Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Notes from "The Last Lecture"

Early this year at a yard sale I bought a book for $2 titled "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. It's a small but fascinating book that Mr. Pausch authored after being diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. He lived almost another year after writing the book before dying from the cancer. I figured a book on living written by a man who knew he was dying would be full of wisdom.

It was.

It was also the best $2 I've ever spent.

So during a short vacation in April I read the book and underlined the things he wrote that stood out to me. I encourage you to read the book but if you don't, you can still learn from the wisdom of the quotes below. The emphases in bold face are mine. I hope you find this helpful and encouraging.


"Just because you're in the driver's seat doesn't mean you have to run people over."  His father's advice about playing fair even when you are in a position of strength in a relationship. (pg. 23)

"When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody's bothering to tell you anymore, that's a bad place to be." (pg. 37)

On not coddling children: "Self-esteem is not something you can give; it's something they have to build." (pg. 37)

"You give them something they can't do, they work hard until they find they can do it." (pg. 37)

"A feedback loop for life" - being forced to work harder by someone else when you feel like quitting, forcing you to get better. (pg. 38)

"I don't believe in the no-win scenario." (pg. 46)  The signature that William Shatner wrote on a photograph he sent to Mr. Pausch. There's a lot of wisdom in that saying.

"Tenacity is a virtue, but it's not always crucial for everyone to observe how hard you work at something." (pg. 48) That is GOOD!

After being told by his doctor that he had three to six months of good health left, he realized how semantics can be used to frame things in a positive light. That's why employees at Disney are supposed to say "The park is OPEN until 8 pm" when asked what time the park closes. (pg. 62) That reminded me of a lesson I learned from my boss, Walter, on how negative things can usually be framed in a positive way.

On obstacles in life:  "Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something." (pg. 79)

"You don't repair things if they still do what they're supposed to do. Not everything needs to be fixed." (pg. 87)

When his wife's placenta ruptured while pregnant and she began going into shock from blood loss while having a C-section: "I don't think we ever said to each other: 'This isn't fair.' We just kept going. We recognized that there were things we could do that might help the outcome in positive ways ...and we did them." (pg. 93)

"It's not helpful if we spend every day dreading tomorrow." (pg. 99)  His wife's focus as the clock ticked down on his days left on earth.

"Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think." (pg. 111)

"The only way any of us can improve ...is if we develop a real ability to assess ourselves." (pg. 112)

"Luck is indeed where preparation meets opportunity." (pg. 119)

"Enabling the dreams of others can be done on several different scales." (pg. 126)  Just because you can't do it for everyone doesn't mean you can't do it for someone.

"Everybody loves telling stories. It's one of the truly universal things about our species." (pg. 128)

"Hip is short-term. Earnestness is long-term. Earnestness is highly underestimated. It comes from the core, while hip is trying to impress you with the surface." (pg. 133)

"Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won't make us happier." (pg. 139)

"Talking louder or faster doesn't make your idea any better." (pg. 143)

"When you're frustrated with people, when they've made you angry, it just may be because you haven't given them enough time." "Almost everyone has a good side. Just keep waiting. It will come out." (pg. 145)

During the most painful times of his treatment he thought back to the movie Rocky and remembered: "It's not how hard you hit. It's how hard you get hit ...and keep moving forward." (pg. 147)

"Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted." (pg. 148)

"Failure is not just acceptable, it's often essential." (pg. 148)

"The person who failed often knows how to avoid future failures." (pg. 149)

"Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other." (pg. 151)

"Thank-you notes are best done the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper." (pg. 151)  YES! Don't be lame and send a text or email - hand write and address it.

"A lot of people want a shortcut. I find the best shortcut is the long way, which is basically two words: work hard." (pg. 156)

"Hard work is like compounded interest in the bank. The rewards build faster." (pg. 156)

When someone does a favor for him: "I've found Thin Mints are a great communication tool. They're also a sweet reward for a job well done." (pg. 158)

"One thing that makes it possible to be an optimist is if you have a contingency plan for when all hell breaks loose. There are a lot of things I don't worry about because I have a plan in place if they do." (pg. 160)

"If you've done something wrong in your dealings with another person, it's as if there's an infection in your relationship. A good apology is like an antibiotic; a bad apology is like rubbing salt in the wound." (pg. 161)

"Honesty is not only morally right, it's also efficient." (pg. 163)

"There is more than one way to measure profits and losses. On every level, institutions can and should have a heart." (pg. 168)

"No job should be beneath us." (pg. 169)  My grandpa always said "all work is honorable". If you ever thing you're too good to do something, you're literally delusional.

"If you can find your footing between two cultures, sometimes you can have the best of both worlds." (pg. 171)

"Brick walls are there for a reason. And once you get over them - even if someone has practically had to throw you over - it can be helpful to others to tell them how you did it." (pg. 174)

"It makes no sense to talk about rights without also talking about responsibilities." "Rights come with responsibilities." (pg. 175)

"Sometimes, all you have to do is ask, and it can lead to all your dreams coming true." (pg. 179)

"I'm living like I'm dying. But at the same time, I'm very much living like I'm still living." (pg. 182) Wow!

"Having seen so many students go through my classrooms, I've come to know that a lot of parents don't realize the power of their words. Depending on a child's age and sense of self, an offhand comment from Mom or Dad can feel like a shove from a bulldozer." (pg. 198)

"There's nothing weak or selfish about taking some fraction of your day to be alone, recharging your batteries." (pg. 201)

"If you lead your life the right way ...the dreams will come to you." (pg. 206)  That's Ephesians 3:20 and Galatians 6:9 right there.

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