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The Last Lecture

Posted by on August 27, 2008

Have you ever had this happen to you?

You’re in the middle of a super duper productive day, I mean, things are just rollin’ and you feel like if you tried building a space ship for NASA today you might have a good chance.

Well that was me on Thursday of last week until into my life pops a text message that brought my productivity level screeeeeeching to a halt, but took my “good for my life” experiences quota and filled it for the month.

The text from my friend said, “I’m reading the Last Lecture right now and I see you in a lot of what this guy says, search it on YouTube”

This friend really knows how to push my buttons as is shown in that message that appeals to every part of me:

  • “I’m Reading…” –My Book nerd
  • “I see you in a lot of what this guy says”
      • My ego – does she mean this in a good or bad way? She better not have just interrupted me to insult me. 😉
      • Endless curiosity – What’s this guy saying?
  • “Search it on YouTube” – My Inner Geek – Any reason to go to YouTube is a good reason.

So here’s what I found:

The Last Lecture is a long standing tradition at Carnegie Mellon University where a tenured and specifically selected professor is asked the question, “If you had to give the last lecture of your life, what would you say to your students?” and then proceed to give that lecture.

But in 2007 something happened that Carnegie Mellon never wished upon any of its staff, Dr. Randy Pausch had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer and now had only several months to live, therefore making his Last Lecture a working definition.

Pausch stood in front of a lecture room that included a his students, colleagues, and his future widow, to give a lecture that went onto be viewed over 6 MILLION times on YouTube. This lecture would later be turned by Dr. Pausch into a book during his last months with us.

Now how I managed to only hear about this last week is beyond me, but I am certainly glad it eventually reached my eyes and ears. Here is a man in a dire situation in which there is no escape, and thankfully has lived a live that allows him to act in such a courageous way that I don’t believe there’s a person alive that could not benefit from his outlook.

Randy Pausch had the presence of mind to realize that after he’s gone, his 3 children and adoring wife will be thrust into an unbelievable time of grieving and sadness where he will not be around to catch them when they fall. So as Randy beautifully puts it, “While I’m still alive I can either choose to dwell in my own situation or work as hard as I can to build nets around my family to catch them as they fall after I”m gone.” The impact of that statement speaks volumes to the meaning of true motivation.

Pausch’s real Last Lecture is more than 90 minutes long, and well worth watching from beginning to end but for those of you looking for a great summary you can watch the 10min clip below this post from (ugh) the Oprah show as Randy sums up his lecture and philosophy as only he can.

What I took away first and foremost from The Last Lecture is Pausch’s realization of the truly important things in life and how much of these things pass the rest of us by as we take life itself for granted.

Because its not the things we have that make us unhappy, its always the things we don’t have. We put so much emphasis on the items we clutter our lives with that we consistently forget about what actually matters.

Pausch tells the great story of how his parents let him paint his room however he’d like as a child and shows the audience pictures of his masterpiece. He painted himself objects like a spaceship, an elevator, and every child’s dream…the quadratic equation. Yes, you guessed it Dr. Randy Pausch was a Doctor of Computer Sciences.

Within his story on Oprah, after shortly pleading with the audience to please let their children paint their room if they want to he said, “Please stop worrying about the re-sell value on the house”. As funny as that line is, I’m sure in most cases it will hold very very true. We tend to care more about a phantom value or perhaps what the neighbours might think instead of thinking about how it feels to be 12 years old without the ability to even pick what goes on the walls of where he sleeps. But its Pausch story about his new car that stands out in my mind the most and I urge you all to watch the 10min clip below to see it.

The worst part is when discussing this clip with other people I hear, “Oh well, he’s dying so he doesn’t have to worry about his new car or the re-sale value of his home, but those of us still living have to keep those things in mind.” I can’t tell you how insane hearing that makes me.  (note: Pausch’s new car story took place well before his diagnosis)

Why must someone be on death’s door to realize our priorities are a little bit off center? In my opinion, as a species our compass of true value has been broken for years, if not centuries. There are people out there worried about how their peers will see them if they date the wrong person, or wear the wrong outfit, yet are completely apathetic to what the cigarette they are smoking is doing to their lungs and the air quality of the people around them. We’ve come so far from what’s important that we don’t know who is our neighbour, who is our friend, and who is the group next to be earmarked as terrorists. Something has to change.

But I digress…

To sum up the insight I received from watching The Last Lecture would be unfair as it truly is something everyone should watch for themselves.

Unfortunately, Dr. Pausch passed away July 25th, 2008 (my birthday) in his fight with Pancreatic Cancer, and can be remembered only in the legacy he’s left us all to follow. He’s certainly an inspiration to me, and I can only hope his lessons will hopefully influence how I move through life and the values I choose to place on the situations, people, and items that inhabit my life.

The best part about Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture is this, “The lecture really was for my kids, but if others are finding value in it, that is wonderful. But rest assured; I’m hardly unique.”

Thank you Dr. Pausch. Rest In Peace.

And to my friendly text messager, she’s just moved herself to the top of my “Allowed to Refer” list. So a big thank you to her as well. 😉

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