Oklahoma’s summer storms are atmospheric convulsions—explosive winds, neon lightning, horizontal rain and the staccato drumming of hail on windows. During the most recent one, the electricity fizzed before completely going out. Rather than stumble through the house looking for a flashlight–or more appropriately, a candle–I sat in the dark–minus the television meteorologists’ persistent and annoying warnings. The silence was inspiring, a pause to reflect on—mmm–life! Life with its regrets, wrong decisions and thwarted plans.
Recently rearranging my library, I picked up a book that didn’t fit on any of the shelves. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch is just a bit over 5″ wide and 7″ deep but 206 pages of brilliance on what happens when you plan life–and those plans are thwarted.
Pausch was a professor of Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction and Design at Carnegie Mellon University. He was an award-winning teacher and researcher working with Adobe, Google, Electronic Arts and Walt Disney Imagineering. He lived in Virginia with his wife and three adoring young children.
By his late forties, Pausch had accomplished more than some people do in a lifetime—not only realizing his own dreams but enabling the dreams of others–his students. Through his association with the *Alice Project, he was beginning to implement plans that would unleash creativity beyond imagination. Creativity that, shared with his students, would inspire them.
But life happened to Randy Pausch—in the most insidious way.
At 47, he was diagnosed with metastasized pancreatic cancer. It was terminal. He was given six months to live.
Professors at major universities are often provided the opportunity to give what is called “The Last Lecture.” In it, they answer these questions: What wisdom would I impart to the world if I knew it was my last chance? If I had to vanish tomorrow, what would I want as my legacy? So, when he was asked to give ‘The Last Lecture” he didn’t have to imagine it. The diagnosis made it real.
Pausch titled it “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” It wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of facing what life throws at you and creating a work-around or climbing over it. It wasn’t about living your own dreams but enabling the dreams of others. It was about seizing every moment you live…for as he said: “Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think.” It was about playing the hand you’re dealt.
Victor Frankl (1905-1997), a Holocaust survivor, said “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance, to choose one’s own way in life. “
Agreed that the circumstance Randy Pausch was given would have–for most of us— signaled a complete mental and physical shutdown, an empty period waiting for the inevitable. But he chose his own way to live life through those last few dark months. He did it with humor, inspiration and courage.
If there’s a takeaway from this article–and I hope there is–read The Last Lecture–it won’t take long but the effect will be lasting. And watch “The Last Lecture” at http://www.thelastlecture.com. You should have tissues handy. Finally, this: Make plans. Live life—regardless. Behave every day as if you’re going to be around for awhile.
Great advice from Professor Pausch.
*Alice is an innovative block-based programming environment that makes it easy to create animations, build interactive narratives, or program simple games in 3D.