You only live once vs living for the future: Striking a balance

American singer and playwright, Mae West, once said “You only live once but if you do it right, once is enough.”

The catchphrase ‘You Only Live Once’ (YOLO) has in recent years been popularised, the idea behind it being  grab what you can while you can, and live by your own rules and standards, not anyone else. Act fast, act now, don’t worry about the consequences until later. 


But since the term became a cultural sensation, it has influenced behaviours around banking, saving, spending, and investing. The mantra comes with both good and bad consequences.


However, YOLO speaks to a concern many have about financial planning and lifestyle changes. Life is short and it happens once, and while to some people it means diving into self-indulgence, others choose to endure, denying themselves happiness that they can afford.


Isaac Nkusi, a financial literacy expert in Kigali, says there is no simple answer to “how we can live a balanced life”. He believes that the root cause of the problems we have balancing between healthy living and luxurious consumption are a direct result of our “philosophy of life” or “mindset”. By philosophy, he means what we understand life to be, what we believe is true about life and how we use those beliefs on a daily basis. 

“For example, if a person believes that they only live once (YOLO) and that they should “squeeze the juice out of life every day” and “live everyday like it is their last”, they may behave in a way that seem reckless or dangerous, spending all their money on immediate experiences like travelling, extreme sports, or high risk behaviour, because they are focused on living in the “now” and not spending a lot of time, money and investment in the future. According to the “YOLO” philosophy, the future is not guaranteed so they enjoy everything they have today,” he says.

Not a sacrifice

Nkusi adds that someone whose philosophy is “you live every day, you only die once” might have a different approach to how they use their, time, money, efforts and other resources in different ways because they wish to live well today, but also prepare for “life that’s coming tomorrow”. Though tomorrow is not guaranteed, there is a pretty good chance it will come and that they need to prepare for it with what they have today.

“Ultimately, all our decisions and actions stem from our philosophy of life and in order for us to really begin changing our behaviour on any topic (health, relationships, faith, money, professional development), we need to first analyse our philosophy on that topic and start making positive changes first, by informing ourselves through books and interactions with people who are knowledgeable in those areas, and then begin the process of change as we continuously learn and thus grow,” Nkusi says.

For Nadine Muhoza, a businesswoman, living independently has taught her that working towards her goals shouldn’t be viewed as a sacrifice. This motivates her to genuinely treat herself whenever she can and look after her body, soul and mind.

“Living well is not only about wealth, although having your basic needs met can make the good life possible. It is about intention, purpose and love. YOLO should inspire us to make the most of our lives, to hold lightly the things of this world, but also understand the fragility and delicate nature of every passing moment,” she says.

Amy Sugira, an IT specialist, says she lives by the YOLO mantra because for her, we do only live once, after all, and struggle with the concept of working hard for the future and then not living to see the fruits of our hard work.

“The future is not guaranteed and therefore I have to live life to the fullest, being the happiest I can be no matter the cost. If I am blessed to live longer I still wouldn’t regret my past because I’m all for happiness,” she says.

Paul Mugisha, a visual artist, on the other hand, believes that it is not wise for one to blow up all their money because money attracts money and it’s good to have backup just in case you need it to survive.

Spend to satisfy your needs 80 per cent and save 20 per cent because you cannot have zero savings. But then, it’s a big mistake to spend 50 per cent or less and save 50 per cent or above of your earnings for the future because you don’t know what will happen. We also live once so live it to the fullest, he says.

Need for balance

David Kinzuzi, co-founder of ‘My Green Home’, is a firm believer of saving and investing money. Life, for him, is not about doing the things you genuinely like; it is about planning to do them consistently.

“Spending money is one way of looking at YOLO, but I don’t believe it’s the right way. You only live once, so why waste it? Investing money would make one’s life better because in the end, you do not want to rely on one income, so having many incomes helps you become sustainable,” he says.

Singer and radio presenter, MC Tino, agrees that the probability that one will live past tomorrow means that they shouldn’t long to have an over-the-top lifestyle just today because they happen to have a decent income, but should aim to have a great life that is sustainable.

“Spending all your earnings is stupid, because what if at the end of the day you don’t die. That is how some people end up burdening their families. Be happy but think about the future,” he says.

“Bobby Rutarindwa, communications manager, Rwanda Convention Bureau, believes that the youth should set goals that they want to achieve, although surrounding themselves with positive people is a strong option to consider.

When you have no goal that drives you towards what you want, then you are obliged to indulge in all the wrong and unnecessary things, such as spending money aimlessly, getting involved in drugs, all in the name of YOLO. Death is inevitable, but that should not motivate anyone to live their life in the fast lane. What if you live life like that and don’t die anyway, the result is a future that is far from stable,” he says.

Barbara Muhoza, a travel agent, says that the phrase “you only live once” only gives one permission to indulge in their privileged lives. She argues that other than indulging in our privileged lives, we could instead improve the lives of others.

“Why not emulate Mother Teresa? She only lived once but she lived a life of service and made no excuses to buy things she didn’t need just because she wanted them. Mother Teresa used her life to serve the world,” she says.

In his book ‘Lion Chaser’s Manifesto’, Mark Batterson urges readers to “quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.”

Muhoza adds that YOLO should be about discovering that it cannot be all about oneself, as it gives one a very small view of life. For her, one ought to get to the end of life empty, having poured out everything in them, including their dreams, and love, which is why it is important to figure out what one truly values.

“It is almost impossible to dream big and aim higher when you are only living to satisfy yourself. You need to decide whether you want their life to mean something beyond your consumption. You need to leave a legacy and values that will impart the generations that come after you. You don’t want to be lowered into your grave, still intact with unexplored dreams, forgiveness that was never sought or love that was never expressed,” she says.




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