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Note from the author: The earliest part of this blog/review of The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch was published on the pages of TDAN.com and the BeyeNETWORK back in September of 2008. My intention at the time was to complete the book and the blog/review of the lecture/book the following week. Well…I completed the book the next day. But…I never completed the blog/review. I apologize if I left you hanging. My guess is that I didn’t.
I did receive several emails from readers over the past few months requesting that I finish the piece. Well, here it is. I was VERY inspired by this book when I read it, but making time to put my thoughts about the book into words became difficult. Now as I write the end of this blog/review, I find that I must return to Randy Pausch’s pages of The Last Lecture to remind me about the second half of the lecture/book. Guess what? I am inspired all over again. And this is a time where I think we all need inspiration. I know I do. I am including the complete review with this blog so you don’t need to go running around to find it. Happy reading!
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Day One of Reading – Before the Lecture
Not since the early days of The Data Administration Newsletter (TDAN.com) have I written a review of a book that had a lot of meaning to me. Even then, most of the books I reviewed (and most of the books reviewed in general on TDAN.com) were about the data management industry and specific disciplines therein. Never did I review a book about the bright side of life (whistle with me now). And never did I publish or blog about a book that I had not read yet. Well this is a review/preview of both.
Maybe you have heard of the book I am reading. I am reading The Last Lecture, a powerful book written by a Computer Science Professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA, a school where I grew up literally blocks away. In the early seventies when hippies roamed the campus and there were small kids skateboarding amongst the students, well … I was the kid on the skateboard. The sad part of this review is that the author, Randy Pausch, just recently passed away at the age of 47 from pancreatic cancer. Both of my parents shared his same fate. My father was a Carnegie Tech grad (before Mellon came along) and both of my brothers received their Masters at CMU. My father stayed very active in chemical engineering programs at CMU all the way up to his death. As far as I know, my father and brothers did not know or have any association
with Professor Pausch when they were active with the university.
As I read the book I am being led to believe that Pausch’s death had everything but nothing to do with this book. This book is literally his last lecture but it is clear that the lecture itself is not about dying. This book and lecture has made big news this summer and presently the book sits at the top of several best seller lists. This book already has meaning to me and I want to share that with you as I read the book.
You see, When Pausch wrote the lecture (resulting in the book), he knew that he was going to die. His immediate reaction upon learning that news was the realization that he would not be around to share with his young children all the things he had to share. He could not share his wisdom, his courage, his advice, his fatherhood, his opinions, and more. He knew that he could, but that his children would be too young to understand. Pausch wanted to leave a legacy for his small children ages 5, 2 & 1. I can understand that. My daughters are a bit older but I still have a lot of life lessons to share.
Early in the book, Pausch described his upbringing and family life. He talked about his father and his mother. I saw a lot of my mom and dad in what he wrote and how he thought about them every day and all the time. We had similar upbringings in several ways in different locations. Very similar in fact. He was 46 when he wrote the book. I am that age right now. He lectured all the time as part of his job. I do the same.
Family values were very important to Pausch but work had a similar importance and was a constant demand. In the book he wrote about his struggle to spend his dying days with his wife and children while also putting together his legacy in the form of his last lecture. He wrote about using the last few months of his life to uproot his family from my hometown (and his) of Pittsburgh and moving his family to a place where extended family and friends would help his wife Jai to raise the children. Life was not easy for Pausch in those last months leading up to his book. And then it got worse. He was told he had less time on this planet. The plan became to jam six months into two.
“Last Lectures” at universities, as described in the earliest part of the book, are fairly commonplace. Universities often allow their esteemed professors to provide commentary on their life, how their life has led them to that day, and the direction that their life is pointing. The last lectures typically are not lectured by a person who knows their life is coming to a close.
I am just now starting into the actual lecture. I have heard from several people that the lecture itself is humorous, serious, reflective, inspirational, all of the things that make it an absolute must read. Stay tuned, I am getting there.
After Reading the Lecture / Months Later
It is now January 2009. If you didn’t catch the intro to this piece, go back and start at the beginning. The State of the Union (so to speak) has gone from dreary to dreadful here of this blog/review was written. We (the U.S.) have new hope and that is something that I couldn’t say back in September, but then again, things weren’t as bad then as they are now. I really needed that inspiration again.
You know…you can do everything right, and the Lord knows that I haven’t, and life can still deal you a bad hand. Lots of people are presently being dealt a bad hand and not because of anything they have done. Was Randy Pausch handed a bad hand? How do you deal with the bad hand when you know you cannot throw in the cards? Let’s get back to the The Last Lecture.
Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams
I assume that all of us had childhood dreams. I know that I did, yet I never wrote them down. I am not talking about dreams in the form of what Nicholson and Freeman wrote down on the Bucket List (things they would do before they kick the bucket [die] including “witness something truly majestic” and “kiss the prettiest girl in the world”). I had dreams about what life held in store for me, where I would live, who I would marry, what kind of kids I would have, and what the heck would do when I grew older. I had a lot of dreams.
I also have to tell you that I have a wonderful home in the Pittsburgh-suburbs that my wife and I designed, with a wonderful wife of more than 20 years, and two terrific daughters that are smart, funny, and very thoughtful towards others. It appears to me that many of my dreams have been met. I wanted to be an architect and ended up being an Information or Data Architect (okay not exactly). So be it.
In The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch outlines several of his childhood dreams and then tells brief anecdotes of his brief life that corresponded with those dreams. Pausch wanted to be a Disney Imagineer. He wanted to play in the National Football League. He wanted to author an article in the World Book Encyclopedia and win stuff animals. He wanted to be Captain Kirk.
These are incredible dreams, funny and thoughtful, and Pausch uses each of these dreams and his ability to accomplish those dreams to quickly relate fascinating life stories. Pausch had a wonderful home, wife and family, and in a lot of ways he lived my dream too. He was also handed some hardship mostly in his ill-health and the short amount of time he had on this planet. My hardship, if you want to call it that, was the passing of my parents very early in my kids’ lives.
Pausch also made the point that he was born with the “lucky ticket.” Pausch felt blessed with everything from who his parents were to living in the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Read or view The Last Lecture to look back at your dreams, compare notes and continue dreaming.
Adventures … And Lessons Learned
Being told that a wonderfully enjoyable time is going to be brought to an abrupt or early end is a very difficult thing for anybody to deal with. That difficulty must be multiplied a million
times over if THE end is YOUR end. If I knew that the end was near, I like to think that I would share my important life lessons with those closest to me. Pausch states early in the
book that sharing life lessons with his children was one of the main reasons for the lecture project.
I spend most of my time in my professional life as a data management consultant sharing my professional life lessons with my clients and the attendees of my lectures at conferences here in the U.S. and across the pond. Consultative mentoring is what I call it…a blend of consulting and mentoring based on best practices and lessons I have learned. I have not paid attention to documenting life lessons for my children just in case something should happen to me quickly, not allowing time to address them before I was gone. Being a parent requires the sharing of life lessons with my children every day and all the time. Sometimes they (my daughters) are appreciative; most of the time they are not. But…it is the job of the parent to share those lessons. It was obviously important to Pausch.
In the book The Last Lecture, Pausch labels a chapter as “Not All Fairy Tales End Smoothly.” In this section he sites several examples of how that held true is his life. This chapter, early in the Lessons Learned section, sets a tone of reality that comes through loud and clear throughout the lecture.
Enabling the Dreams of Others
The Last Lecture had a major component or theme of “time” and helping others, his wife to cope with his limited amount of time, helping his children through the Lecture and through his life lessons. How Pausch spent the time he had left, how he spent the time throughout his life, and the importance of what you do with you time was mentioned throughout this section.
Pausch related something he told a student that smacked with reality – “I know you’re smart. But everyone here is smart. Smart isn’t enough. The kind of people I want on my research team are those that will help everyone else feel happy to be here.” So obviously time was not enough. Being good enough was not enough. Using that time to be better than you can be to positively impact other people was an important message of The Last Lecture. That was how Randy Pausch lived his life. He is not telling us to live that way, rather he is just shared his experience of being that way.
It’s About How to Live Your Life
The final section of The Last Lecture included chapters titled “Don’t Complain, Just Work Harder,” “Treat the Disease and Not the Symptom” and “Don’t Obsess Over What Other People Think” that summarized Pausch’s general philosophy on life. This section also included chapters that were titled “Look for the Best in Everybody” and “Watch What They Do, Not What They Say.” These brief chapters stressed the importance of being yourself, getting the most out of being you and how to use that ability to get the best out of those around you.
Never giving up, getting people’s attention, being loyal and showing gratitude were the messages that came through loud and clear in this section. While reading this book, I was reminded of advise that has been given to me all of my life and I can hear my mom, dad and other important people in my life telling me these things when I tell them to my children.
Summary / Read the Book / Watch the Lecture
I often find myself asking the question, “What is really important?” We have all heard the statement “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” In the end, a lot of things I sweat are small stuff, especially when it comes to raising my children – probably way too much small stuff (they would nod their respective heads). Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture taught me (or reminds me) to pay more attention and evaluate the difference between big and small stuff. I hope and expect that I will refer back to this book from time to time as a level set. As I stated earlier, this book was humorous, serious, reflective, inspirational – all of the things that make it an absolute must read.
In this day and age, in the information age where we are constantly bombarded with information, data and just plain stuff, sometimes it is difficult to know the small stuff from the other stuff. Pausch does not directly answer the questions “What is really important?” in his The Last Lecture. But then again he does. Randy Pausch’s life
was similar to mine in a lot of ways. Fortunately, I am here to learn and grow from his The Last Lecture.
The first half of this blog/review appeared as a Special Feature in the September 2008 issue of The Data Administration Newsletter (TDAN.com) and on the
BeyeNETWORK. It took me a long time to get to the second half which is being published in the February 2009 issue of TDAN.com as well as on my BeyeNETWORK Blog. If you have read this
book, or if you are in the process of reading the book, please share your thoughts with me and with the other readers of my publication, TDAN.com, and the BeyeNETWORK. Thank you
The Last Lecture can be purchased through Amazon.com by clicking this
link. The actual last lecture can be seen by searching for “Pausch” on YouTube.com.