The Last Lecture: Golden Gems from Randy Pausch

If you found out you only had 6 more months to live, what would you want your legacy to be? What would you tell your friends, your family, and your loved ones?  We all wonder what our memories will be, and what thoughts, values, and ideas we will leave behind should we suddenly be faced with the end of our lives.

For Randy Pausch, professor at Carnegie Mellon and father to 3 kids (age 18 months, 3, and 6 at the time of his writing), The Last Lecture is his response to his sudden diagnosis with terminal cancer in 2008. Just a short time before he passed away, Pausch delivered a powerful lecture that reached an extensive audience, ultimately reprinting his “last lecture” as the best selling book by the same name. Re-reading his book, I find his collection of thoughts and tidbits are timeless and valuable. These are my favorite Randy Pausch quotes, by topic:

On challenges and overcoming adversity:
The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

He was also a fan of saying,”Cherish your Dutch Uncles.”  This expression refers to a person who gives you honest feedback. These people “help us recalibrate ourselves” by showing us who we really are. The best teachers are those that push us, that demand excellence, and perhaps make us squirm a bit. Cherish these teachers – they make us better people.

Also, remember that in times of adversity, you still have control.  “No matter how bad things are, you can always make them worse. At the same time, it is often within your power to make them better.”

On life balance, and time management: Here’s what I know,” he says, in sharing his advice and wisdom: “Time must be explicitly managed, like money,” “You can always change your plan, but only if you have one,” and  “the best shortcut is the long way, which is basically two words: work hard.”

On careers, life, and happiness: Respond and listen to things that give you what he refers to as a “visceral urge” – pay attention to the things you like, and be honest with yourself about them.  Pausch loved Disneyland, and wanted nothing more than to be an Imagineer.  He followed his dream – ultimately doing a sabbatical with Disneyland and becoming an Imagineer for a few months.

As an educator, he would always tell his students that “smart isn’t enough.”  In addition to being intelligent and well-educated, to succeed, you have to be a team player, help other people out, and make other people happy to be there with you.

When the going gets tough?  “Experience,” he says, “is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

On people: “When we are connected to others, we become better people,” and remember, you should “always be a team player.”

On complaining: “Too many people go through life complaining about their problems. I’ve always believed that if you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things turn out.”

On failing: If you are going to fail, fail big. He rewarded his students for taking challenges, attempting hard things, and being fearless of failure. He created a “glorious failure” award – which he dubbed “The Last Penguin Award,” – dedicated to “the notion that when penguins are about to jump into the water that might contain predators, well, somebody’s got to be the first penguin.”

Randy Pausch epitomizes “living a full life” — and throughout the book, I nearly cry (every time!) over the sadness of a father knowing that he has to leave his wife, kids, and jobs behind at too early an age. His wisdom fills up a small little book – worth picking up as a bookshelf reminder of how to get what we want, figuring out what’s worth it, and how to live life a little bit better each day.

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