Known Johnson

July 25, 2008

The last lecture

Filed under: General — Tom @ 12:33 pm

Randy Pausch has died. If you didn’t know who he was, don’t feel so bad – until not too long ago, neither did I. I ran across a video of his “Last Lecture” at Carnegie Mellon University, an honor given to departing professors in which they sum up their lives and time spent at the university. His was more than a mere lecture. It was the story of his life, and it is amazing.

One of his great joys in life was winning the big stuffed animals at carnivals. It’s a pointless, often expensive endeavor, but the joy is in trying something ridiculous. I have noticed that it seems like everything in people’s lives lately has to have a reason and a justification, and that’s just not right. Some parts of life are purely for entertainment, regardless of how impractical they may seem.

I often look at people who get quoted with a distrustful eye – quotes are so often taken out of context and taken wrongly – but when it comes to Pausch, there can be little doubt in the simple wisdom he doled out:

“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.”

“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.”

I especially like the latter – it goes against the “everyone deserves everything” mantra so common today. Not everyone deserves everything, and so few people want to work for anything. It’s saying two important things at once: work for something hard enough and you’ll get it, and know what’s important enough to work that hard for, because some things just aren’t worth the struggle. As with most things, it’s harder to do than say.

It’s a real shame that the only reason we all know about Randy is because he was dying. His speech wouldn’t have meant anything if he had remained healthy – it also wouldn’t have happened for a long, long time. Death has a way of refocusing things, of course, and Randy’s then-impending death made his amazing life stand out to many people. It would be great if the lessons he has tried to impart before he passed made an impact, or at least changed a few people from following the greedy, self-centered paths trumpeted by things like The Secret and other slimy snake-oil schemes like it. Unlike them, Randy was focused solely on improving yourself. In closing his Last Lecture, he put it this way:

“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.”

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