The trouble with YOLO

Maria Isabel Garcia

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Time will always move regardless of what we do. But this tyranny of the present is cutting us off from the future we want.

You only live once or YOLO has become what I call the “easy speak” of young people when they refer to an attitude of just maxing the present or the moment. While millennials may have come up with the term YOLO, they did not invent this concept that is fundamental to not just the youth but to all ages of many, if not most, cultures around the world. But while each human still lives only once, human lives are connected, across the planet and across time. They stretch out and overlap. If YOLO meant only thinking about getting as much from this life and the resources that go with it for yourself, the future may really be looking great only for cockroaches.

When your story begins and ends with you, then you are a “short story.” That statement came from Kyle Slabb, a Gudjingburra Bundjalung descendant from the far north coast of New South Wales in Australia, who is one of those who lead the Banaam Applied Cultural Intelligence. A few days ago, I listened to him as he was speaking to a group that I belonged to about “cultural intelligence” and how using indigenous principles that view a lifetime as a cycle rather than as an arrowed left-to-right line can make for relational skills that can deeply transform organizational ways of working and create for meaningful, lasting positive impact.

Time will always move regardless of what we do. But this tyranny of the present – of maxing and getting the most resources now for our life experiences because we only live once – is cutting us off from the future we want – healthy, happy, and connected.

That future is not some far off day when we are dead. It is not a brand new Big Bang. The future fundamentally comes from the past and present. Anab Jain makes the future so palpable with her work that she shares in her TED Talk. She is a futurist. She does not predict the future but imagines many futures based on what is happening at present. For instance, she synthesizes the kind of air that we will breathe if pollution levels stay the way they are now in certain places. She bottles them so that you can get a whiff of that kind of future air so that you will not just be able to see the future but breathe it.

Matthew Finch is also a futurist and in the same days that I heard Kyle Slabb share the concept of “cultural intelligence,” I also heard him keynote the conference I was part of. I was lucky to have an extended one-one-one conversation with him while walking through museum spaces that exhibited “human adventures in space,” as well as fossils and live rescued animals, including Bumpy, the rescued wombat who had to endure her adoring human fans and their selfies. It was absolutely enriching to have a conversation with a futurist through spaces that, by their nature, spoke so poignantly of time – fossils, a live wombat, as well as space technology.

In his keynote, he affirmed that the future is not some empire in time where only the “unknowns” are sovereign. He essentially said that the future is something we can not only touch now, but we can also design to some extent within our individual lives, but even to a larger and more meaningful scale, if we do it collectively. This is why he said it is so crucial to transform the way we work in organizations and communities so that we deem it not just useful but also essential to be amazingly creative in dealing with each other and addressing the challenges we face together.

This is what Matthew does: he helps communities and organizations realize that they cannot really bag tomorrow, but by surprising themselves and being creative, they can already inhabit it in ways that will define it, closer to their collective heart’s desire.

Each of us, regardless of the length of our lives, is naturally a “long story” that is fundamentally linked to the past and the future. There is no way out of that. But most of the time, we act like we are “short stories” that are independent of each other and the world. Being a “long story” means that you live conscious that you are connected to what and who has come before you, and that who you are now and what you do affect the next lives that will outlive yours.

So today, are you – we – going to live it out as a short or a long story? Before you choose, sear it in you that that will be the state of your – our – tomorrow. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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