The Last Lecture (2008) by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaclow
“I have an engineering problem,” writes Randy, a former professor of Computer Science, Human-Computer Interaction and Design at Carnegie Mellon University, who is now famous for his YouTube video entitled The Last Lecture [check it out, CLICK HERE], “While for the most part, I’m in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I have only a few months left to live.” How heartbreak, right? He continues, “I am a father of three young children, and married to the woman of my dreams. While I could easily feel sorry for myself, that wouldn’t do them, or me, any good. So, how to spend my very limited time?” To me, that sounds like late Steve Jobs who once said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” Randy doesn’t waste his limited time. He wanted to leave a legacy for others, especially for his children. He desires to give a ‘last lecture’ at the university. “If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured,” he said.
Carnegie Mellon University has a tradition whereby the organizers will ask selected professors to offer reflections on their personal and professional journeys called The Last Lecture Series (later it was renamed to Journeys series). Randy’s Last Lecture was really his last lecture! When I read this book – for my personal retreat this year, 7-11th March 2019 at Kundasang, Sabah – I imagined I was among the people who witnessed this historical event. I was hooked and listened to it attentively. “I lecture about the joy of life, about how much I appreciated life, even with so little of my own left,” explains Randy (his mother like to call him Randolph, which he hates very much), “I talk about honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I hold dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring.” Not a boring lecture [I watched the YouTube video] and book [I read the book in 2 days] indeed! After he presented his CT scans images of 10 tumors in his liver, he turned to his audience, “If I don’t seem as depressed or morose as I should be, sorry to disappoint you. I assure you I am not in denial…” He doing his push-ups at the center of the stage and the audience began to laugh and applauded. Not a dying man – not that day – he is a living person who will speak to the crowd in the fresh.
He divided his lecture (and his book) into six (6) parts:
Part 1: The Last Lecture. In the chapter An Injured Lion Still Wants to Roar, Randy outlines what happened after he found out about pancreatic cancer, how he accepted the invitation to speak, what he wanted to speak, what are the struggles and why he did it anyway. His interactions with his wife, Jai (pronounce as Jay) and his love for his children really touched me. In his preparation to write his speech, he asked himself, “What makes me unique? ...Cancer doesn’t make me unique… My uniqueness, I realized, came in the specifics of all the dreams – from incredible meaningful to decidedly quirky – that defined my 46 years of life.” And so, in…
Part 2: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams… he talks about how his parents (and mentors) supported and contributed to his motivations to achieved his childhood dreams, namely, 1) Being In Zero Gravity [“Being weightless is a sensation hard to fathom when you’ve been an Earthling all your life”] 2) Playing In the NFL [this is the only dream that he didn’t achieve. My favorite quote in relation to this dream is this: “Even though I did not reach the National Football League, I sometimes think I got more from pursuing that dream, and not accomplishing it, then I did from many of the ones I did accomplish”]; 3) Authoring an Article in the World Book Encyclopedia [you’ll find him under ‘V’ for Virtual Reality article]; 4) Being Captain Kirk [“I seriously believe that I became a better teacher and colleague – maybe even a better husband – by watching Kirk run the Enterprise,” he said matter-of-factly]; 5) Winning Stuffed Animals [This is funny. “The coolest guy was easy to spot: He was the one walking around with the largest stuffed animal… If he had the biggest stuffed animal, then he was the coolest guy at the carnival.” The desire to be cool was what makes Randy won many stuffed animals], and 6) Being a Disney Imagineer [there are many challenges that he has to face in order to be a Disney imagine-engineer but he didn’t give up. He explains, “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.” Yes!].
Part 3: Adventures… And Lessons Learned. There are a lot of stories worth mentioning here. How he met Jai, the incident during their marriage, his relationship with his students and colleagues, his cool Dutch uncle, and many more. One story that amazed me the most is the story when Randy intentionally opened a can of soda, turned it over and poured it on his brand-new Volkswagen Cabrio’s cloth seats in the back. He wanted to deliver the message to his nephew, Christ, 7 years old, and niece, Laura, 9 years old that: “People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.” Unbelievable. Crazily good.
Part 4: Enabling the Dreams of Others. Randy shared about his childhood dreams believing that it is worth to pursue and in return, he wanted to fulfill other’s childhood dreams too. “Enabling the dreams of others can be done on several different scales. You can do it one on one… You can do it with fifty or a hundred people at a time… And, if you have large ambitions and a measure of chutzpah, you can attempt to do it on a large scale, trying to enable the dreams of millions of people.” What’s important for Randy is to give back and to inspire others to achieve their dreams. Leave your legacy. Your life is short.
Part 5: It’s About How to Live Your Life. In this part, Randy explains, “This section may be called, ‘It’s About How to Live Your Life,’ but it’s really about how I’ve tried to live mine. I guess it’s my way of saying: Here’s what worked for me.” This part is very important and practical. Among his wisdoms are: dream big, earnest is better than hip, don’t complain just work harder, treat the disease not the symptom, don’t obsess over what people think, look for the best in everybody, watch what they do not what they say, show gratitude, a bad apology is worse than no apology, tell the truth, all you have to do is ask, make a decision: Tigger or Eeyore, and many more.
Part 6: Final Remarks. There are three chapters in this part: 1) Dreams for My Children, where he writes about what he wants his children to remember about him and give short messages for each of his children. This chapter is very touching and sad; 2) Jai and Me, his personal message to his wife, his hope for her, and what he appreciates about her soon-to-be widow; and 3) The Dream Will Come to You. Why he delivered the lecture, why he writes this book, Randy ends his lecture with this message: “It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you…”
At the back cover of this book, there is a photo of Randy standing by one swing set, holding a smiling Logan with his right arm and sweet Chloe with his left, and Dylan sitting happily on his shoulders. “…It was [also] for my kids.” Randy Pausch died in the same year this book is published, 2008. “We cannot change the cards we are dealt,” he famously said, “just how we play the hand.” Read this book… think about your life… making the most of your time here on earth. This is not a Christian book, but I can’t help but to recall a line in C. T. Studd’s poet that says, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past/ Only what’s done for Christ will last.” Think about it.
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.