Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Last Lecture

If you knew you were not long for this world, and you had to deliver one or several key messages to those you loved and cared about most in this world, what would you say? What would you want people to remember most about you or what you had to say? What does it mean to leave a legacy?

This was the challenge, "brick wall", or better yet opportunity that Carnegie Melon professor Randy Pausch was presented with after he was diagnosed with cancer several years ago.

Pausch has been gone for three years now and while that may mean that I am late to the party as far as reading this book goes, its message is no less relevant today than it was when it was first delivered.

Pausche, then 47, was faced with the reality that his time on this earth was nearly over and that, among other things, he would not be around to be a husband to his wife and a father to his three children, the youngest being 18 months old.

It is with this backdrop and seemingly the weight of a family he would not be around to support that he delivered his last lecture.

Speaking to a large group, or writing something that many will read presents a profound challenge, and that is, the challenge to be profound. Sometimes the spoken or written word gives people the opportunity to pull something extraordinary out of the ordinary. To say or write something that will cement that person in the hearts and minds of those he or she touched with their words. This was the case with the book The Last Lecture that Pausch wrote, based on the presentation he gave at Carnegie Melon. What's most amazing to me is that the book is almost seamlessly profound. That he just lived his life in a certain way, because he knew no other way and would not entertain the idea of living some other way...particularly after his diagnosis. Leaving a lasting legacy of both words AND deeds that can pierce the hearts and minds of those who read his book, or listen to his speech.

In the book, there were several things that really stood out to me that I find to be quite meaningful pieces of advice and/or examples of how to handle both difficult situations and situations that we deem difficult (because we may not know how difficult things can truly be and sometimes can't see beyond the end of our own nose).

We cannot change the cards we're delt, just how we play the hand.

It's simple, and it has been stated before. In the movie Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams character Sean is chastised by Will (played by Matt Damon) the protagonist for "playing one hand and cashing in his chips" after Sean's wife passed. To this Sean replies "hey, at least I played a hand." The discussion goes on, but the principle remains the same, we just can't change what happens to us, only how we deal with it. Another book that address is this is called "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff." Under the main title in the book the words "and it's all small stuff" appear. It's a lesson that has great meaning for me and something I continue to battle and work on as I see what's in my hand.

When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody is bothering to tell you anymore, that's a bad place to be. You may not want to hear it, but your critics are often the ones telling you they love you and care about you and want to make you better.

The quote is a reminder that self assessment and improvement is not only a reality of life, but it is necessary for proper growth and perspective. One of the most challenging things to do as an adult with an ego is say "I could do such and such better" or, "I could improve my approach to this or that better." Even worse, if we are truly interested in self improvement, we should be asking the question of those that care for us most "what can I do better?" The context of the quote comes from a demanding coach he had...and at some point in all our lives, we'll encounter a Coach Grahm. There will be people that we meet in life both personally and professionally that will be hard on us...we just have to hope that these people continue to care enough about us to be hard on us.

My first boss was very demanding and very tough to work for...especially for a kid right out of college, but one of my managers and good friends reminded me that once you can learn how to deal with mean, you can learn to deal with a lot of other things. It's a good lesson and reminder.


There isn't one quote from the book that stands out to me about the many goals that Pausch was able to achieve in his life, but more that he worked hard to reach them. I feel like I heard or read a quote somewhere that said "Goals are stars to steer your life by, not sticks to beat yourself with." (Barbara Smith?).

Achieving goals as an adult  is a tricky thing. I have personal goals, professional goals, dreams and other such things I want to do or see in my life. Will I ever realize any of my goals or dreams? I sure hope so, but until I do, I'll continue to use them to steer my life, not negatively judge myself. Also, the older I get, the harder it becomes to balance work, life, and goals. Pausch is a good example of sticktuitiveness and drive in acheiving his life goals.

The Brick Walls are There for a Reason

Ain't that the truth!

One of the more poigniant parts of The Last Lecture is the concept of the Brick Wall. Pausch notes that the brick walls in life are there for a reason...they're there for the people who don't want things as bad as we do.

One of the benefits of being a kid, and I can even see this example shining through in both my 3-year-old and 1-year-old, is that kids don't know what they can't do. That's why kids dream so big. Somewhere along the way in life we learn our limitations. We either find them out through personal experience, or we find people that tell us what our limitations are, or should be.

When we find ourselves standing in front of a brick wall, it is up to us to figure out how to navigate around it. Some brick walls take more time to navigate, but when we get around them, we'll feel a sense of accomplishment and eventually understand why that brick wall was placed in front of us. As my dad once said to me, "if you think you can, you can. If you think you can't, you're right."

Don't Obsess Over What People Think


Watch What They Do, Not What They Say

Several months ago I was asked to go shovel snow at my church. Typically I would've found a way out of the task. As I sat and thought about it, my thoughts turned to a specific friend of mine who is always thinking of and serving others. I thought, "what would he do?" I immediately realized what I needed to do and I loaded up my shovel and headed out. It's one thing to say you want to help others and do service. It's a whole other thing to actually follow through with it. Pausch, my buddy, and countless others have taught me how important actions are in determining who we really are.

This applies across everything we do, including the workplace. So many times, people say the right things, but when it comes right down to it, they find ways to place the blame on others and not be available to help when the solution is put in place. It's a measure of who we are, and we have to ask ourselves...who do we want to be?

Loyalty is a Two Way Street


Know Who You Are

The entire book is filled with examples of a man who knew who he was and lived his life in a way that reflected that. Whether it was fulfilling his own dreams, helping others fulfil theirs, showing strength and optimism when the situation did not call for it, and many other things, Pausch showed us time and time again what it means to live life to the fullest and what it most important in life.

If you haven't read the book, I would suggest doing so. If you've gotten this far in this blog post and have some time, please watch all or part of the embeded video of the Last Lecture.

Though he is no longer with us, I will always respect Randy Pausch for living his life the way that he did so that I could read about it and try to live my life better.

Thank you Randy.

1 comment:

  1. Very nicely written and yes, profound. Nice reminder to all of us and a boost to walk the walk.