I’m 16. I’m standing outside of my school and in my hand is a piece of paper telling me my GCSE grades. A mix of C’s and B’s. Average. My then-friend has achieves E’s and D’s. She is crying. Her life is ruined. Fuck, I’m not ready for this shit I think. ‘It will be okay’ I say, trying to convince myself as much as her.
‘What are your career plans?’ asks the straight A student I used to sit near in Double Science. She’s just had her photo taken by the local paper. They only photograph the pretty clever ones. I don’t know I think. ‘I’m exploring my options’ I say. Again. The same phrase I’ve parroted over and over to anyone who asks me the same question. A question that is too big to be asking any 16-year-old.
I’m 16. I haven’t even stopped growing but people want me to plan the rest of my life. In a year my shoes will be two sizes too small, but I’m supposed to have my career plan already laid out ahead of me. Fuck.
I’m 16. On the day I get my GCSE results I go to a local greasy spoon cafe and my grandparents buy me an all day breakfast as a congratulations because that’s how we roll. While my classmates are sorting out their A-level options I am eating bacon that is slightly over cooked and drinking a frothy coffee.
However, underneath lurks the familiar sense of dread. It has haunted me since Year 10. It’s the dread that I won’t get good enough qualifications, that I won’t get a respectable job with a high enough salary. I’m slightly scared that I won’t be able to drive, that I’m going to die poor because I won’t be able to draw a pension, or won’t have somewhere decent to live…
I was a teenager and I hate that these thoughts consumed my mind. I hate that this pressure was put on me and my friends before most of us had even finished puberty.
The sense of not being ready that I felt at the age of 16 didn’t leave me until I was almost 20.
At the age of 18 I had life saving surgery and it took ages to recover. I had finally enrolled at my local college on a course that I didn’t really care much about, but I had to go to college and study otherwise I’d be a failure.
Then came my illness. Then came the pile of unfinished coursework. Then came the surgery. Then came the decision that it would be best if I enrolled at college the following year instead. Then came the full time job. Then came the realisation that none of that stuff I’d worried about before actually mattered.
I realised, at the age of Nineteen, that since my mid-teens adults had groomed me to believe that their vision of success was my vision of success, and I was so caught up in achieving it (and so aware of how I was failing to achieve it) that I wasn’t actually getting anything from life. There’s this quote that says ‘happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey’ and I realised that I would never be happy fulfilling the life that others had decided was best for me and my classmates.
I was alive. I had survived and suddenly that was enough. Everything else was a bonus.
So I stopped living to other peoples standards of success, because YOLO.
Yes. I just YOLO’d. I know, it’s ghastly, right?
Yet, fuck it, I actually like YOLO. I think YOLO is spot on, and if it’s just the acronym that annoys people then I’m sure they can get behind the fact that young people are embracing the message that you only live once.
I wish I’d embraced that message a lot sooner in my life. It would have saved me so much bother, anxiety and dread.
Sure, people say ‘YOLO’ to defend stupid and irresponsible things they’ve done, but then, we’ve all been idiots at some point. If you can’t roll with the rough then what do you get from life apart from the sense that bad things happen because of other people?
Often people dismiss people who say “YOLO” as being iressponsible kids who aren’t going to make anything of themselves, but that’s nobodys business other than theirs. They’ll make of themselves what they can, and as long as they’re content it’s all that matters. If they’re not content then I hope they can work through that like I did. Life is too short to tell kids to grow up and make something of themselves.
Happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey – so too is success and fulfilment. YOLO.
Perhaps if 16-year-old me had considered the things she dreaded in the manner I consider them now – perhaps if “YOLO” had been a thing when I was at school instead of “WASSSSUP?” – 16-year-old me would have ripped up her GCSE report, shouted “Momento mori, motherfuckers! Now, let’s go get all Carpe Diem on that cooked breakfast you promised me!’ *SWAG*