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  • Writer's pictureReflective Resources

Y is for yolo (you only live once)

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

“Your time is limited, don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinion drown your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition, they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs

YOLO is the acronym of the phrase "You Only Live Once". It is a call to live life to its fullest extent. What living life to the “fullest” looks like is up to you. The meaning of your life is your responsibility, it is something you create day after day with your actions and thoughts.

Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things”. Robert Breault

One of my favourite films is ‘Dead Poets Society’ (1989), where the English teacher John Keating, played by Robin Williams, says: "Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."

The phrase “carpe diem,” is taken from Horace’s ‘Odes’, written over 2,000 years ago and its accompanying philosophy was meant to inspire countless people to see the world a little differently from the norm and live their lives differently. In the Dead Poets Society, John Keating teaches his students to value their own individuality above conforming to rules, he stands on his desk not to feel taller, but says, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

If we look at the Latin, “carpe diem” however, it is a horticultural metaphor that, is more accurately translated as “plucking the day,” related to the picking and gathering of ripening fruits or flowers and it is about enjoying a moment that is rooted in nature and the now. This subtle difference and our interpretation can reveal a lot about us and the nature of our world has changed.

The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience”.

Eleanor Roosevelt

‘Carpe diem’ it seems has been misused however, to mean we should grab time and consume it before it’s gone or before we’re gone. We are bombarded by advertisements trying to sell us things that we’re told will make us happier or messages to 'just do it' encouraging instant-gratification and focusing on our wants not our needs. The sense of urgency is reinforced with such familiar phrases as ‘strike while the iron is hot’, ‘take the bull by the horns’ and the more old-fashioned ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and ‘gather ye rose-buds while ye may’. It is all to do with ‘doing’ and consuming rather than encouraging a deep enjoyment of the present moment and ‘taking time to smell the roses’ i.e. simply ‘being’.

“Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived”.

The 14th Dalai Lama

By ‘seizing the day’ rather than ‘plucking it’ in fact we are at odds with the original intention as we’re not looking at the world in a different way from the norm but rather are consciously or unconsciously conforming to hidden cultural values that we all share and seeing the world the same way as everyone else.

Seize the day” resonates with a lot of people because it isn’t culturally foreign to our experience of life. It makes meaningful sense, because we instinctively recognise it as similar to other aggressive, war-like metaphors we use every day to describe our experiences of life (direct hit, on target, fighting a battle, dog-eat-dog world, killing it etc) in a way that ‘plucking, gathering, or harvesting the day’ may not!’

Carpe diem means different things to different people. For some it’s about taking a once in a lifetime opportunity, while for others it is about indulging in unrestricted hedonism or living calmly in the present moment.

The “hijacking [of carpe diem] is an existential crime of the century–and one we have barely noticed.” ‘Carpe Diem Regained’ (2017) Roman Krznaric

Basically the spirit of ‘carpe diem’ has been hijacked and without this being recognised, its potential to transform our lives is diminishing fast. Most obviously, it has been hijacked by consumer culture, alongside the growing cult of efficiency and time management that has driven us towards hyper-scheduled living rather than being mindfully aware of the present. Our real-life experiences are being replaced with digital entertainment and even the mindfulness movement despite its proven benefits still only gives us a partial idea that seizing the day is primarily about living in the here and now when it has so much more depth than that.

This is a battle, this is a war and the casualties could be your hearts and souls.” (Dead Poet’s Society)

By being aware of these conceptual metaphors hidden in our language, it presents us with a ‘strategy’ to ‘regain ground’ and ‘win the fight’ for meaningful change and growth. By changing our language, the world can be conceived of very differently and we don’t even have to stand on a desk to do it! (See Words 15/10/2020)

Live deep and suck out all the marrow from life” says Henry David Thoreau, but remember “Sucking the marrow out of life doesn’t mean choking on the bone!” Dead Poets Society

If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are a few links to get you started:

‘The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have’. Louis E. Boone

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