In August 2006, Pausch was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He pursued a very aggressive cancer treatment that included surgery and experimental chemotherapy; however, in August 2007 he was told the cancer had metastasized to his liver and spleen, which meant it was terminal. He then started palliative chemotherapy, intended to extend his life as long as possible. At that time, doctors estimated he would remain healthy for another three to six months.
In the face of such circumstances, Pausch did something.
Pausch decided that in the midst of his tragedy there was an opportunity.
On September 18, 2007 Pausch said goodbye to his students and faculty of Carnegie Mellon with one last lecture called “How to Live Your Childhood Dreams,” a lecture about his life’s journey and the lessons he’s learned.
Pausch insisted that both the lecture and later, the book, were designed for an audience of three: his children, then 5, 2 and 1. “I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children.”
Pausch talked about his battle with pancreatic cancer. “So in case there is anyone in the room who wandered in and didn’t know my back story, my dad always said, ‘If there is an elephant in the room, introduce him.'”
“If you look at my [CT] scan, there are approximately 10 tumors in my liver. The doctors told me I had three to six months of good health left. That was a month ago so you can do the math.”
The diagnosis was a grim reality, but Pausch isn’t into grim nor self-pity.
“I’ve never understood pity and self-pity as an emotion,” Pausch told Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America”. “We have a finite amount of time. Whether short or long, it doesn’t matter. Life is to be lived.”
Pausch’s dreams included: being in zero gravity, playing in the NFL, authoring an article in the World Book Encyclopedia, being Captain Kirk, winning stuffed animals and working as a Disney Imagineer.
Though he achieved most of his childhood dreams, or at least a revised version of some (meeting Captain Kirk rather than being him), Pausch flashed his rejection letters on a screen and talked about career setbacks and then voiced one of his most profound lessons: “Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls aren’t there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show us how badly we want something. Brick walls stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”
Other lessons include:
- Don’t bail; the best gold is found at the bottom of barrels of crap.
- Get a feedback loop, and listen to it.
- Show gratitude.
- Don’t complain, just work harder.
- Be good at something. It makes you valuable.
- Find the best in everybody, no matter how long you have to wait for them to show it.
- Be prepared: “Luck” is where preparation meets opportunity.
Randy Pausch died July 25, 2008. But his impact lives on.
Faced with a terminal illness, Randy Pausch decided to do something and gave a talk about life that was designed first for his kids and then for his students & colleagues. It has become a blessing to the world. Delivered originally to about 400 people at the university, his message about how to make the most of life has been viewed by millions on the Internet. Pausch gave an abbreviated version of it on “Oprah” and expanded it into a best-selling book, “The Last Lecture.”
Video below, 76 minutes of time well spent.
Don Huse, CareerGuide Blog, July 27, 2008
Get Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture