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I'm a writer and library worker who wears many hats. I believe a good book and a good piece of chocolate are the keys to a happy life.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

You may remember that I did a blog on Tuesdays with Morrie a while back. This past week I got a chance to read another book along the same lines, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow.

If you’ve not heard of Randy and his famous last lecture at Carnegie Mellon, you can find it on the links from The Last Lecture website.

Randy delivered the live version of The Last Lecture a month after getting final confirmation that he had only 6 months of good health left before his life would finally be consumed by the pancreatic cancer that was eating away at his body. I would have been tempted to pull the covers over my head, not address an audience of 400 people, but that’s exactly what Randy decided he needed to do.

The resulting lecture “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” had very little to do with cancer and death; rather it had a lot to do with how to live your life. It’s an interesting exercise in assessing whether the things you say matter the most, really do matter to you. It’s a hard lesson, but The Last Lecture gives you a chance to see if you are living with integrity. Meaning: are you living a life that is true to who you are and where you want to be. It’s a very stark reminder that you can only look forward to so many “tomorrows” no matter who you are.

This book does differ from Tuesdays with Morrie, in that Morrie was an older gentlemen, Randy was relatively young. Their insights and motives for having the books published are a little different, too. But the basic messages remain looking into the best ways to live your life from a perspective of one whose course on earth is almost over. Morrie addresses this through the need to find and cultivate love. Randy does this through finding and cultivating your dreams.

There were times when Randy was a little hard to relate to—He’s done a lot of amazing things in his short life time and I’m just a wimpy little housewife. I sometimes found myself with the impression that Randy had already packed so much living into his days that it really was okay for him to leave, despite the fact that he had three young children and a beautiful wife. If I died tomorrow I think my eulogy would be far different from Randy’s. Probably something about only burning dinner 1 out of 6 times. (Never mind I only cook dinner a couple of times a week.)

I’ve only achieved two of my childhood dreams but they definitely didn’t turn out the way I dreamed them. I became a published author, but sadly I publish in a genre that is only of use to maybe 1 in 25 members of a small subculture and probably only ever read by 1 in 100 of those who might appreciate it. I’m published, but I’m a very small fish. I also always wanted to be a mother. But my children have yet to rise up and call me blessed. My teenager did tell me I was wonderful the other day, but I suspect that was because she wanted me to go to the store to buy her a bottle of shampoo.

Randy, on the other hand, had great personal achievements and public contributions. Every one of them was based on an enthusiasm for what he was doing. I found myself feeling very inadequate at times; though I’m sure that wasn’t the message Randy wanted the reader to take away from his book.

Awesome achievements aside, I most appreciated his overall messages, like: people are more important than things. That was something I could certainly hang on to and pay a little more attention to as I’m being unappreciated in my own mediocrity. The Last Lecture is certainly a worthwhile read. If you’re looking for a quick but poignant read for a Sunday afternoon of reflection, The Last Lecture would certainly fit the bill.

Sadly, Randy lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008,

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