What Is the YOLO Economy?

And why is it sparking entrepreneurship?

by Charles Jackson

YOLO on a work desk

The acronym “YOLO” took the world by storm in 2011 when Canadian rapper Drake used the term, meaning You Only Live Once, in a song. Since then, YOLO has been used far and wide as a newer version of carpe diem, or seize the day, as a way to encourage people to take risks and live life to the fullest. Now YOLO is being used to describe a new mindset that is changing the economy in the U.S. So, what is the YOLO Economy and how did it come to be?

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic upended all aspects of life, particularly work. Thousands lost their jobs and those with jobs that weren’t essential were ordered to work from home for months. This abrupt change forced many to reevaluate where they were in their career and if it truly brought them joy. After seeing the freedom of remote work or the benefit of having more downtime to focus on their side hustle, millennials are now questioning if a traditional 9-to-5 job is the best fit for them. This generation has seen firsthand that sacrifice their parents made for their traditional jobs didn’t always equal happiness and success. Many millennials don’t feel tied to the idea of staying with one job for decades or even working for another person. In fact, a report by Gallup named millennials the generation most likely to switch jobs, so it’s no surprise that the changes brought on by the pandemic are leading them to say “YOLO” and explore what life could be like if they were to take their career into their own hands.

The U.S. Business Formation Statistics found that 4.35 million new business applications were submitted in 2020, a 24.13% increase from 2019. This may seem surprising considering how many small businesses closed due to the pandemic, but it’s likely those were businesses that were unable to adapt to the challenges created by the pandemic. Now, thanks to technology, starting a business is easier than ever before and doesn’t require a brick-and-mortar store or office. This freedom is what’s drawing millennials to non-traditional work and creating the YOLO Economy. Instead of wasting time commuting, they can work from any location that’s convenient for them. If they want to spend more time with family, they can set their own hours to accommodate that. Self-employment affords many freedoms that an office job does not. 

So, is this the end of traditional jobs as we know it? Probably not. While it’s likely entrepreneurship will continue to grow, it’s not for everyone. Traditional jobs provide a lot of stability that takes more work to secure when self-employed, like a steady income, access to health insurance, retirement plans and other benefits. However, the pandemic has also changed traditional jobs and companies will need to continue to adapt to keep their employees happy. The past year forced businesses to be more efficient with their time and money. Zoom took the place of in-person meetings, and workplace travel and homes transitioned into offices. While many employers feared a drop in productivity due to the quick shift to working from home, a study by Airtasker found that those working remotely worked 1.4 more days every month, or 16.8 more days every year than people who worked in an office. It’s likely we’ll continue to see employers offer a flexible schedule or full-time remote positions moving forward. Not only do employees appreciate this option, but it also allows businesses to source well-qualified individuals for open positions in cities beyond where the business is physically located. 

The YOLO Economy is one of the many changes resulting from the recent pandemic and it won’t be the last. While some millennials might continue to work in the traditional 9-to-5 workforce, many more have started to embrace the benefits of flexible work schedules, more family time, better control over their earnings and the idea of operating their own business that offers a greater method to accumulate wealth. Millennials have embraced that we really “only live once” and are working to make it the best life possible.  

Charles Jackson HeadshotCharles Jackson is the president of Scottsdale-based Association for Entrepreneurship USA, where he assists entrepreneurs nationwide with creating, establishing and expanding their businesses. Prior to his position at AFEUSA, Jackson served eight years on Arizona Board of Dental Examiners and has served as the president of American Dental Plan for nearly 30 years. He is also a published author and has consulted with a variety of small business ventures.

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