The Last Lecture

Everyone has a tale to narrate – some ordinary, some great! Sometimes, life is simple, predictable and very smooth. Sometimes life goes awry. If you think for a while, you will realize that we all are stories in the making. We are stories which live on for some time, stories that impact other stories in their making, and stories that are an adventure of a lifetime. I am a story. You are a story. And life, with its vicissitudes, is a story we co-author with the people we come in contact with.

For in your interaction with other stories, you shape those stories in some measure and in turn your story is shaped by these other stories in some respects. Therefore, the Story of the Universe is an intricately interwoven structure comprising our individual stories. Often you will encounter some individual stories that impact countless other stories. In a tribute to one such story, I will share with you the enthusing, energizing and rejuvenating quality of its content and its effortless narration by its primary author – the story of Randy Pausch and its effortless narration in “The Last Lecture”.

It was one of those days when I wasn’t too happy with life. At a workshop on personality development, the speaker who was delivering a talk on how one shapes one’s destiny spoke of “The Last Lecture” and of the unknown professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University whose last lecture had by then (this was on May 30) become a phenomenon worldwide. The idea was to highlight the nature of the humanistic impulse characteristic of Randy Pausch. The idea also was to make the life lessons of Randy more evident. We were shown a clip from the last lecture and some of the life lessons were summarized on slides. This man had been fighting pancreatic cancer. He knew he didn’t have more than about six months of life. And he, therefore, made careful investment of the time he had at hand. “The Last Lecture” was a “head fake” lecture (to borrow Randy’s expression of the concept) actually meant for his kids more than anyone else. The lecture, however, struck a chord with many people worldwide.

Why the lecture touched millions would be obvious if you were to put yourself in Randy’s position or that of his family. The life lessons of Randy Pausch, though very commonsensical, aren’t very evident unless someone like Randy, driven by a zeal to make the most of his life, makes them explicit for you. The concept of “head fake” learning is pretty evident if only we are observant enough. There is a certain “head fake” to most of the important things we learn as kids. Just as a kid who goes to learn, say football, learns more than how to play football which is just a “head fake” for learning vital human values like teamwork, hard work, patience, endurance, and leadership. They form the core of any learning process. And then you have to have the fundamentals right no matter what endeavour you are in. Another remarkable thing is Randy’s admission that his lecturing on the importance of having fun along the way would be much like a fish lecturing on the importance of water. The last lecture has a lot more other ideas to share through examples from Randy’s life. I’ll quote some from the transcript of “The Last Lecture” and then leave you to watch the man on YouTube:

“All right. So that is what it is. We can’t change it, and we just have to decide how we’re going to respond to that. We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

“…… something we should not lose sight of, is that the inspiration and the permission to dream is huge.”

“And as you get older, you may find that this “enabling the dreams of others” thing is even more fun.”

“…when you’re screwing up and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave up. And that’s a lesson that stuck with me my whole life. Is that when you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care.”

“OK, and so one of the expressions I learned at Electronic Arts, which I love, which pertains to this, is experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

“So that was a bit of a setback. But remember, the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

“One of the things he told me was that wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you. He said, when you’re pissed off at somebody and you’re angry at them, you just haven’t given them enough time. Just give them a little more time and they’ll almost always impress you.”

“When you’ve had something for ten years that you hold so precious, it’s the toughest thing in the world to hand it over. And the only advice I can give you is, find somebody better than you to hand it to.”

“President Cohen, when I told him I was going to do this talk, he said, please tell them about having fun, because that’s what I remember you for. And I said, I can do that, but it’s kind of like a fish talking about the importance of water. I mean I don’t know how to not have fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there’s no other way to play it.”

“Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us. Help others.”

“So today’s talk was about my childhood dreams, enabling the dreams of others, and some lessons learned. But did you figure out the head fake? [dramatic pause] It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”

“Have you figured out the second head fake? The talk’s not for you, it’s for my kids. Thank you all, good night.”

Thanks for being there, Randy.

Ravi Kunjwal

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