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  • Post published:29/10/2021
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Don’t Let it “Slip on By”: Life Lessons from a Song & Retreat

By now, the routine was familiar. Wake up at 5 am, put on my crisp Ralph Lauren polo, scarf down 2 hard-boiled eggs, and rush to catch the 5:46 am train. Its destination? New York City. During the two-hour journey into the Big Apple, I spent my time studying for daily quizzes, finishing last-minute assignments, and attempting to catch some much-needed extra shut-eye. 

Now that I was well into my 3rd year of this commute as a high school junior, little surprised me. I was used to the interminable delays at the slightest dusting of snow. I had even become friends with Sal, the father of 3 who always wore suits that were just a bit too big for him. Despite being in different phases of life, we were united by our commute. Sal was traveling to the city daily to support his family. His dream was to send his kids to the best schools so they could access opportunities he never had. 

I, on the other hand, was already at one of those schools. I was commuting to Regis, an elite, Jesuit all-boys high school on the Upper East Side. With an entrance exam, interview, and acceptance rate of less than 10 percent, the application process was rigorous. 

As a result, all the boys fortunate enough to enter the hallowed grounds were on the fast track to conventional success. I visualized that future every day: elite college, grad school, fancy apartment in the city and mansion in the Hamptons. That’s what I thought I wanted, and I was willing to do anything to get it. “I’ll show everyone,” I thought. Why I felt the need to prove something, I wasn’t entirely sure. 

But it was enough to get me to start my days at 5 am and end them well after I returned home from basketball practice and train delays. I usually walked through my front door at 8 pm and immediately hunkered down on the mountain of homework before me. For three years, I was certain I was making the right sacrifices. Then, out of nowhere I was stopped in my tracks. 

When I became a retreat leader my junior year, I was assigned to one called Quest. The Quest retreat is exactly that, and this quest led me to discover the opportunities I had missed. On the last day of this experience, the chaplain played a song called, Slip on By, by Austin Webb. While the song seemed to have little impact on the other students, for some reason its message about wasted time and lost opportunities brought me to tears. 

I was not quite sure why the song moved me in such a way. I mean, I was a little too young to have regrets about wasted time. But I kept coming back to one verse in particular:

Hear the sound of my little boy saying
Daddy can you come play with me?
But I was too busy
Then one day my baby grew up and went to war
I never thought he’d be gone in the blink of an eye
Don’t let it slip on
Don’t let it slip on
Don’t let it slip on by

As I sit here to write this with a blurry-looking screen, I can assure you that it still elicits an emotional response. I couldn’t figure out why this verse struck such a chord with me at the time. Then I got to thinking about my role as the eldest of five children and where I might have come up short.

Because of the significant age difference between him and his older siblings, my 10-year-old brother, Brady, is often left without a playmate. He was and still is a spirited boy who is constantly imploring me to play with him. After spending a short time warming up for a football catch, he’ll race up to me, sweating and smiling, and say “Come on Shane. Me versus you. I’ll crush you!” 

The song served as a reminder of the times I’d sent him away. Sure there were many times when I accommodated him, but whether it was because of a long commute, a late basketball practice, or homework and other responsibilities, I felt that too often I’d turned him down. Webb punctuates this feeling when he sings, “And God gives us only so much precious time, Don’t let it slip on by.” 

Fast forward five years, and I’m a Harvard graduate entering the job market. My work ethic hasn’t changed too much; I find great joy in challenging myself and working together with others towards a goal. That said, the song’s message continues to remind me of the importance of balance.

During my junior year of college, I took a psychology course called: “The Science of Happiness.” Other than the famous introductory Computer Science 50, it was the most sought-after course on campus. It became clear that even the highest achieving youngsters struggle to find happiness and joy. In fact, over 20% of Harvard’s undergraduates sought mental health services before the pandemic and that number has since ballooned. 

In one particularly compelling segment of the course, the professor introduced the “Harvard Study on Adult Development”–the longest-running study on happiness. For the project, researchers collected all sorts of health information as they followed over 700 men from their teenaged years in the 1930s. 

The main finding of the project was the overwhelming association between happiness and close relationships. The evidence is clear: prioritizing time with the ones we love is the single greatest predictor of our well-being. 

The message that we’re fed time and again is the importance of productivity and success, often at significant costs. We’re expected to sacrifice our time with friends and family to be “successful.” That’s the American Dream, right? 

I’m not so sure. It seems to me that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. We don’t have to neglect our relationships in favor of work or vice versa. The game is to find the sweet spot and recognize the importance of both.  

I try to keep this lesson at the forefront of my mind. I spend more time with my siblings, friends, and family now than I ever have before. So when Brady and I are having a mock wrestling match and he gets me in a clinch and whispers in my ear, “Shane, When you move away from home, I’m gonna miss you SO much!” I realize that every moment with him and my loved ones is a privilege I don’t ever want to let slip on by.

Photo Credit

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Guest Author Bio
Shane O’Donoghue

Shane O’Donoghue is a copywriter & digital marketing consultant for professionals in the health industry. He lives a stone’s throw away from Fenway Park in Boston despite being a Yankees fan (yikes!). In his spare time, he loves training at Orange Theory, journaling, and exploring Boston’s historical neighborhoods. If you’d like to connect with Shane or read more of his work, you can find him on Linkedin or at his website. 

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