Tag Archives: last lecture

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?

Randy Pausch, alas, has died

Randy with wife Jai and children

Randy with wife Jai and children

It was announced today by Diane Sawyer on GMA (July 25, 2008) that Randy Pausch succumbed to pancreatic cancer earlier this morning at home in Virginia. While he didn’t live that long in years (47), his life was a luminescent falling star that touched so many of his students, watchers and readers of the “Last Lecture.”

We wish Jai, and their young children (Dylan, Logan and Chloe) well on coping with this enormous loss and hope that millions of us can show the ultimate power of Randy’s life by translating his life lessons into our own lives.

RIP, Randy. I’m sure you’re already inspring the angels in worlds beyond and I’m thinking of the lucky newborn who gets to inherit your soul.

As Randy himself put it in remarks to CMU graduates recently and demonstrated through his life, “[W]e don’t beat the [Grim] Reaper by living longer. We beat the Reaper by living well.”

Here’s what I see Randy’s legacy as being in my own life. For more of Randy’s life wisdom visit here, for inspiring quotes of Randy’s visit here. See the CNN story of his passing here and see ABC News story of his death.

The family requests that donations on his behalf be directed to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, 2141 Rosecrans Ave., Suite 7000, El Segundo, Calif. 90245, or to Carnegie Mellon’s Randy Pausch Memorial Fund, which primarily supports the university’s continued work on the Alice project (that Randy started through CMU’s computer science department).

See Randy’s comments to the CMU graduates in June.

And spurred by Randy Pausch, the NY Times Well blog had a contest on advice for children with these winning pieces of advice.  And Randy explained in this WSJ piece how to say goodbye which has some wonderful videos.

Randy Pausch notable quotes, excerpts from Last Lecture

In Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in the Fall of 2007, facing pancreatic cancer and the likelihood that he would only live a month or two, Randy summed up his life’s wisdom for his kids (then 1,2, and 5). He gave his lecture to several hundred in a CMU auditorium, but it has now been viewed on YouTube by millions of Americans.  It’s enormously inspiring, tear-rendering and well worth your time if you haven’t seen it.

His Last Lecture is now fleshed out in a book of the same name (co-written with Jeff Zaslow, the WSJ reporter that brought his lecture to widespread prominence) and he recently filmed an ABC News Special with Diane Sawyer. His comments are immensely wise for a 47 year old.

Randy Pausch alas died in his home last night (July 25, 2008) as reported by Diane Sawyer on GMA. Randy Pausch’s home page is here.

He lived a vibrant life to the end, giving a charge to the graduating seniors at his beloved Carnegie Mellon University just in June 2008

and providing moving testimony to Congress on supporting pancreatic cancer research to help future innocent victims (3/13/08).

Notable quotes:

  • When there’s an elephant in the room introduce him
  • Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.
  • If there’s anything I want to do so badly, I should have already done it.
  • We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. If I’m not as depressed as you think I should be, I’m sorry to disappoint you.
  • Work and play well together.
    - Tell The Truth. All The Time. No one is pure evil.
    - Be willing to apologize. Proper apologies have three parts: 1) What I did was wrong. 2) I’m sorry that I hurt you. 3) How do I make it better? It’s the third part that people tend to forget…. Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.
    - Show gratitude. Gratitude is a simple but powerful thing.
    - Find the best in everybody…. Wait long enough, and people will surprise and impress you. It might even take years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting.
    - If you want to achieve your dreams, you better learn to work and play well with others…[you have] to live with integrity.
  • Collaboration, treating others with respect.
    - Never found anger a way to make things better.
    - How do you get people to help you? You can’t get there alone. People have to help you and I do believe in karma. I believe in paybacks. You get people to help you by telling the truth. Being earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person any day, because hip is short term. Earnest is long term.
    - Loyalty is a two-way street.
    - Get a feedback loop and listen to it. Your feedback loop can be this dorky spreadsheet thing I did, or it can just be one great man who tells you what you need to hear. The hard part is the listening to it.
  • Persistence and hard work.
    - When you are doing something badly and no one’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are the ones still telling you they love you and care.
    - Don’t bail: the best gold is at the bottom of barrels of crap
    - Don’t complain, Just work harder. [showing picture on screen] That’s a picture of Jackie Robinson. It was in his contract not to complain, even when the fans spit on him. You can spend it complaining or playing the game hard. The latter is likely to be more effective.
    - Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted…. I probably got more from that dream [of playing professional football] and not accomplishing it than I got from any of the ones that I did accomplish.
  • Fun, wonder, living your dream.
    - Decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eyeore. I’m a Tigger.
    - It is not about achieving your dreams but living your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you.
    - Never underestimate the importance of having fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day, because there’s no other way to play it….Having fun for me is like a fish talking about the importance of water. I don’t know how it is like not to have fun…
    - Never lose the child-like wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us. Help others.
  • Risk-taking.
    - You can tell the pioneers by the arrows in their backs. But at the end of the day, a whole lot of people will have a whole lot of fun.
    - Better to fail spectacularly than do something mediocre. [Randy Pausch gave out a First Penguin award each year when he was teaching to the biggest failure in trying something big and new because he thought this should be celebrated. First Penguins are the ones that risk that the water might be too cold.]
  • Parenting and kids.
    - The best piece of parenting advice I’ve ever heard is from flight attendants. If things get really tough, grab your own oxygen mask first.
    - About his pancreatic cancer: It’s unlucky, but it not unfair. We all stand on a dartboard and some of us randomly get hit by pancreatic cancer. But my children won’t have me for them and that’s not fair.
    - Someone’s going to push my family off a cliff pretty soon and I won’t be there to catch them and that breaks my heart. But I have some time to sew some nets to cushion the fall so that seems like the best and highest use of my time and I better get to work.
    - I’m sorry I won’t be around to raise my kids. It makes me very sad but I can’t change that fact, so I did everything I could with the time I have and the time I had to help other people.
    - Importance of people instead of things. Told story of buying new convertible that he was so proud of and taking niece and nephew for a ride. Randy’s sister, the kid’s mother was telling them how important it was to keep car pristine and kids were laughing because at the same time he was pouring a can of orange soda on the back seats. His sister asked what are you doing and he said “it’s just a thing.” And nephew Chris wound up being really grateful because he had flu and wound up throwing up on way home. “And 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.”
    - [not a direct quote] but Randy implores parents to always indulge your children’s wild ideas (he talks about how important it was that his parents let him decorate his walls with math formulas, despite the negative impact on their house’s resale value) He says: “If you’re going to have childhood dreams you should have great parents who let you pursue them and express your creativity.”
    - It is Important to have specific childhood dreams. (For example, Randy wanted to play football in the NFL, write an article for the World Book Encyclopedia, experience the Weightlessness of Zero Gravity, be Captain Kirk from Star Trek, work for the Disney Company.)
  • Be good at something; it makes you valuable…. Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.
  • I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion. We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.
  • To be cliché, death is a part of life and it’s going to happen to all of us. I have the blessing of getting a little bit of advance notice and I am able to optimize my use of time down the home stretch.

Randy Pausch’s passing away and legacy

Many people wish to know inspiring Randy Pausch’s current medical condition. Alas he passed away last night at home in Virginia early on July 25, 2008 from pancreatic cancer at the age of 47.  Here are the 8 ways I see him influencing my life (his legacy).

I wrote about his amazing Carnegie Mellon University “Last Lecture” earlier (which has been viewed by more than 6,000,000 Americans. I also wrote how he has lived to fulfill his last unfulfilled dream of playing with a professional football team. [Randy was the head teaching assistant when I was a teaching assistant in an introductory computer class at Brown University some years back.]

He lived a bright life to the end, he went back in June to give a charge to the graduating seniors at his beloved Carnegie Mellon University. Randy who called himself an “accidental celebrity” and says there are not many of these for pancreatic cancer since people don’t survive long enough for there to be a Michael J. Fox, mustered the energy, in March, 2008, to testify powerfully and movingly before Congress on pancreatic cancer research.

Pausch noted that no progress has been made on pancreatic cancer research in the last 30 years and there is now a far better chance of living with AIDS than pancreatic cancer. Randy noted that pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths, a disease which strikes innocent victims: Randy exercised, ate right, didn’t smoke, didn’t drink, but still contracted this disease. Randy Pausch thinks we can protect ourselves from this disease but not without dramatically increased funding for research. The disease is genetic and he goes to sleep at night fearing whether kids (ages 2-9) have this genetic marker, although he hoped with dramatically increased funding for pancreatic cancer research that by the time any of his kids get this disease (which usually strikes later in life), doctors will know how to cure it through genetic treatment.

See notable quotes from Randy here and his life wisdom here.

Note: Randy’s book The Last Lecture (Hyperion Press) was released (April 8, 2008), co-written with WSJ reporter Jeff Zaslow. See Randy’s video about the book and preview of interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News special about the book (airing April 10, 2008).

Postscript: Inspiring Randy Pausch lives to fulfills dream of playing with NFL team, updated

I wrote earlier about Randy Pausch, dying of cancer, who gave an inspirational and wonderful ‘last lecture’ at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) where he taught. See blog post here.

He mentioned that the ONE dream that he hadn’t fulfilled was playing professional football, asserting that he had nonetheless learned many lessons from his football coach in the chasing of that dream. Now Randy has ‘played’ professional football, as he practiced recently with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He promised them that if they made it into the Super Bowl he’d still be alive to see it. [Randy fulfilled his end of the bargain; the Steelers however didn’t make it into the Super Bowl XLII which saw the scrappy NY Giants buck the heavily favorite New England Patriots, a thrilling game but one that left Pats fans wincing in the final seconds where the title miraculously slid from their certain grasp; Eli Manning eluded an all-but-certain sack and David Tyree made a how-did-he-do-it catch..]

See notable quotes from Randy here.  See Randy’s legacy for me in life lessons.

Read story “Dying Professor Tackles Final Dream” here.

Note: Randy Pausch is still alive but reports complications that required him to go back into the hospital on March 8, 2008. The great news is that he has beaten the 3-6 months that doctors gave him to live back on August 15, 2007; the bad news is that his body has hard a hard time tolerating the chemotherapy. Bad news: His pancreatic cancer has metastasized to his spleen and liver; doctors say he has a 100% chance of dying, it is just a question of when. Most doctors think he will be dead by the end of 2008. And the news as of July 24, 2008 is that the cancer is progressing as posted on Randy’s website. “A biopsy last week revealed that the cancer has progressed further than we had thought from recent PET scans. Since last week, Randy has also taken a step down and is much sicker than he had been. He’s now enrolled in hospice. He’s no longer able to post here so I’m a friend posting on his behalf because we know what many folks are watching this space for updates.”

He testified back in March 2008 in front of Congress on pancreatic cancer. Updates on Randy Pausch’s condition can be found here and his home page is here (which also has a video of him testifying before Congress on March 13, 2008). [Pausch notes that no progress has been made on pancreatic cancer research in the last 30 years and there is now a far better chance of living with AIDS than pancreatic cancer. His pancreatic cancer has metastasized to spleen and liver; doctors say he has a 100% chance of dying, it is just a question of when. Most doctors think he will be dead by end of the year. Randy notes that pancreatic cancer is a disease which strikes innocent victims: he exercised, ate right, didn't smoke, but still contracted this disease. Randy Pausch thinks we can protect ourselves from this disease but not without dramatically increased funding for research. The disease is genetic and he goes to sleep at night fearing whether kids (ages 2-9) have this genetic marker although he hopes with dramatically increased funding for pancreatic cancer research that by the time any of his kids get this disease (which usually strikes later in life), doctors will know how to cure it through genetic treatment.]

Update: Randy’s book The Last Lecture (Hyperion Press) has now been released (April 8, 2008), co-written with WSJ reporter Jeff Zaslow. See Randy’s video about the book and preview of interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News special about the book (airing April 10, 2008).

Life’s wisdom from Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, who is imminently dying from pancreatic cancer but still quite alive, gave a ‘last lecture’ (i.e., what lecture would you give if you had only one last chance to give a lecture). He was at Brown University a bit ahead of me and I was a teaching assistant to him in a computer class, but never knew him that well; obviously my loss!

It’s funny, poignant, touching and all about living life to its fullest with humanity. Among his wise takeaways from his life thusfar are:

1. Brick walls aren’t meant to keep us from doing things but to separate the ones who REALLY want to do something (those who find a way around the brick wall) from those who don’t (those who give up)
2. Hold on to our “wonder” as we lose our chance to dream of greater things when we lose our wonder.
3. Experience is the wisdom we learn from failing to initially achieve what we wanted.
and many more…

See notable quotes from Randy here.

A heavily abridged 11 minute version of the lecture was given in April 2008 on Oprah.

Original 76 minute lecture available in ten different parts:

part 0
part 1 (Achieving Your Childhood Dreams)
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5
part 6
part 7
part 8
part 9
part 10

Transcript of the Last Lecture available here.

And story also described in a Wall Street Journal column “A Beloved Professor Delivers The Lecture of a Lifetime” (WSJ, 9/20/07, p. D1 by Jeff Zaslow in his Moving On column). If not available there, you can also try here (for text and a 4 minute video story).

Note: Randy’s book The Last Lecture (Hyperion Press) has now been released (April 8, 2008), co-written with WSJ reporter Jeff Zaslow. See Randy’s video about the book and preview of interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC News special about the book (airing April 10, 2008). He published an abridgment in Parade Magazine in April 2008.

Updates on Randy Pausch’s condition can be found here and his home page is here (which also has a video of him testifying before Congress on March 13, 2008).