The YOLO Lifestyle: Understanding Its Promise and Its Danger

You only live once! That’s a phrase that’s being used more and more often these days, particularly by the younger generation. I’ve been finding it in books, articles, and the vernacular I hear from millennials almost every day these days.  It has led me to try and get a handle on exactly the behavior and the mentality of the YOLO lifestyle. What is it? How is it different from what I think and do? What exactly can happen when you practice it seriously? Does it work? So many questions and I’m guessing a lot of different answers as well.

The YOLO Lifestyle: Understanding Its Promise and Its Danger

As a senior citizen, I have the ability to look back on my own life and think about my own approach to the YOLO mentality. I admit it’s not very scientific, but I don’t think that many of us grow up thinking to ourselves about our own mortality and the limits that we may have put on our lives.  We don’t think of the how, where, when, and if we will be forced to compromise our dreams and hopes. A least, as a young person, we all seem to think that the world is our oyster and we are invincible, don’t we?

And then what happens? I think what happens is that reality begins to creep into our lives, so much so that we become grouped and labeled and placed on “tracks” that may lead us to defined options, career paths and interests. Ultimately we may even feel that it’s our very own special track. It may not be. It can start subtly in elementary school; and continue on through high school and even college. At some point along that road, you are becoming pigeon holed by a lot of people and agencies forcing you along a certain path that seems best suited for your personality and skills. That’s when it happens. YOLO seems to disappear.

Today, however, I have to admit that it’s really a very different world. The technology revolution enables so many people to see, hear, understand, and access every part of our planet, and to do it in real time with real people. It’s no longer just theoretical discussions about what you should do and what you might do; it’s about what you can do and what you will do.

So what is good about all of this? So good that millennials seem to be dedicating a lot of their energy to the YOLO concept and are willing to take greater risks in so many phases of life like travel, career, and relationships.

The belief that we only have one chance to find what we want in life and be really happy isn’t totally new. Many baby boomers thought pretty much the same way back in the 60’s and frankly I think young people in every generation have thought that way to a degree. Starting out with the ideas that you parents may have fostered upon you and thinking of following in those footsteps is probably the way I thought back in my childhood. But then things do change. The power of youth and your desire to do something spectacular suddenly appear.

So, trying new daring things sounds like lots of fun and lots of opportunities to experience life in a bold adventurous way. But what about the dangers involved?

Dr. Laura King, professor at the University of Missouri, has studied the idea of YOLO and concluded that there is a degree of risk and danger in it that is beyond what other generations may have experienced. Experimenting with your career choices isn’t new but there is currently an explosion of people that are starting their own business and taking that risk in those numbers is new.

One of the millennials I have met while blogging is a very bright and talented young man, Jason Vitug. He has authored a new book entitled “You Only Live Once: The Roadmap to Financial Wellness and a Purposeful Life” which is attracting a lot of attention. The book focuses on becoming more knowledgeable about your finances while you are young which by doing so will enable you to be more successful and achieve your dream lifestyle. His philosophy is that “having money isn’t the goal, but it is the resource you need to live the life you see for yourself!”

The importance of understanding money and having a successful money mindset is critical. New businesses fail about 80% of the time in the first two years. Traditional business is really what I know about. But today, there are so many nontraditional businesses growing. Related to tech primarily, the businesses are rising in popularity particularly, of course, with young people. The truth is if I were a millennial, I’d have started writing this blog in my twenties rather than my sixties, exercising the opportunity to try something that I’d love to do and find fulfilling.

The risks are obvious. Financially, you may suffer with income, expenses, living arrangements, and handling debt. You may have to try and try again before success comes. You may be totally on your own without support from family and friends.  In fact, millennials have postponed commitments like marriage and families to the latest point of doing so ever. And that’s if you are focused and determined in what you want to do every day. Many of these young people have an announced desire to retire by 40 or even 30 if that’s possible. They are looking to create financial independence by developing other forms of income so they can spend as much time as possible to travel and feel more connected to the world and its spirit.

There’s even an element of risking your life and limb to all of this YOLO mantra. Climbing mountains, traveling to dangerous and mysterious parts of the world are extremely popular today by YOLOers (is that a word I just created?). It may provide the ultimate experiences but the truth is that it can be over the line for some.

When I was a kid, I may have been just too afraid to connect with the “You only live once” idea, and certainly since I had settled down in my 20’s I thought about the “what if” something happens to me scenario and what will happen to my family? So I guess I can conclude that the best time to become involved would be when you’re young, free, and uncommitted.

So what do you think…is the YOLO lifestyle for you? Are those who live life this way unusual? Are they on the right track? Are you supportive of anyone you personally know who is living this bold lifestyle?


  1. YOLO is a slippery slope. I’m a saver and a rule follower by nature, so I really like my comfort zone. The older I get, the more I try to push myself out of it. But, I think there’s a happy medium between total impulsiveness and strict calculations. I like to think I’m working on landing in the in-between. Of course, anyone that truly subscribes to the YOLO lifestyle would say this is an impossible or improbable position. All or nothing, it seems.

  2. In terms of risk, whether you subscribe to the YOLO theory has something to do with age, personality and your emotional MO. The popular daring thing to do when I was young was to go backpacking through Europe staying in hostels. And I had no desire for that, whatsoever.These days that might be referred to as “vagabonding” (In his podcast, Tim Ferris mentions vagabonding, and the influence a book with that title has had on him). I might be daring in other ways but I still crave some safety, which for me is in the known, not the unknown.

  3. Hey Gary,

    You only live once. As a person, I always enjoy the present moment and never think about future time that is : what I’ll do if? If I wish to do anything then never think what will do if I’ll do this. I spend money on enjoying my life because who saw tomorrow that what will happen?

    I always accept the risk because it’s an opportunity to learn something new for me. I’m not one of those people who fear from accepting the risk.

    Your YOLO mantra is awesome and glad to read this post which is great valuable post for me. It’s really wonderful for modern youth generation. I just can’t handle myself only that time when it comes financial risk.

    Glad to hear about Jason Vitug. He is really great inspirational for us.
    – Ravi.

  4. Remember the old song that said “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. Taking risks and refusing to conform to society isn’t a new thing for the young; what’s new is how old the young are. What happens when they are the grown ups?

  5. In the professional world, I think there’s been a major shift. Starting at one employer your entire life and retiring comfortably on their pension is a thing of the past, so switching jobs every few years is expected; in an environment like that, entrepreneurship doesn’t necessarily mean you’re giving up your career forever. I’ve known quite a few people who have done it for a couple years then leveraged it to get a better position back in the traditional work force. So maybe we’re more into YOLO, but I think you’re into something with the changing environment.

  6. Pia @ Mama Hustle

    There’s a thin line between YOLO and reckless. My best friend and I had this conversation about an impulse purchase, and she said, “What’s the point of making all that money if you don’t get to treat yourself once in a while?”

    It’s a great point. I don’t want to delay enjoying my life until I’m older, especially since we all know there’s no guarantee that we’ll get to “older”.

    But where’s the line? When does “treat yourself” turn into recklessness? I think that’s a line everyone has to define for themselves. For me, I want to make sure I’m spending on the things that matter most, and not spending in other areas. It also includes paying down debt and saving for the future, both for retirement and for my kids’ college.

    So long as I’m accomplishing my long-term financial goals, and my spending is intentional, I think the occasional YOLO purchase or decision isn’t going to derail the train.

  7. I think I’m pretty YOLO about my career, but a lot more traditional about my finances. As a matter of fact, I think my finances are the only thing in my life that I approach very traditionally and with a careful and well planned out system. It actually enables a fair amount of the YOLO-ing.

  8. Jack

    Hand in hand with YOLO is FOMO – fear of missing out. FOMO is powered by social media, especially Facebook and Instagram where everyone shares their amazing moments, and none of the crap of their life. End result, it looks like all your friends are doing amazing things and you’re stuck at home / at work / etc.

    Considering the ant and the grasshopper, I’m definitely an ant. I wonder what will happen in 20 years, when a generation of grasshoppers grows up and finds no ants are left to help them in the winter of their life.

  9. Mrs. CTC

    I think I became more of a YOLOer as I grew older, strangely enough. I was much more serious and more conforming when I was younger, now I realize that I do in fact only live once, and I get to set my own rules. At least to some extent.

    Funny thing is that I try to achieve these YOLO-goals by being particularly responsible: getting my finances in order 🙂

  10. I was always a YOLOer when it came to my finances, hence the trouble with debt. But I’ve never really taken a risk with my job until the last couple of years since I’ve been self employed. Even with that said, I don’t really think I’m much of a YOLOer anymore. I know what I want to be happy but I’m not prepared to do anything all that crazy!

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