Monday, September 24, 2007

A Teacher's Final Words to All of Us

Note: I wrote this post last September, and wanted to re-post it as a tribute to Randy Pausch, whose death was just announced.


For those of you who haven’t seen Randy Pausch’s final lecture to his students at Carnegie Mellon University, I urge you to take some time and watch it.

In the lecture, Pausch, who is dying of pancreatic cancer at age 46, speaks of all the things he wanted to do in his life, and all the things he has managed to accomplish.

It ranged from winning giant stuffed animals at various carnivals to working for Disney as an imagineer to floating weightless. He spoke of how he not only got to live many of his dreams from childhood, but was “able to enable” the dreams of others.

While refraining from speaking of his wife and three young children in order to keep the lecture from being a pity party, Pausch delivered a funny, insightful and inspiring talk to some 400 students and colleagues that provides lessons for all of us.

I’d like to draw from some of his comments and ask you to think about your own life and career:

“Permission to dream.” Pausch says that while he wanted to play for the NFL, that wasn’t a dream that was destined to come true. Still, by playing football as a child, he learned important lessons of perseverance and teamwork that helped him in his other career pursuits. What are you doing in your life to enrich you career in important ways? Are you looking for opportunities to do something you enjoy – not just to earn money? What key lessons have you learned from something you feel passionate about that you can apply to your career?
“Brick walls are there for a reason.” While Pausch thought his Ph.D. would gain him entrance to Disney, he notes that they wrote him the best “go to hell” rejection letters he’d ever seen. Still, that didn’t stop him and he eventually realized another childhood dream and became an imagineer for the company. “Brick walls stop people who don’t want it bad enough,” he says. Have you let a dream die because it seemed too hard? When you were a child, what did you want to do when you grew up – and is there a way to make it come true? Are you letting too many brick walls come between you and what you really want in your career?
"Have specific dreams." Even as a child, Pausch understood that with his poor eyesight he couldn’t be an astronaut. That didn’t stop him from wanting to float in space, another dream realized when he became older and was able to be in NASA’s “vomit comet” for about 25 seconds. Maybe you have a career goal, but have made it too broad to be realistic. I once knew a man who wanted to be a professional baseball player, which wasn’t going to happen. Still, he used his accounting skills to become an accountant for a minor league baseball team, keeping him close to the game he loved.
“Be Captain Kirk.” Paush admits that he revised that dream to “meeting Captain Kirk,” which he did. More important, he says that he learned that while Kirk wasn’t the smartest person on the ship, “he no doubt had great leadership skills to be learned from – plus he had the coolest damned toys.” Who is someone you admire for their leadership abilities? What can you learn from this person? How can you use those skills to help yourself and others on the job?

During his lecture, Pausch showed a beautiful, new brick home, obviously large enough to contain the energies of his young family in the years to come. He said he and his wife recently purchased it because that is what is needed for the future, one that will probably find his children growing up without him.

At the same time, it appears that Pausch left us all with something that we need. A reminder to remember our dreams and go after them.


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