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The YOLO Economy and Me: How I Reimagined My Life

Lots of talk about the #GreatResignation and #YOLOeconomy.

What is the yolo economy? YOLO is the acronym for “you only live once”. The New York Times referred to the phenomenon of millennials quitting their jobs after burnout from the pandemic. So, people are choosing risky moves to find more meaningful work.

This is interesting because I somewhat coined this idea back in 2016 in my book, You Only Live Once. I too left a job to find more meaning. 

I was burnout from a job I enjoyed and coworkers I adored. However, I needed to find meaning and reason for my actual existence outside of professional achievements.

When I quit my job all those years ago, the idea wasn’t to become an entrepreneur. I simply needed extended time off. I thought a few months would do my mind and body well. Until a chance conversation with my neighbor made me realize I was in a position to take an entire year off.

My company did all they could to keep me. More money. Work from anywhere in the world and only required once-a-month flights into the SF Bay area. Down payment assistance and also offered paid time off to reset. In fact, when I left the CEO and Board stated I was welcomed back.

At this point in my relatively young career, I was making moves but something felt missing. I worked hard and achieved company goals. I lived well. But I was undeniably stressed. I visited ERs and had tons of blood tests done. My body began showing signs of distress.

So, I was doing all the mental exercises to deny what I was feeling at the time. However, I couldn’t ignore my body the way I refused to acknowledge it mentally. I would hyperventilate. I developed vertigo. My joints would ache and at times unable to get out of bed.

Before an event in Worcester, MA, I physically couldn’t get up out of bed. When I didn’t show up for my event, my assistant called the hotel and the ambulance came. Something was definitely wrong.

I thought the best answer was to “suck it up” and be grateful for the career achievements and the financial gains.

It took me 6 months to actually leave my company from the day I handed in my resignation. I was scared yet excited. And there were moments I was doubting my decision. I had many conversations and one sticks out. I had lunch with my Finance VP, he said “the board believes in you so when will you believe in yourself?” Wow. When would I start believing in myself?

I wasn’t financially independent

But I was financially secure. I had savings, a little debt, 401-k, and company stock. So I was in a good position to try something different. But the plan was to return back and get a job as an executive. I just needed that time off.

So, yes, the plan was to get back to work. In fact, I was being recruited by credit union head hunters. I knew I had options. I was well respected in my industry and had a large network. But that still didn’t give me the full courage I needed to make the leap.

I did what many of my family and friends thought was exciting but also foolish. Some behind my back called it “the dumbest thing” I could have ever do. Who would just give up? But what they didn’t know was that I was beginning to choose myself.

During my global backpacking trip, I had many eye-opening experiences and conversations. I was forced into situations and found myself in remote locations. I spent lots of time alone with my own thoughts. Thinking and reflecting about my past and wondering what lay ahead.

My first moment of doubt was sitting in an airplane leaving Manila. After seeing life for many people, I began feeling my stomach tighten in the privilege I had to quit a job, and people I saw were just trying to survive. It reminded me of my parent’s own survival. I felt I smacked my parents in the face for rebuking their sacrifice. They survived to give me opportunities that I was turning my back on.

But now I see a testament to their sacrifice is me thriving, not merely surviving.

My family in their search for something better also YOLO’d. They took a risk in this country. With all the challenges and barriers, America was an opportunity for a better life. And you can say the YOLO mentality is in my DNA.

jason vitug bagan myanmar

In one of my iconic backpacking moments.

I had an epiphany. I was sitting on top of a 12-century temple staring at thousands of pagodas and stupas in Bagan, Myanmar. How does someone who grew up the way I did get to choose to go off on his own path?! Someone who shared a closet of a bedroom with 2 brothers to exploring the world.

I wanted to help others in similar situations take control of their life. I knew money was an issue but often we get distracted with making money and forget why we wanted it in the first place…to live.

My journey since my resignation, the backpacking trip, and starting phroogal have been a rollercoaster ride. It hasn’t been perfect. It has its ups and downs, twists and turns, and sharp drops. I would be lying if I said it was all peaches and roses. It continues to be a journey.

I wouldn’t change it for the world.

And that’s what I am learning about life. It’s a journey. We have our start date and end date. What do we do in between those dates? I surely don’t want to spend it doing work that doesn’t matter and spending money to pretend it doesn’t matter.

When I started the Road to Financial Wellness, I wanted to have different conversations about money with people. For me money is really a tool, the more we have the easier things can be, but often it isn’t the solution, just the thing we need to create the life we love.

I met so many people (thousands) all across the country who shared with me their hopes and dreams. And their challenges. Many of which were financial but also many more that were about purpose and meaning.

The number one question I get asked after my talk is about the reasons for leaving and the details that surround it. It was always amusing how only a handful of people ask about the financial aspects.

People have been exhausted before the pandmic

So it doesn’t surprise me that people after experiencing quarantine and going through this pandemic are looking for something more. Some kind of meaning to their existence.

People were forced off the hamster wheel and they had time to reflect on their life. And companies were forced to respond to the pandemic as well and modified their work requirements. It’s led to new opportunities. Welcome the YOLO economy.

Here’s the thing. I actually don’t know many people who don’t want to work. They just want to do work that matters. 

And I’ve learned this desire isn’t just for six-figure earners but those still climbing out of minimum wage. The barriers are different but the wish for something more is the same.

When I wrote my book You Only Live Once (Amazon link here), some people laughed at my title. For me, it was my headstone for generations to see and realize that money is printed but time is limited. How are you making use of this limited resource?

In my book, I said time was an asset. But I’ve learned how it’s a liability. Time is borrowed and returned to the universe. How are you repaying this loan we call time?

Yes, I believe my book still stands today as it did 5 years ago. I also know how much has changed in me and the views I hold. But that desire to fully live, to serve a purpose, to be part of a community, and to have deep connections with others remains the same.

So, why should this matter to you? I don’t know to be honest. I just want to share more of the details that have landed me where I am today. In hopes, that you too can find your way.

Okay, my intent is to show you HOPE (Hearing Other People’s Experiences) through hearing about my experience.

I am a believer that you can get off the hamster wheel and forge your own path forward.

Why the yolo economy? Because you only live once.

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