I was in a furniture store in Hayes Valley this weekend and noticed how there was a "store in store" concept in the back of it. A woman named Joan was running that place and we started talking about her art work which was actually wordart. I noticed how some letters were arranged as the #yolo hashtag and I ended up explaining to her what a hashtag actually is (she was in her 50s). As I continued my stroll through Hayes Valles, I couldn't stop thinking about the hashtag and what it has come to mean over the past few years since it spread all over.
The phrase #yolo has achieved high popularity in youth culture over the years. Urban Dictionary entries date back to 2004, but only in 2011 it was highly popularized through the Drake song "The Motto". However, according to Wikipedia, variations of the phrase have been in use for over 100 years, including as far back as (the German equivalent of) "one lives but once in the world" by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in 1774.
Nowadays it's mostly known as a popular Twitter hashtag, an acronym that is used on merchandise worn by teenagers and as the "newest acronym you'll love to hate" (Huffington Post). Too often you see young people behaving recklessly and justifying it with the phrase that "you only live once". However, as much as there is criticism around this acronym, I can't stop to find appreciation for it.
As a matter of fact, you do live only once and you really only have one single shot at this thing called life. I'm 27 years old now and I think back of how I started my work career in Dublin back when I was 22. I think of all the years in between, the 23, the 24, the 25 and 26 and I realize that all these years are gone. They are over. I will never be 22 again. Nor 25. And soon enough, my 27 will be over, too. I look back on all these years that passed and can't help myself but to understand that this thing called life is going by very fast. Too fast. Wasn't it just last week when I failed my driver's test? Wasn't it yesterday when I surprised my dad for his 70th birthday?
Understanding that our beautiful lives have an expiration date is extremely important. It's important because it can be the biggest motivator in your life. Here at work we have an internal site that shows all the Googlers that left the company with interesting data on what teams they were on and after how long they were with the company. Sometimes a colleague or friend would go into the system and also attach that person's farewell email. Since that is not often the case, I always become curious to read the farewell notes to see what people do once they leave the company. I remember how I saw this guy who left Google after just a year and saw that there was a farewell note. As I was reading through it, I noticed that he didn't leave Google, but that he passed away unexpectedly. Upon further research, I saw that the guy was just 29 years old and that one month prior to his death he was diagnosed with blood cancer. I was speechless.
That was truly a moment that made me realize a lot of things. This guys was certainly all healthy and then – boom – out of nowhere had to deal with something like blood cancer at the age of 29. I couldn't help myself but to think that fate could happen to me as well. Look at all those people who develop cancer in their 40s, that die in a car accident at 50 or don't even get beyond their 60s. All these people were certainly living a carefree life just like myself until something completely unexpected happened to them.
So on the one hand I look back on my life and realize how time is running out and then I look into the future and realize that there is absolutely no guarantee that I would make it to the 60-, 70- or 80-year mark. There is simply no guarantee. And while this is a very daunting realization, it is SUCH a motivator to really maximize your life. One of the common questions I ask myself is: "Omid, when was the last time you did something for the first time?". Whenever I feel I don't have a good answer to it, I feel motivated to go out and try new things. Similar story when I see myself contemplating things like "should I go to Coachella?" or "should I buy that furniture?". Yes, these are investments and I might run short of money on another front, but then I tell myself that "I only live once" and that the richer I design this year of my life, the happier I will be once I look back on it from the future.
As humans, we tend to get stuck in the moments we are in and therefore often lose sight of the big picture. We are worried about the importance of the project we are working on this week, while we forget that our entire career will go for more than 40 years. That's ±2,000 times that project. The same applies to life. Sometimes we lose ourselves in small annoyances while we lose sight of the fact that if everything goes well, we will have somewhere around 80 years that you can design and shape. 80 amazing years that you can use to experience the world and to make it a better place.
I don't support stupid behavior, but I do support looking at your life, telling yourself that #yolo, and to go out there and do something that is outside your comfort zone, something that excites you, something you have dreamed about, or simply something that you are afraid of. The experiences you gather are all things that no one can ever take away from you. In fact, you will be taking them with you into your grave (sounds harsh, but think about it).
So yes, you only live once. And you owe it to yourself to really make it the best, most vibrant, most beautiful life you could possible create for yourself.