Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Last Lecture

I read "The Last Lecture" last year but I only have the courage to write about it now.

"The Last Lecture" is an international best-seller written by Randy Pausch (published in 2008). Pausch was a computer science professor at the Carnegie Mellon University (Pennsylvania, USA), married with three beautiful children. He was having a wonderful life until he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. A year later, he was told that it was terminal.Randy Pausch was only 46 when the doctor gave him three to six more months to live.

On 18 Sep 2007, he gave his "Last Lecture" titled 'Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams' at Carnegie Mellon. It was part of a series of talks organised by the University where invited speakers were asked to talk about what matters to them most and give a hypothetical 'last lecture' as if that had been their last chance to share their wisdom with the world.

Randy Pausch d
id not have to 'pretend'. It was indeed his 'last lecture'.

One would have imagined a devastated man, sharing his sorrow, regrets and perhaps, anger. But there was none of those emotions. In fact, throughout the lecture,
Pausch was upbeat and humorous. There was totally no sign of self-pity and he constantly shrugged off any pity that was thought to be given to him.

Pausch offered the audience of 400 colleagues and students inspiring life advice that can be applied to one's professional and personal life. At one point, Pausch dropped down and did several push-ups on stage. He demonstrated so much liveliness anyone could ever wanted. Ironically, that came from a man who had his days numbered.

Shortly after that, he wrote "The Last Lecture" which was published on 8 Apr 2008. The book was written to show people how to live a more fulfilling life by simply achieving their childhood dreams. As I was going through the chapters, I kept asking myself, 'How could this man be in his last days?' I tried to find a tinge of self-pity or sadness but I could hardly. In fact, there was none.

Pausch talks a lot about his three children. He wrote about important life lessons so that his children will get to learn from the book when he is gone. He obviously cares very much about them. At the start of his 'last lecture' at the University, he explained that his lecture would exclude his children and his wife as he could not talk about them without bringing tears.

I felt so much positive psychology in the book and I had to continue to remind myself that it was written by someone who was not going to be around soon. To Pausch, obstacles in life are not insurmountable. He explains that 'the brick walls are there for a reason. They are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.'

I am still trying to grapple with that.

It was totally chilly to read such positiveness from someone who was dying but living like he has an eternal life. He wrote as if he was packing up for a long journey but trying to tidy up the last bit in the house before leaving. Such detachment was beyond my comprehension.
You will have to read the book yourself to know what I mean.

I try to imagine if we were to know our 'expiry date' right from the start of our lives, would we have lived our lives differently? Would we be more focused in life that we pursue only what is more important? Would we have prioritized our lives in a different order? Would we still tell people we care that we have no time for them, all the time?

It takes someone like Randy Pausch to remind us that we need to live in the present while learning from the past and dream about our future. Very often, we get it all wrong: We live in the past while missing out the present and turning our dream into nightmare in the future.

It is easy to get it wrong because the past is known and requires no imagination. It is easy to get it wrong because the present can bring real pain and we try to deny it. It is easy to get it wrong because the future is uncertain and we are afraid to visualise it.

We are often guilty of allowing trivial distractions to mask our known priorities. As a result, we let what is important to be replaced by what is not.

I have learned much from the 224-page book. I shall not give more details about the book as I do not wish to rob you of the joy (and heartache) of learning from it first hand.

Besides reading the book, you may wish to 'attend the Last Lecture' as well on the YouTube. So far, more than 10 million people have 'attended' it.
If you prefer, attend one with subtitles.

Randy Pausch died on 25 Jul 2008, shortly after I read and benefited so much from his book.

More resources at Carnegie Mellon.

"Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today."
~James Dean~

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1 comment:

Cool Insider said...

Nice review of his book as well as the lecture at Carnegie Mellon. We all need that shift in our lives and that little kick/reminder that we can ill afford to fritter away our time on Earth in unworthy pursuits. I recalled that Randy spent most of the last few months of his life strictly with his family and loved ones - a true reflection of where his greatest priorities lie.