One of my favorite segments on Oprah was when she brought in a special guest by the name of Randy Pausch on October 2007. Professor Pausch was an esteemed professor at Carnegie Mellon University, a devoted husband and father who was fighting pancreatic cancer. He gave an abridged version of his speech of his “Last Lecture” titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Pausch died from pancreatic cancer at his family’s home in Chesapeake, Virginia on July 25, 2008, at the age of 47. He is survived by his wife, Jai, and their three children, Dylan, Logan, and Chloe. I get inspired every time I read or watch this powerful lecture, as it reminds us all – about the true meaning of life. Below is a transcript of that segment. You can also watch his segment by clicking here.
So, I’m reprising a talk that I gave in September at Carnegie Mellon University. There’s an academic tradition called the “Last Lecture.” Hypothetically, if you knew you’re gonna die, you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students. Well, for me, there’s an elephant in the room. And the elephant in room is that for me it wasn’t hypothetical. I’ve been fighting pancreatic cancer. It is now come back after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. And the doctors tell me there’s nothing more to do and I have months to live. These are my mostly recent CT scans. The pancreatic cancers are spread to my liver and there’s approximately a dozen tumors.
I don’t like this. I have three little kids. Let’s be clear. This stinks. But I can’t do anything about the fact that I’m gonna die and pursuing medical treatments. But, I pretty much know about how this movie is going to end. I can’t control the cards I’m dealt, just how I play the hands. Now, if I’m not morose enough for you I’m sorry to disappoint. But, I don’t choose to be an object of pity. And in fact, although I’m gonna die soon, I’m actually physically very strong. In fact, I’m probably physically stronger than most of the people in this audience.
So, today’s talk is not about death. It’s about life and how to live. Specifically, about childhood dreams and about how you can try to achieve them. My childhood dreams, your childhood dreams. As a child, I had an incredibly happy childhood. I went back and raided photo albums and I couldn’t find any place where I wasn’t smiling. Right, I just had a great childhood and I was dreaming, always dreaming. It was an easy time….to dream. When you turn on your television set, and a man is landing on the moon, anything is possible and we should never lose that spirit.
So, what were my childhood dreams? Playing in the National Football League! This is one of my childhood dreams I didn’t achieve. Right, and it’s very important to know that, if you don’t achieve your dreams you can still get a lot by trying for it. There’s an expression that I loved, “Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.”
I played in a little league football for a long time, and I had a phenomenal coach, Coach Jim Graham. And, he was old school and when I was in practice, he rode me all practice. You’re doing it wrong, go back and do it again, you’re slacking off, you owe me push-ups just for two hours. He was relentless. And after practice, one of the other assistant coaches came over and said, yeah, Coach Graham rode you pretty hard. And I said, yeah. He said, that’s a good thing. Because it means he cares, “When you’re doing a bad job and nobody points it out to you that’s when they’ve given up on you. And, that’s something that stuck with me, if somebody is going to ride you for two hours their doing that because they care to make you better.”
So, next dream, Walt Disney Imagineering, when I was age 8, my family took the pilgrimage to Disneyland in California and it was this incredible experience. The rides and shows and attractions everything. And I said, “Gosh, I’d like to make stuff like that when I get older.” So, I graduated from college, and I tried to become an “imagineer.” These are the people who make the magic. And, I got a lovely rejection letter and I tried again after graduate school and I kept all of these rejection letters over the years. They’re very inspirational! But then the darnedest thing happened. You know, I worked hard and worked hard, and I became a junior faculty member and specialized in doing in certain kinds of research. That’s me. (ha). And, I developed a skill that was valuable to Disney and I got a chance to go there. And I was a part of the Imagineering team and we worked on what we called Aladdin’s magic carpet ride like and it was an incredibly cool. However, it took me over 15 years to do it and lots and lots of tries. What I learned from that was, “The brick walls that are in our way, are there for a reason. They are not there to keep us out. They are there to show us a way – how much we want it.”
If you’re gonna have childhood dreams, I recommend you have good parents! I lucked out. I had great parents. This is my mother on her 70th birthday. I am the blur in the back. I have just been lapped. And this is my father on his 80th birthday. There is this notion of have fun all the time. Have a sense of fun and wonder. That shouldn’t ever go away. All right.
My dad, what an incredible guy. He fought in World War II and he was clearly part of the greatest generation. Sadly, my dad passed away a little over a year ago. And when my mother was going through his things, that was when she discovered in World War II, he was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor. In 50 years of marriage, it had just never come up. It’s a real lesson of humility that I can learn from my father there.
Now, my mother, Mothers are people who love you even when you pull their hair (as a kid). And this was the kind of relationship I had with my mother. And my mother speaking of humility was always there to keep me in check. When I was going through graduate school and I was taking these really hard examinations. I was home pretty much complaining and whining about how hard these PhD tests were. And she just patted me on the arm and she said, “We know how you feel, just remember when your father was your age he was fighting the Germans in World War II.” So, the day came when I got my Ph.D., and I was so proud…and my mother introduced me to everyone as, “This is my son, he’s a doctor, but not the kind that helps people.”
Probably though, the most wonderful thing my parents did was they let me paint my bedroom. I said one day, “I want to paint stuff on the walls” and they said, “Okay.” So, I had a rocket ship and we lived on a ranch so I wanted an elevator, I wasn’t sure where it would go. And ah, you can tell the nerd is early, that’s the quadratic equation. The great thing is they let me do it and they felt letting me express my creativity is more important than the pristine nature of these walls. And, I was really blessed to have parents who saw it that way.
My parents taught me about the importance of people versus things. So, when I got older, I bought my first car and I was so excited I had this shiny new convertible. This is my niece and nephew, Christopher and Laura. Every month I take them for a weekend so, my sister and her husband could get a little break. And we go off on adventures. And, I had just showed up with my new car and my sister explained to Chris and Laura, “That’s Uncle Randy’s new car you can’t get it dirty.” And, they just started cracking up laughing, because over her shoulder, I casually open a can of soda and just emptied it on the back seat. And they come running over and said, “What are you doing?” I said, “It’s a thing, it’s just a thing.” I’m really glad I did that because at the end of weekend I was driving them home, little Chris who was about 8 at that time, he had a flu and threw up all over the back seats of my car. And, I don’t care how much value you get out of earning a nice shiny pristine thing, it will never feel good enough, as I felt knowing that I made an 8-year boy not feel guilty, just because he had the flu.
Next thing, you better decide early on if you’re a Tigger or and Eeyore. Tiggers are energetic. They’re optimistic, they’re curious, they’re enthusiastic and they have fun. And they never, ever underestimate the importance of having fun. I am dying soon, and I’m choosing to have fun today, tomorrow and every other day I have left.
If you want to achieve your dreams, you’d better work and play well with others. And that means, you better live with integrity. Simple advice that you’ll find hard to follow. Just tell the truth.
Second thing, when you screw-up, apologize. There’re a lot of bad apologies in America. A good apology has three parts. “I’m sorry”, “It was my fault”, “How do I make it right?” Most people skip that third part. That’s how you can tell sincerity.
The last thing is that, we all have the people that we don’t like. That have done things we don’t like. And what I have found is no-one is pure evil. If you wait long enough, they will show you their good side. You can’t make them do it in a hurry but you can be patient.
Show gratitude. When I got my tenure as a young faculty member. There were about fifteen young kids that had been working in my research lab and I took them all down to DisneyWorld for a week on my nickel. And one of my colleagues said, “This must have costs you an arm and a leg…. how could you do it? I said these kids just worked day and night for years so I could get the best job in the world for life. How could I not do it?” Gratitude is a very simple thing and it also very powerful thing.
And lastly, I don’t think complaining and whining really solves the problem. This is Jackie Robinson, first black major leaguer. He had it in his contract not to complain, even if people spit on him. All right. I don’t care if you’re Jackie Robinson or if you’re a guy like me whose only got a couple of months left to live. You can choose to take your finite time, energy, effort and spend it with complaining or you can spend it playing the game hard. The latter is probably gonna be more helpful to you in the long run.
Now, I told you this is a part of the lecture series at Carnegie Mellon University and, it’s important for you to know, why I gave the talk. All right. The talk isn’t just about how to achieve your childhood dreams, it’s much broader than that. It’s about how to live your life. Because if you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you. If you live properly, the dreams will come to you. I think it’s great so many people have benefited it from this lecture, but the truth matter is I didn’t even really even give it to the 400 people at Carnegie Mellon who came.
I only wrote this lecture for three people. And when their older, they’ll watch it. Thank you.
(Picture above of his three kids Dylan, Logan, and Chloe)
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