My 8 Life Lessons from Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch sadly died on July 25, 2008 after leading a brief but powerful life. I think the legacy of Randy Pausch is for me in his life lessons:

I’ve supplied 8, you can supply you own in comments…

In no particular order, here they are:

1) As much as we’re suckered by advertising to believe that happiness comes from the right soda or shaving cream or car, Randy taught us of the much greater enduring importance of human ties.

2) Children feeling loved by adults is WAY more important than any unintentional damage done to an object, as Randy’s story about minimizing the damage done to his new convertible when his nephew Chris threw up in it on the way back from an amusement park. As Randy said: “I don’t care how much joy you get out of owning a shiny new thing; it’s not as good I felt from making sure that an 8 year old didn’t have to feel guilty for having the flu.” It’s a lesson that as a parent is all too easy to forget.

3) Letting kids’ dreams live. I recently returned home to see a pretty treehouse newly covered with bright green, yellow and blue paint that my children had decided “looked better”. I held back my anger and remembered Randy’s story about the importance of his parents letting him paint his walls of his room with whatever formulas or design he wanted. I’m expecting amazing dividends over the longer term; who cares about house resale value (especially in today’s market)….

4) Persistence and hard work: parents today are too quick to reward output (“what a nice drawing”) and not nearly focused enough on getting children to realize that persistence pays off (“you should be really proud of how hard you worked on that puzzle” or “proud of how long you stuck with X”). Randy’s message that brick walls aren’t there to keep us from our dreams but to separate those who REALLY want a dream from those who only wanted it a bit (who then give up). I see the brick walls as encouraging greater persistence. One of the experiences that taught me the most about what I can achieve was wanting to give up while climbing a 5.7 pitch wall (my first climb) on Outward Bound. The instructor insisted that I couldn’t back down from where I was and had to continue climbing; at the moment I wanted to throttle him (not that I would have) but my feelings of anger had turned into a huge bear hug by the time I made it to the top.

5) Finding the Light in others: as a Quaker, I strongly identify with Randy’s message that everyone has a good side, but it just takes longer to find it in some than others. A lesson that as much as I strongly believe it, takes amazing patience to realize in one’s life. But when it finally does come, it’s like a blade of grass or a flower emerging from a crack in the asphalt.

6) Irrepressible optimism and lack of bitterness: down to the end, Randy was ever optimistic, as energetic as could be expected. A close friend had cancer recently and refused to get negative because she pointed out that the negative energy was like a cancer of its own. [Some of this is spelled out in the documentary What the #$*! Do We Know!?]


7) The value of failure: this reminds me of Joseph Campbell’s “Dig where you stumble; there you will find gold”. Our society values success so much that it’s hard not to view failure as, well, a failure. Moreover, history is viewed through the lens of the successors, and that plus Hollywood (which values simplistic stories) seems to make every successful idea or relationship seem like it was pre-destined. In real life, so many great ideas or strong relationships or successful people were forged on the anvil of prior failure which then became experience. The key is not whether you fail or not initially, but learning from that failure and getting beyond it.

8) Living with the child-like wonder. As a parent, one is often tempted to think that I have the wisdom that my children will sometime gain, or to be frustrated that they don’t yet have this wisdom. But how powerful it can be to turn that around and say they have the child-like wonder, some of which I have lost, and to use that as a constant reminder of how much they have to teach us. Whether it be the love of being in a sprinkler, or creating an imaginary city in the forest using nature, or the thrill at seeing an unusual bug, or such empathy that they are in tears about whether a protagonist in a story who is in trouble will ultimately be okay, or living so much in the moment that they lose track of the world around them…

How does the “voice of Randy” change what you do?

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5 responses to “My 8 Life Lessons from Randy Pausch

  1. I thought about Dr. Pausch a couple of weeks ago when I took his advise and let my 7 & 8 year old daughters paint their bedroom. A couple of times during the process I thought about calling him up and cursing him out, but now I couldn’t be happier with the outcome and my girls love their designs. Thank you Dr. Pausch, the world seems a little sadder now that you have left.

  2. I am deeply saddened by your passing. You reinforced that every moment of every life is truly a gift and should be savoured. Although I have always tried to savour, I am now trying to savour more. I have given your book to my 10 year old son to read. Chapter by chapter, he reads, he asks, we discuss your message, and enjoy each of life’s moments with more thanks and wonder more now than ever. Love and thoughts to Jai and your beautiful children.

  3. I think the value of failure you point out is so key; we often just react to failure by trying to distance ourselves from it as quick as possible, as opposed to understanding and growing from it. Thanks for the honest and encouraging thoughts.

  4. I AM SO SORRY HE CHANGED MY LIFE! IM READING HIS BOOK RIGHT NOW! WHAT AN AMAZING MAN AND HUSBAND, FATHER!

  5. I’m a wiser and a more thankful person after reading about this wonderful man. His video is inspirational and the message he delivered will forever live on in my world. I send my heartfelt condolences to his wife, children and family.

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