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Living the YOLO Life

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

If you are around my age (Gen X), you may not know that “YOLO” stands for “You Only Live Once”, popularized by the Canadian rapper Drake in his 2011 song "The Motto," featuring Lil Wayne. It’s the often catch phrase of Millennials and Gen Xers who prioritize the present moment, their happiness and personal fulfillment through experiences and risks taking.

A millennial colleague of mine, we’ll call him “Robert”, working in Dubai is the epiphany of the YOLO lifestyle. His social media is a constant flow of photos and videos from trendy bars, eateries, frolicking in the pools with dozens of young ladies in bikinis and exotic travel photos. Boy, does he get around – averaging 20 new countries each year, for the past 7 years!

I am so not jealous of all of this…not at all. (Ok, maybe just a touch.)

Carpe Diem

The YOLO concept is not new. Older generations (Silent, Baby Boomers and Gen X) had their own equivalent catch phrase – “Carpe Diem”. However, there is now a big difference – credit cards!

The “Carpe Diem” generations had to work to earn money first while the YOLO lifestyle can be had via swiping a piece of plastic for that overseas holiday, or new outfit, or latest tech gadget. The bill due in the future is rarely thought of and placed in the back of the mind.

However, it doesn’t take long for the future to become the present. I saw many friends struggle to clear the credit card debt, months (and sometimes years) after the holidays becoming distant memories.

In my 20s, I shied away from the YOLO lifestyle – the thought of spending money I didn’t have on things I didn’t need to impress people I didn’t know, made me sick, especially with the thought of a massive credit card bill hanging over my head for months, with interest rates of 20% or more.

For me it was about delaying gratification and being frugal. Every purchase ranging from car to mobile phone to clothes was pushed back as far as possible and overseas holidays were never even an option. It was all about paying off my student loan, working crazy hours and chasing that next promotion at work. In hindsight, this was clearly not good for my health and personal development.

It’s not hard to see that YOLO and delayed gratification are opposite sides of the same coin, representing two different approaches to life and decision-making. Let's compare them:


  • YOLO encourages individuals to prioritize the present moment and make the most of their lives.

  • It emphasizes embracing new experiences, taking risks, and pursuing personal happiness and fulfillment.

  • YOLO can inspire authenticity, self-expression, and a sense of adventure.

  • However, it can also be associated with reckless behavior, disregarding consequences, and neglecting long-term planning and responsibility.

Delayed Gratification

  • Delayed gratification refers to the ability to resist immediate desires in order to achieve long-term goals.

  • It involves sacrificing short-term pleasure or satisfaction for greater future rewards.

  • Delayed gratification often requires patience, self-discipline, and the ability to prioritize long-term success or well-being.

  • This approach can lead to responsible decision-making, building resilience, and achieving more significant accomplishments over time

While YOLO encourages embracing the present moment, delayed gratification focuses on making sacrifices now for future benefits. Both approaches have their merits, and their suitability may depend on individual circumstances and personal goals. Here are some considerations

  1. Context matters - The appropriateness of each approach can vary depending on the situation. There may be times when embracing the YOLO mindset is beneficial, such as exploring new opportunities or pursuing personal passions. On the other hand, delayed gratification may be more suitable for long-term financial planning, career development, or academic pursuits.

  2. Individual differences - Different individuals have varying preferences and priorities. Some people may naturally lean towards YOLO, seeking adventure and immediate gratification, while others may prioritize delayed gratification and long-term planning. It's important to understand personal tendencies and consider what aligns with individual values and aspirations.

Ultimately, finding a balance between YOLO and delayed gratification is key. It involves enjoying the present moment while also considering the potential consequences of our actions and making choices that align with long-term goals and values.

Reassessing and Finding Balance

What made me reassess my frugality lifestyle are the most important things in my life – marrying my wife and the arrival of our children. Although I got great comfort seeing the portfolio numbers move up over time, I realized the children are OYO (Only Young Once). I wanted to take them to places, see new things and experience great adventures with them. After talking with my wife, we dialed down the savings, changing the monthly budget from 20% needs, 20% wants, 60% savings to a much more balanced 20/40/40 needs/wants/savings ratio. [1]

Things feel a lot better nowadays and I can see my quality of life has gone up. Furthermore, we have memories with the kids that I will cherish for the rest of my life!

Tuan's family of four sitting on a sand dune at sunset

Tuan and his family standing together in the Museum of the Future

Mom holding daughter and Tuan holding son in a safari van with a giraffe in the background

Tuan and his family wearing warm coats and surrounded by a frame of penguins at Ski Dubai

Reassess Your Situation

If you feel your situation is a little unbalanced between YOLO vs delayed gratification (like old me), what should you do?

Here are some strategies to help you find your balance:

  1. Set clear goals - Identify your long-term goals and aspirations. This could include career objectives, financial targets, personal growth milestones, or any other areas of importance to you. Having a clear vision of what you want to achieve in the future can help guide your decision-making process.

  2. Prioritize and plan - Once you have established your goals, prioritize them based on their importance and align them with your values. Create a plan that outlines actionable steps to work towards your goals. This helps ensure that you have a roadmap for achieving long-term success while also considering your present desires.

  3. Practice self-awareness - Develop self-awareness to recognize your tendencies towards YOLO or delayed gratification. Be mindful of your impulses, desires, and decision-making patterns. Regularly check in with yourself to assess whether your actions align with your long-term goals or if you may be sacrificing too much for the future and missing out on present opportunities.

  4. Consider the potential consequences - When faced with a decision, take the time to consider the potential short-term and long-term consequences. Evaluate how your choices align with your goals and values. This can help you strike a balance between seizing the present moment and making responsible decisions that have positive implications for your future.

  5. Practice moderation - Instead of completely indulging in immediate gratification or completely denying yourself of any present enjoyment, aim for moderation. Allow yourself to enjoy certain pleasures or experiences in the present while also making conscious choices to delay gratification when necessary. Find a middle ground that satisfies your current desires without compromising your long-term goals.

  6. Seek support and accountability - Surround yourself with individuals who understand and support your goals. Share your aspirations with trusted friends, family, or mentors who can provide guidance and hold you accountable for your actions. Engaging in open discussions about your decision-making can help you gain different perspectives and make more informed choices.

Choose Your Own Balance

Remember, finding the right balance between YOLO and delayed gratification is a personal journey. No one knows you better than yourself but it may still require some trial and error with adjustments along the way. Be patient with yourself and embrace the learning process as you navigate between enjoying the present and working towards your future aspirations.

Now my colleague Robert has changed a lot in recent times. The weekly parade of Emirates’ flight attendants through his apartment slowed to just one and they recently announced their engagement. His love of traveling hasn’t slowed down but the clubs and bars updates are now rare, no doubt he’s saving hard for the wedding!

Which side do you lean towards – are you more naturally YOLO or Delaying Gratification? Let us know in the comments.

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[1] The most commonly recommended guideline is the 50/30/20 budgeting rule – 50% for bills, 30% for wants and 20% for savings/investing.

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