Lately, the phrase “YOLO” has been as overused as Grandpa’s flannel shirt. For those who are out of the loop, YOLO stands for “You Only Live Once.” The phrase is spoken right before someone downs a shot of alcohol, consummates with a member of the opposite sex, or jumps off of a roof into a pool of lava. Needless to say, it is a hooligan’s way of saying “Carpe Diem” before embarking on a dangerous and often embarrassing act. This concept is hardly new to us, but the new acronym is taking away the true beauty of the call to “live like you were dying.”
I was in sixth grade when the song “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw was making it big. With such lyrics as “I went sky-diving, I went Rocky Mountain climbing…” and “I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying,” the song really inspired people to live a better life. It was something that everyone seemed to connect to and caused people to take a second-look at what they were doing with their life.
As I sat on the school bus, filled with middle schoolers and high schoolers alike, some one-hit wonder was singing his catchy pop tune on the radio overhead. The next song that played was a newer one called, “Live Like You Were Dying.” I had already heard the song and was aware of the power it had to influence people. But to my surprise, the bus full of teenagers suddenly slumped into a rare silence. Rants about stupid teachers and plans for the weekend simmered away and was replaced by the bus’ revving engine and the wind passing through the windows. I looked up at the bus driver and noticed the look on his face. He began mouthing the words as the song began, “I was in my early forties with a lot of life before me when a moment came that stopped me on a dime.” I looked at the faces of fellow classmates and noticed the same deep look. A few brave souls even dared to sing along. I too joined them in the one moment of unity I’d ever been a part of on a school bus. The feeling was overpowering and still sticks with me to this day.
Though it had been mentioned in the media before the song’s release, the song/phrase “live like you were dying” became an effective rendition of “seize the day.” It asked the listener, in a beautiful manner, what they would do if they knew they were going to die very soon. What would you do if you knew tomorrow was your last day? What is still on your bucket list? Would you spend time with your loved ones that you’ve been taking for granted, would you go sky-diving? When we fully realize that we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, we are more apt to develop responses to these seemingly chilling questions.
The phrase “YOLO” will not last very long. Upon its debut, used as lyrics in a song by rapper, Drake, listeners began using it as an excuse to do stupid things. Tweets began circling around the internet with the hash-tag #YOLO: “Getting super drunk at this party, mixed two drinks I probably shouldn’t have. #YOLO.” Now, it has become a joke, with such tweets as “Ate an entire pizza. #YOLO.” People no longer, if ever, took the acronym in a meaningful way. In a few years, it will most likely become non-existent; being replaced by another trashy acronym. “Live Like You Were Dying,” released about six years ago, is one of the most well-known country songs of our time- even quite popular among listeners who normally don’t listen to country music. So why is it that people take it more seriously than “YOLO?”
“Live like you were dying” inspires people to pursue their dreams. It makes them think about what they wish they could do if they were on their death bed. “YOLO”, “You Only Live Once”, does not have the same persona. It encourages people to try new things, often dangerous and requiring one to be under the influence; a “why not?” attitude to give people an excuse to make a fool of themselves.
Look at your life. What do you want to do before you die? Think about your long-term goals and what you are doing in the meantime to reach those goals. “Live like you were dying.” If you mutter the acronym “YOLO” as you decide to sign-up for skydiving lessons because it’s something you want to do before you die, you are by all means using the term in an acceptable manner. If instead you use it as an excuse to make unwise decisions that you know will negatively influence your future, you are completely missing the point.