I so love the collective consciousness, although lately it's been giving me a bit of a headache. Between my 20th high school reunion, our new Class of '87 website, the TV show "High School Reunion" (whose participants are from a TX Class of '87), and my discussion with my good friend Lisa the other night about age, relationships, babies, and life, I was mentally exhausted. And then I opened Parade Magazine this morning and read just the thing I needed. I hope you'll all read it and watch the video. I was surprised to see in the first minute that the speaker has moved to Chesapeake, VA which is just minutes from where I live. I'm not sure why, but I'm tickled that he lives so close. I'm just sorry that he won't be there for very long. Thanks for sharing this with us, Mr. Pausch. You're a tremendous person.
The Lessons I'm Leaving Behind
By Randy Pausch
Published: April 6, 2008
At many colleges, professors are asked to give a “last lecture.” In this talk, they ruminate on what matters most to them. As they speak, audiences mull the same question: What wisdom would you impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?
Last year, I agreed to give a last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University, where I’m a professor in the computer science department. A few weeks later, I learned that I had only months to live—I was dying of pancreatic cancer.
I knew I could cancel. I have three young children, I’m married to Jai, the woman of my dreams, and there were so many things to be done. But by speaking, I knew I could put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children, Dylan, Logan and Chloe. Here’s what I want to share.
Always Have Fun
Before I spoke, Carnegie Mellon’s president, Jared Cohon, said to me, “Please tell them about having fun, because that’s what I’ll remember you for.”
I came to an early realization. Each of us must make a decision, best captured in A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh characters. Am I a fun-loving Tigger or a sad-sack Eeyore? It’s clear where I stand.
For my last Halloween, Jai, our kids and I dressed up as the Incredibles. I put a photo of us on my website and explained that chemo had not affected my superpowers. I got smiling e-mails in response.
I won’t let go of the Tigger in me. Someone asked what I want on my tombstone. I said: “Randy Pausch: He Lived 30 Years After a Terminal Diagnosis.” I could pack a lot of fun into 30 years. If that’s not to be, I’ll pack fun into the time I have.
I was 8 in the summer of 1969, when men first walked on the moon. I was at camp, and we campers were brought to the main house to watch the moment on TV. But the astronauts were taking a while, and it was late. The counselors sent us to our tents to sleep, and we missed the first walk.
I was peeved. I thought: “My species has gotten off our planet and is in a new world for the first time, and you people think bedtime matters?”
When I got home, my dad gave me a photo that he’d taken of our TV set the second Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. We still have that photo.
Give yourself permission to dream. Fuel your kids’ dreams too. Once in a while, that might even mean letting them stay up past their bedtimes.
Ask for What You Want
On a trip to Disney World, my dad and I were at the monorail with my son Dylan, then 4. Dylan wanted to sit in the nose-cone with the driver, and my father thought it would be a kick too.
“Too bad they don’t let regular people sit there,” Dad said.
“Actually, I’ve learned there’s a trick to getting to sit up front,” I said. “Do you want to see it?”
I walked over to the attendant and said: “Excuse me. Could we please sit in the front car?”
“Certainly,” the attendant said. He led us to the nose-cone. It was one of the only times I ever saw my dad flabbergasted. “I said there was a trick,” I told him. “I didn’t say it was a hard trick.”
Now I’ve gotten even better at “just asking.” As we all know, it can take days to get medical results. Waiting is not how I want to spend my time, so I ask: “What’s the fastest I can get these results?”
“Oh,” they often respond, “we might be able to have them for you within an hour.”
Ask. More often than you’d suspect, the answer you’ll get is, “Sure.”
Dare To Take a Risk
In a virtual-reality course I taught, I encouraged students to attempt hard things and not worry about failing. At the end of the semester, I presented a stuffed penguin—“The First Penguin Award”—to the team that took the biggest gamble while not meeting its goals. The award came from the idea that when penguins jump in water that might have predators, well, one of them’s got to be the first penguin. In essence, it was a prize for “glorious failure.”
Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted. And it can be the most valuable thing you have to offer.
Look for the Best In Everybody
I got this advice from Jon Snoddy, my hero at Disney Imagineering. “If you wait long enough,” he said, “people will surprise and impress you.” When you’re frustrated with people, when you’re angry, it may be because you haven’t given them enough time. Jon warned that this took great patience, even years. “In the end,” he said, “people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting. It will come out.”
Make Time for What Matters
When Jai and I went on our honeymoon, we wanted to be left alone. Since my boss demanded a way for people to reach me, I recorded this greeting:
“Hi, this is Randy. I waited until I was 39 to get married, so my wife and I are going away for a month. I hope you don’t have a problem with that, but my boss does. Apparently, I have to be reachable.” I then gave the names of Jai’s parents and the city where they lived. “If you call directory assistance, you can get their phone number. And then, if you can convince my in-laws that your emergency merits interrupting their only daughter’s honeymoon, they have our number.” We didn’t get any calls.
Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think.
Let Kids Be Themselves
Because I’ve been so vocal about my childhood dreams, people have asked me about the dreams I have for my own kids. As a professor, I’ve seen how disruptive it can be for parents to have specific dreams for their children. My job is to help my kids foster a joy for life and develop the tools to fulfill their own wishes. My wishes for them are very exact and, given that I won’t be there, I want to be clear: Kids, don’t try to figure out what I wanted you to become. I want you to become what you want to become. And I want you to feel as if I am there with you, whatever path you choose.
Adapted from the book The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch and Wall Street Journal reporter Jeffrey Zaslow. Copyright © 2008 Randy Pausch. To be published by Hyperion. All rights reserved.
AFTER THE LECTURE
After I gave my lecture in September, I expected to go home and quietly spend time with my family. I never imagined that my talk would be viewed online by millions worldwide. The response has overwhelmed and moved me. Thousands of people have written to me about their life lessons. I’ve also been buoyed by former students who’ve told me how my teaching made a difference to them. There’s no greater gift for a teacher.
I’ve used my unexpected fame to advocate for pancreatic cancer research. Last month, I testified before Congress to seek funding for my disease, which is considered the deadliest of cancers.
I’ve had great fun too. In my lecture, I told of two childhood dreams: playing in the NFL and being Captain Kirk on Star Trek. Strangers fulfilled those wishes. I was invited to scrimmage with the Pittsburgh Steelers and got to say a line in a new Star Trek film. Both experiences were thrilling.
I’m lucky to be living longer than I expected, allowing me more time with my kids. I’ve tried to do unforgettable things with them—such as swimming with dolphins—so they’ll have concrete memories of us and of my love for them.
I am honored that my lecture will live on and that people have found it beneficial. Honestly, though, the talk was for my kids, and it gives me comfort to know that they will one day watch it.