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.

18 responses to “Randy Pausch notable quotes, excerpts from Last Lecture

  1. This has been one of those talks which has made me take a step back and ask myself – “Am I really living life with no regrets…am I living my dreams…”

  2. There has not been a post on Pausch’s site since June 27th….. concerned he is not doing well.

  3. I agree with Rebecca, it has been almost a month and there is no update on Randy Pausch’s progess. I hope to hear from him again even if his time is coming soon…

  4. He passed today. A life I believe was too short but he truly was and is an inspiration. RIP Randy. My heart goes out to all of your family and friends

  5. Judith Devine Locke

    I am so very saddened of the news today, this is just not a good day. God bless you Randy. The good Lord above will be by your wife and children’s side every second of every day!!! I’m sure that you will too!!!
    Shine on…

  6. Randy Pausch missed a golden opportunity to offer his kids something far more valuable than lessons learned, optimism, and humor:


    From quotes on the web we know that Randy believed in people, karma and paybacks among other things. While on the world stage, however, he did not mention where he would spend eternity.
    Searching his website for “jesus” results in “text not found”.

    Randy said if you wait long enough, people will surprise and impress you. He failed to mention that the opposite is guaranteed: people will disappoint you and let you down.
    By contrast, the Bible tells us that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.
    “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” — John 17:3

    Millions of people hail Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture as inspirational. Indeed, what Randy left us was good, but what he left out was much better.
    This is the greatest head fake of all.

  7. i HOPE that i will be fortunate enough to meet someone in my life, like randy, with such a passion for life…on that note i think that he gave me the hope that that person could be me. the entire last lecture gave me hope…hope for success, for life, for passion and conviction.

  8. I bought The Last Lecture at a book fair at my children’s school. Wow. As a computer teacher and father of two young children, I am further inspried to live a full meaningful life no matter how long that life may be.

    As for Tom of August “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” Head fake? This is how you sum up a man’s life and his last days’ work? Rest in peace Randy.

  9. Randy is the perfect example of optimism. He turned one of life’s most devastating events into a golden opportunity. We all know we will die someday, but actually knowing when gave Randy a chance to do something we all should be doing every day, appreciating life and all of its gifts. In his attempt to solidify his legacy with family and friends Randy inspired millions using universal principles applicable to all faiths.
    Tom, you’re right. Randy never once mentioned Jesus. However, he did explain that religion is viewed privately in his family and that his intentions were to reach out to everyone, regardless of their faith. So don’t be so harsh on him. Certainly we shouldn’t confuse inspiration with religion or faith as so many people do. Randy was an academic after all, not an evangelist.
    God bless Randy and his family. I am thankful for the reminder to love living and to live to love.

  10. Tom, are you judging this man simply because he wasn’t blatantly religious?
    He opted not to talk about religion and keep that in private manners because that has nothing to do with the message that he wanted to get across….
    Religion could easily be more of a head-fake than Randy ever was. What do you have to say about that, homie?

  11. I was curious however at what he thought of the after life. If he thought that he would just ciease to exist or what?

  12. Hello, I have been following randy since I first heard his story on the tv. As I also have pancreatic disease had a whipple in 2002 and was very fortunate to have caught my delema early although i still live with the pancreatitis painful pain. Thanks to Randy and the courage of his wife and family, I am now at the age of 41. and able to understand a little more about this disease which I think can be prevented. please contact me if there is any foundations out there that i can speak for. thank you and God Bless .

  13. We watched The Last Lecture in my English class the past couple of days and I was truely inspired. He showed me how to live life to the fullest and don’t take anything for granted. He was the most upbeat guy and seemed like one of the greatest teachers. I would’ve loved to have met him..

  14. You seem to think that religion is pretty important. What of great philosophers such as Camus and Freud who brought contemporary works for their time to the table? Would you similarly critique them? Camus an Atheist? Unthinkable. And successful. Religion certainly was not highly ranked for him. One’s accomplishments most certainly can not be demeaned by their lack of belief…

  15. I watched the last lecture several years ago now before Randy died. I was then, as I still am today, struck by the simple messages that resonnated throughout his ‘lecture’. As a teacher I was in awe of his ability to drive messages home. I have read Shakespeare, Dickens, Darwin, Dante and scores of other timeless scribes and yet none of their words have stuck so profoundly in my head as Randy Pauschs’. The ‘brick walls’ quote is genius, profound but simple enough to be a mantra for daily life. I have been truly inspired. Thank you.

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