Over the course of the pandemic, more and more people started rethinking their lives and consequently rethinking the career paths they chose. A whole wave of people, mostly millennials in high-paying jobs, started doing something peculiar: taking charge of their own lives by making decisions that aligned with their desires.
The New York Times has coined a term for this movement: the YOLO economy. Some people are switching out of their cushy jobs to take risky ventures, some are turning a side business into a full-time gig, and others are leaving the career path entirely.
This post will cover exactly what the YOLO economy is, some of the benefits of the newfound movement, and ways that you can jump in and participate.
What Does YOLO Mean?
To understand the YOLO economy, you must first know what YOLO means. Popularized by the rapper Drake, YOLO stands for “You Only Live Once.” Since its appearance almost ten years ago, it has come to represent a kind of mindset that reflects that of “carpe diem.”
In other words, “you only live once, so make the most of it.” The term is often said after somebody does something risky, unexpected, or out of their comfort zone. When tons of Reddit stock traders pumped up the price of GameStop in the first half of 2021, their behavior embodied that of “YOLO!”
What is the YOLO Economy?
After a full year of stimulus checks and a booming stock market, lots of 9-5 workers find themselves with a sizable financial cushion to fall back on. Couple this with rising demands to return to work and increased vaccination rates, and the result is the YOLO economy. In short, people with high salaried jobs quit and instead turn their attention to passion projects that make them happy.
Another way to think about it is that COVID has provided people with a new outlook on their priorities. Instead of working for money, many workers want to start working for themselves.
This includes partners at law firms jumping the ship and switching to a smaller family office, high-paid reporters quitting and starting up freelance writing, and investment bankers leaving their offices for good.
Plenty of firms have started to realize the trend and have taken measures to retain human capital as best as they can. Some examples of this:
- Twitter giving all its employees an extra day off every month (#DayofRest)
- Credit Suisse giving its junior bankers an extra $20,000 lifestyle allowance
- LinkedIn giving its employees a full paid week off
Even with the additional money and vacation time, many workers still end up making a change to their careers. For a lot of workers, the problem is not related to money and instead related to lifestyle. Regardless of how much money big companies opt to give to their employees, they can’t prevent the notion that seems to grow clearer and clearer with each new employee that quits: the YOLO economy is here to stay.
The Benefits of Participating in the YOLO Economy
Here are four of the main benefits of participating in the YOLO economy.
The YOLO economy empowers people by giving them control over their lives. Don’t like that job of yours? You can quit! Always wanted to be a painter? Go grab an easel and some brushes! By reminding yourself that “you only live once,” you can make decisions not out of necessity, but out of desire. As an employee stuck in the typical 9-5 job, you’re at the mercy of whatever corporation you’re working for. When you work for yourself, you can take control and start helping yourself and your family.
Living in the YOLO economy also means that you get to set your own hours. Maybe you aren’t a morning person but work extremely hard at night. Maybe you need constant breaks every few hours to maximize your productivity. Whatever the case, by working for yourself, you can set your own schedule and create your own workflow. Even if you’re still working hard, at least you’re now doing it on your own terms.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, it takes the average American worker 27 minutes to travel to work. This is the longest it has been in over 35 years. By participating in the YOLO economy, you have the option to save all that time and instead use it for more meaningful activities. Perhaps you’d like to start your day with yoga, or maybe you want to jot down your daily plan in a bullet journal. By working for yourself, you can save time and do the things that matter to you instead of commuting back and forth to work.
One of the biggest pieces of the puzzle, working in a YOLO economy allows you to focus on your own passions instead of working for a company you don’t like. The phrase YOLO means “you only live once,” and it serves as a reminder to make the most of every moment and to do something that brings you meaning. When you’re working for yourself, you’re working to make your dream a reality and all of the effort you put in pays itself out to you instead of a big corporation. What could be more fulfilling than that?
Ways to Jump Into the YOLO Economy
With a pandemic raging around and the economy changing on a massive scale, there’s no better time to also make a change to your own life. If you’re thinking about jumping into the YOLO economy, here are three ways to do it.
1. Find a New Job
If you’re unfulfilled with your company’s mission, constantly annoyed by your colleagues, or just plain tired of your work, consider finding a new job! Though COVID is still very present, the economy is recovering and there are increasing job opportunities in the labor market everywhere.
Many public companies have their stock prices at all-time highs and private companies have also received tons of funding. Even startups have regained vigor with their hiring practices. If you’re looking to make a change in your life and find a new job, be bold in your demands and make sure to find a place that you’re passionate about working for.
2. Live Off Your Investments
Another way to participate in the YOLO economy is to live off the passive income generated from your investments. If you already have cash-flowing assets providing you with a source of revenue, it might be time to consider quitting your job and living for yourself. If you don’t have passive income, some ways to build it include:
- Investing in broad index funds (a long term strategy)
- Buying rental real estate
- Renting out a room in your house
Even if you can’t start living off your investments right away, it might be wise to consider starting the process of building up your cash flow until you can. You only live once, so why spend your life working a 9-5 job you dislike, when you can spend it travelling the world sustained on the money you make passively.
3. Start Your Own Business
If you have a passion that you want to pursue or have an idea you want to try out, and you can’t find a worthwhile company to work for, another option is to start your own business. Starting a new business as an entrepreneur allows you to pursue your own interests while also giving you meaning.
Nowadays, there are more options for starting a venture than ever before. Here are some potentially profitable business ideas to get you started:
- Freelance work – If you have a particular talent or ability, consider freelancing for a living. There are plenty freelance writers, composers, and artists out there who are making a very decent living.
- Blogging – Do you have some thoughts to share with the world or an expertise in a narrowly defined niche? If so, starting a blog may prove to be a very worthwhile endeavor for you. It takes time to build, but when done right, will allow you to generate passive income while spreading your thoughts.
- Book writing – If you have the time and resources, writing a book can be a very fulfilling objective that leaves you with some kind of legacy. Not only do you get to spread your thoughts loud and clear all across the globe, but you’ll also (hopefully) be able to make some good money from it.
It’s true that small businesses have the odds stacked against them, but if you stay persistent and passionate about your ideas, you’re sure to grow your hustle into a successful business one day.
Recap: The YOLO Economy is Here to Stay
The YOLO economy is a term used to describe the increasing number of people in the workforce who are pursuing riskier paths (usually entrepreneurial ventures) and forgoing their high-paying jobs.
Mostly embodied by young adults and millennial workers, this phenomenon is largely caused by the pandemic. Specifically, people have been rethinking their priorities after realizing that life is short and nothing is certain. Plus, for many people, returning to their mundane lives of poor work-life-balance after a year and a half of languishing in quarantine just doesn’t feel like the right move.
If you’re to participate in the YOLO economy, rest assured that there are many benefits to doing so and there are also many ways to jump in. If not, be sure that whatever you’re currently doing brings you the most joy. After all, you really do only live once.
Jeff is a Harvard 2025 student passionate about making smart financial decisions both in school and in the workplace so that he can spend more time doing what he loves (like playing golf, spending time with family, and travelling). He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys sharing all things personal finance, academic, and golf-related. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.