, we must save and stop spending on credit. This choice necessitates a reinvention of spending habits. YOLO cannot become yet another excuse to party lavishly and become a gluttonous individual. Millennials and people everywhere have an opportunity to better themselves and the world around them. But they can’t do it while swimming in toxic debt.
I agree that we aren’t limited to having adventures while we are you. However, while the average American lives a long life, they don’t live a healthy one. Across the board the biggest regret of older Americans is not doing more when they were younger. They assumed they would be able to do more as they aged, and they put things of until after the kids were grown, or until they retired, only to find their health limits them.
As someone who specializes in gerontology, I’m reminded of this every day. There are exceptions, people who are healthy as they age, but sadly in our culture they are the exception, not the rule.
I try to strike a balance. Do what I can today, while saving for the future. It can be hard, because I do turn down opportunities today to save instead. So now I’m trying to set my daily life up to be as fulfilling as possible, so I don’t need big adventures. Things like not working as much as I am physically able to, so I have time for balance every day. I’m considering moving someplace where there are more things to do, more places to explore, and more opportunities, so they can be a part of my daily life, instead of needing to get away. That would increase my cost of living, though.
It’s all about trying to find balance.
I’m all about YOLO….but not about going into debt or going broke because of it. My husband died at age 37 so I’ve stopped thinking that I have time to do what I want and started thinking that if something is a priority, I’d better do it now instead of later.
our next life says
This is a tough one, but in general we take the approach you advocate, of looking at the long view. That said, we also know that, for the things we want to do (mostly outdoor adventure activities), we have only a certain window when we’ll be physically capable of these things. And there’s the lingering fear of disability that’s our unique situation (http://ournextlife.com/2015/04/08/why-the-urgency-2/). But we’ve always been puzzled by the quote “plan as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today,” which is very much in the YOLO vein, because certainly we’d all be tempted to splurge too much, make bad decisions and maybe burn some bridges if we really lived as if we’d die today! For us, the right balance has been to stick with our jobs long enough to retire early, rather than quitting sooner and traveling or adventuring more. We see others younger than us and our age traveling full time, but we know that we wouldn’t be happy without the financial security that we’re building. So we’re comfortable with the sacrifice of a few years in the interest of giving us long-term security.