Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Last Lecture

Many of you probably already know the story behind Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture. Pausch was an innovative computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon who gave his Last Lecture (both honorary and literal) in Sept. 2007 after learning that his pancreatic cancer was terminal. The lecture was recorded and has gained popularity by circulating around the Internet, leading him to publish this book with Jeffrey Zaslow.

The Last Lecture book contains basically the same material as his live lecture, but gives additional insights into the content and backstory. Pausch's exhuberant personality comes out in the text as well as it does in the video version, and it's easy to feel like you really know him by the time you're done. The title of his lecture was "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," but that was just the background to sharing important life lessons that he wanted to pass on to his kids after his death. Some of the lessons are cliche, and some don't have the universal application that he implies. But overall it was interesting and if you haven't seen the online video, it's worth a couple of hours to read the book.

I didn't agree with everything he said, especially his heavy emphasis on childhood dreams. Good for him for having such specific ones and being able to fulfill most of them. But really, the value is mostly anecdotal. Those dreams didn't define who he was or determine whether he was successful or not. They were just little tidbits that made for interesting stories. Most people I've talked to don't remember their childhood dreams, or care whether or not they've achieved them. And I think that's okay. There are lots of ways to determine success, and that one is especially narrow. But I do think there is always value in taking a step back and looking at your life and saying, "What do I really want out of life? Am I moving in the direction I really want to go? If not, what do I do about it now?" Pausch doesn't ask these exact questions, but they are natural extensions of his thoughts.

It was interesting to see things from the perspective of a computer geek, and the unique way that he viewed the world. I wasn't keen on his arrogance, and there were times that I thought, "Boy, if I knew you I don't think I would like you very much." It made me wonder if most computer geeks are like that (my friend who's married to one says "yes"), and I felt sorry for his wife sometimes! But it was clear that he loved her and at the same time I felt irritated with him, I also felt very sad knowing that he had left a great void with his death. If nothing else, it's a poignant reminder that life is short and we need to make the most of it.


  1. I did listen to most of that lecture online. I love seeing your view point. Thanks Caren.

  2. My childhood dream was to become the President of the United States. I don't really want to achieve that dream any more.
    Good for him for taking some time to reflect on his life, but I'd probably rather hear the last words of someone who made a difference in the world, sacrificed much and was someone to emulate. But I'm just weird like that.

  3. I believe this is paraphrased from Dennis Miller:
    When I – as a young boy – was reading superhero comic books, I didn't think they were fantasies: they were options.