YOLO (?)

In the car the other night, my twelve year old daughter told me that she hates the term YOLO (you only live once), in part because people use it as an excuse to do and say stupid things.

That’s true, I said immediately.  She popped out of the car to meet her friends for an evening run.  That’s really True, I thought and kept thinking as her words reverberated.  

I am a little more than four years past a cancer diagnosis.  Apart from the obvious ramifications of having that oversize shoe dropped, cancer survivors are often pressured outright and by implication to live a life worthy of envy.  Here’s a partial list:

Live life to the fullest
Don’t take a single moment for granted
Live each day as if it’s your last
Appreciate what we have because you never know when it will be gone
Tomorrow may never come
While you’re busy yolo-ing, don’t forget that your yolo just might be a heck of a lot shorter than you once imagined

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While there is certainly a modicum of wisdom in these maxims, but they also carry a common theme.


There are a whole lot of angry points to make about the pressure to both survive cancer AND to become an inspiration, about the guilt that comes when I just want to take an entire day for granted by staying in my pajamas and watching a Law and Order marathon, about being forced onto a path I didn’t choose.

Scared?  Yeah, I’ve been scared.  I’ve spent days, weeks, months, and the better part of a year worried about my beeline toward a premature grave.  I’ve even watched it happen to my friends: good, deserving women younger than I.  But somewhere in the dissolution of immortality, while I was busy trying to live the lives that they couldn’t, or the life that I didn’t, that heard that quiet “pssst,”

Do you want to frantically live today, cramming in every possible experience, just because it might be gone tomorrow?  

Allowing fear to dictate your life is to live in constant scarcity.  No matter what, it will never be enough — not enough time, not enough love, not enough health.  I grew up in scarcity and I’ve consciously worked to unpack so as not to repeat that with my own kids. Perhaps that is what makes me so sensitive to this ubiquitous fear-based philosophy.  Isn’t this “living each day like it’s your last” idea pretty similar to hoarding?  

Of course I’m still scared of the cancer coming back and killing me before I’m good and ready.  I’m scared something will happen to my kids, to my husband, that we will lose all our money and not have a house anymore, that Israel will use nuclear weapons on Palestine, and the list goes on.  To pretend I live a fear-free life would be preposterous.

But to make that my raison d’être?  That’s just letting fear win, an excuse as my daughter said, to do something stupid.  The hard, but liberating truth is that we’ll never outrun the inevitable. You chose what comes in between.  

(besides, I’m not even sure I accept the “yolo” premise, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

3 thoughts on “YOLO (?)”

  1. YOLO – I love this – the search for enlightenment and new age living as applied to survivorship.

    Hurry up and get the good stuff BEFORE YOU DIE.

    I’m tired of that as well. Having had cancer doesn’t lead someone to be any more or less human; it can make us more aware of the concept of gratitude. Or an abiding appreciation to have the physical discomfort and pain from treatment cease.

    That fact that you point out the undercurrent of fear is telling. When we’re truly accepting – we don’t have to be more than we are. Just being is absolutely stellar, thank you very much.


  2. I agree completely. I do think about that also…After spending hours & hours on FaceBook & the little thought creeps in “You could have *fill in the blank* with that much time. What a waste.” I have to stop & say to myself, wait. I enjoyed myself; I talked to friends, I read articles & learned things & had a few laughs. No, I didn’t do these other things that some part of me says I “should” make sure & do before I die, but hey, you can’t do it all.
    So, gratefully, I just let it go. Each day is about living as we choose, not to check things off a list.
    Thanks for this post.

  3. YOLO can be seen as an expression of high ‘time preference.’ Time preference is the extent to which one values the present vs the future.

    When time preference is high, a person seeks to elevate std of living today. Consuming more–perhaps even borrowing resources from others to live larger than current income permits. Debt, therefore, is often associated w high time preference.

    Lower time preference means that a person acts today w an eye on tomorrow. Because more value is placed on the future, less income is consumed and more is saved today. The savings are put aside to elevate std of living down the road.

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