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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.
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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).