I Shall Pass This Way but Once

The old saying goes:

I shall pass this way but once; any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

These words can be found in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (pg. 32), but they are not originally attributed to him. Similarly, that book is not the first place I have heard this virtue. I first heard those words from my father, and have heard them repeated here in the Schipul offices.

I don’t remember the circumstances of my first exposure to this virtuous statement, though I can only imagine it was one of the many times that I failed to appreciate an opportunity for kindness. My dad sat down with me and shared “I shall pass this way but once”. He went on to explain the broader meaning of the tale. It’s not about passing through a town or place or really anything specific. It’s about every moment, every interaction, every opportunity to do good. It’s not about buying gifts or planning celebrations. It’s all about the little ways you can show kindness, much like those Liberty Mutual commercials.

It’s easy to glamorize doing good things, to fantasize about writing huge checks or volunteering every weekend somewhere or even just planning special events for your family every night. But this message is about doing much less and achieving much more than those things. It’s the tiny, seemingly insignificant things that you can do to help someone else out that can matter so much more to them. You don’t have to spend money or give all your time, you just need to act in a good and kind nature.

But this is only the first half of the message. The latter portion is a bit more intimidating. As we grow older, we begin to recognize the missed opportunities of our past. I’m only 25 and I can count stacks of occasions, of moments, when I could have been better. As my father explained to me, life comes with thousands of opportunities, but you only get one shot at each one. I can’t go back in time and hold the elevator for the woman I can hear walking down the hallway. I can’t go back and offer to clean the dishes from a meal that I did not have to cook myself. Each opportunity presents itself only once, and we must seize each as an opportunity to show kindness.

Thanks Dad, for reminding me often that I shall pass this way but once.