YOLO. You’ve heard that term, haven’t you? No, it’s not frozen yogurt. It stands for You Only Live Once, and it’s all over social media these days. It’s the single term people use on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to showcase how they’re purportedly living their life carefree, without the baggage of everyday responsibilities weighing them down.
The first time I saw the new word pop up on Instagram was a few months ago. I had to turn to Google to discover its meaning. Soon after, the term started appearing regularly all over my feeds on social networks.
The range of activities that constitute using the term YOLO is what struck me immediately. It seems to represent everything from a typical day (I’m at a park! #yolo) to changing one’s life (I’m quitting my job to move to Australia! #yolo).
I laughed, rolled my eyes at my real and virtual friends and refused to use the term in any of my posts on social networks. (I like to think I don’t follow trends because everyone else does, but in reality I’m usually just not cool enough to pull them off.)
But recently, as I’ve struggled with feeling like my life is in a funk and I’m a slave to the demands of being a grown up, I’ve realized that the YOLO concept might not be that crazy. Yes, maybe the term YOLO is fad that will be gone tomorrow, but there is something to be said about living life in the moment, right?
A (not so) little backstory: I’ve always been someone who follows the rules, works hard and overthinks things. I wouldn’t say I necessarily play it safe (I’ll talk more about that in a minute) but more often than not, I play it conservatively. As a child I worked hard in school because that’s what my parents taught me to do. I worked hard in gymnastics because my coaches told me that hard work would pay off in the end with the gold medals. In high school I worked hard to get good grades and get into college. I knew my major would be journalism before I even stepped foot on campus. Once there, I worked my butt off in the classroom and at any internship I could get hired for, freelanced for various publications and worked insane hours at the school paper all four years. I did all of that with the end goal in mind: I’d get hired immediately out of college at some amazing newspaper, move to a large city, live it up in my 20s with my amazing group of friends and live happily ever after.
There was a slight change of plans, though, for two reasons: the newspaper industry turned upside down with this nifty little invention called the Internet, and I left the country for the first time. I studied abroad for four months in Italy during my senior year of college, traveled around Europe and ate lots of good food. But even then, miles from real life and walking along the Trevi Fountain, gelato in hand, I’d worry about where I would end up once I returned to the United States.
It so happens I came across a listing on a site for a reporter wanted on the island of Saipan, in the western Pacific Ocean. I had to Google Saipan to see where it was (notice the importance Google plays in my life?), and even then all I saw was a dot in the middle of a big swath of ocean that looked like it was closer to Australia than the U.S. mainland. Perfecto! I applied right away and was offered the job. A week after my 23rd birthday, I packed up two suitcases, flew 36 hours on four separate flights and landed on Saipan, the most beautiful place I had ever seen with some of the craziest characters I’ve ever met. It was the first truly YOLO moment of my life. My time on Saipan provided some of my fondest life memories to date — walking along the Great Wall of China, meeting and befriending random strangers on several islands in the Pacific and walking along the beach every. single. night. It also brought some of the hardest moments of my newly discovered adult life up to that point_ living without running water and air conditioning for hours — if not days at a time — because of rolling blackouts; learning that even those people considered the “good guys” have evil in them; and simply feeling trapped on the 12- by 5-mile island.
I left after about a year and returned to my hometown without a new job in place. (YOLO moment #2, much to my dad’s chagrin). I never thought I’d return to Oklahoma, the place I couldn’t wait to get out of when I was younger, but at that point all I wanted was safety and familiarity. I ended up making some really good friends and met my boyfriend.
My social life was wonderful, but my professional life was struggling. I was freelancing and knew if I wanted to get another permanent job in the journalism industry and follow my career goals, I would need to move. So I moved, first to San Francisco and Illinois for temp positions. Then later to Oklahoma City for another temp position and then to South Dakota. Like with Saipan, I moved to South Dakota without ever having been there and with no friends or family to lean on.
I’ve now been in South Dakota for a year and a half, and it’s the longest I have been in one location since graduating college four and a half years ago. I have a nice apartment (with not-so-nice furniture), a few friends and a good job. But most of my days go something like this: wake up, get ready for work, work for nine hours, go to the gym, return home and eat the same dinner every night, watch TV and surf the Internet before heading to bed. Repeat. On the weekends, I add in more sleep, reading and TV watching to the daily schedule and the occasional night out.
Part of that is being a grown up, I realize that. As long as there are bills to be paid and responsibilities to meet, there is going to be some sort of order that must be followed. And, in fact, I actually like routine — to an extent.
The problem is, lately I feel like my life is dictated by the demands of constantly being a productive adult making the right decisions. Rarely do I do anything for fun anymore. And if I do, it’s something I plan ahead. Night out drinking? Let me write that in my calendar. Is a new movie out I want to see? I’ll need to go to the gym and grocery store before I can let myself have some free time for fun.
All that seems to be exasperated when I go on to social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and see that that one girl from high school is getting engaged, getting married, having a baby, taking an exotic trip to Tahiti or just plain having the time of her life in her photos. How come she’s able to meet her grown-up demands while still having an effortlessly fun time? I realize social media only tells a fraction of the story. When I was living on Saipan and just posted photos from my trips to China, Vietnam and Hong Kong, I got a message from an old friend saying how my life looked amazing and he was so jealous. I wrote back a quick note saying how wonderful things were. What I didn’t include was the fact that I was homesick for family, hadn’t taken a shower in days because of a lack of power and couldn’t for the life of me find a fresh head of lettuce at any of the grocery stores on island.
As I started thinking about the personal funk I seem to be in, I realized it has all the hallmark signs of a quarterlife crisis. There’s another term for you to get familiar with. It’s exactly what you’d think it’d mean. It’s like a midlife crisis but for people in the 25-30 year range who feel confused, scared or doubtful about their own lives. And sadly, I think I’ve got it.
I wonder whether all the fun days are behind me? I’m wondering if my life for the next 40 or so years includes the same daily routines I’ve established over the past few years. And the scariest thought of all: Am I making a mistake somewhere along the way?
I’m not alone. A study of 1,000 young people in the UK by Gumtree.com, the UK’s most popular classifieds site, found that 86 percent of those surveyed admitted feeling under pressure to succeed in their relationships, finances and jobs before hitting 30.
I recently started thinking about what I need to do to get out of this funk, and that’s where the YOLO term comes in. As much as the term has been overused lately, I do understand what people are getting at: It’s a term to mean living in the present and enjoying the things you do have, something I do not do enough of. That’s where my project comes in. For next 12 months instead of focusing on reaching that next elusive goal, I am going to focus on improving and changing my way of thinking in eight areas of my life: career, friends, family, relationship, body, fun, creativity and money.
This blog will document my year and include links to information I come across about quarterlife crises, happiness and the “grass is greener” syndrome. I hope you’ll follow along and let me know if you ever experienced a quarterlife crisis and how you’ve overcome it or are working to overcome it.