You Only Live Once

I remember when I started high school in 2002, I thought I would never finish. Six years seemed like such a long time. I was 13 then and in those days I thought 20 year old people were very old. I had the same feeling when I started my first year of university in 2008, the completion of my degree seemed so far away.

Now I am 26, have been out of university and working for almost 5 years (half a decade). Time and tide wait for no man!

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YOLO is an acronym for “You Only Live Once”, similar to the latin aphorism carpe diem which is usually translated as “seize the day.” While humans have always known and understood the meaning of “You Only Live Once”, the term YOLO was popularised more recently by the rap artist Aubrey Graham (who records under the mononym Drake) in his commercially successful song “The Motto”.

This lead to a lot of people abusing YOLO as an excuse to do things considered reckless or irresponsible working on the idea that one should enjoy life, even if that entails taking risks. What can easily be missed is the real motivation you should draw from the reality behind the words “You Only Live Once”.

Sometimes you can learn the same life lesson from multiple sources. This has happened to me recently and I would like to share 3 different messages from different sources, that inspired this article.

1) Extracted from Drew Houston’s Commencement Speech

That night I realised that there are no warmups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Every day we’re writing a few more words of a story. And when you die, it’s not like “here lies Drew, he came in 174th place.” So from then on, I stopped trying to make my life perfect, and instead tried to make it interesting. I wanted my story to be an adventure — and that’s made all the difference.

2) Extracted from this brilliant article by Sam Altman

Life is not a dress rehearsal — this is probably it. Make it count. Time is extremely limited and goes by fast. Do what makes you happy and fulfilled — few people get remembered hundreds of years after they die anyway. Don’t do stuff that doesn’t make you happy (this happens most often when other people want you to do something). Don’t spend time trying to maintain relationships with people you don’t like, and cut negative people out of your life. Negativity is really bad. Don’t let yourself make excuses for not doing the things you want to do.

3) A Tweet by Ryan Holiday

In 50 years most of us will be dead and forgotten. Those who are not forgotten will still be dead.

The message from these 3 different sources is very clear. It may be tough to take in but it is the reality we live in. Time is constantly moving and this life that you have is your one chance to be present and live to your full potential.

A large number of people either live in the past, postpone their dreams for the future, hold back on things they want to do due to fear of failure or live their lives to attempt to please others. Just knowing that “You Only Live Once” should be enough to move you away from this.

Living In The Past

Living in the past comes in two forms and both forms can hold you back. There is regretting decisions you made or things you did in the past. Then there is basking in past glories, when you did something great and you are still living in that world.

Regret can be viewed as past tense decision making so you should attempt to move away from it as fast as possible. The past has come and gone and everyone makes mistakes. What you need to realize is that each day you are given a new opportunity to make a difference, to forget about the past and to move on with your life. Don’t allow the past to hold you back.

Basking in past glories is an interesting one. Its good to celebrate success, but it is also important to grow with it and move on to the next challenges. Basking in past glories can leave you feeling entitled and can also lead you to missing out on great opportunities. That time when you were the head-boy in high school came and went, that time you were the manager of a department at a top corporate came and went.

Learn and grow from your success. Imagine if Barack Obama had stopped and basked in the glory of being the head of Harvard’s Law Review, he would never have been the president of the United States.

Postponing For The Future / Procrastination

I once attended a talk where one of the speakers began his talk by saying, “There are 2 days you should never be worried about in your life. Yesterday, because it has already happened and there is nothing you can change about it and tomorrow because it is not guaranteed that you will see it.” We have already talked about the past above so I will talk about the future.

While it is good to plan your future so you have a general direction of where you are going, you should never postpone something you can do today for tomorrow. Pushing out important things to tomorrow is commonly known as procrastination.

Tomorrow becomes tomorrow again and eventually becomes never. You aren’t guaranteed to be here tomorrow and given that you only live once, that should be enough motivation for you to not push out important things for tomorrow. Steven Covey was right to make one of the habits “Put First Things First” in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Fear Of Failure

The fear of failure has held back so many people from achieving their goals and dreams. Most things are not as risky as they seem or as risky as people make them out to be. The thing people don’t get is that even if you fail at your ambitious thing it’s very hard to fail completely.

There will always be valuable lessons to learn from your failed attempts. Bill Gates’s first company made software for traffic lights. Steve Jobs’s first company made plastic whistles that let you make free phone calls. Both failed, but it’s hard to imagine they were too upset about it. I’m sure they both learnt something that helped them move on and eventually succeed.

So don’t hold back on your goals and ambitions because of the fear of failure. Mark Twain did leave us with some wise words to use any time we feel fear creeping in, “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”

Living To Please Others

Living to please others is also a trap a lot of people fall into. As much as we are social beings, the root to happiness lies in understanding yourself well and doing things that make you happy. Most people are busy with their own lives in any case they hardly have time to stop and look at what you are doing.

Do not let other people determine your destiny. You can be inspired by others but do not try to be someone else. Mark Zuckerberg will always be a better Mark Zuckerberg than you try to be. In the same way no-one can be a better you than yourself.

This Is It

Sometimes we make life complicated when it is not necessary. Next time you start to regret the past, procrastinate, have a fear failure or think of doing things just to please others, just remember you only live once (YOLO) and time flies. Rather go out there and appreciate each day you get, be present and make use of each day because tomorrow is not promised.

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Tanaka Mutakwa enjoys writing about ideas for pushing yourself to succeed in your goals and ambitions, building habits that stick and doing great work. If you enjoyed this article, then join his free newsletter.