Lessons From The Last Lecture

The Last Lecture of Dr Randy Pausch is perhaps one of the most influential pieces of media I have ever been ‘given’ by anyone. I won’t implore you straight away to go watch it – I did in the first version of this piece, but by the magic of editing I don’t in this one 🙂 – I’d rather talk to you about it and sell it to you first. It is after all 77 minutes long and thus not something to embark upon lightly.

I was 16 when I first saw this lecture – about a year after Randy had presented it and, sadly, just weeks after he had passed away. My high school had just brought on a religious youth worker of some description and, given that I had just finished reading Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible for the first time, I did not possess the highest opinion of the man. However we had a 45 minute session with him as part of the enrichment program, and despite my relentless edginess I had not yet developed the truant habits that I would later in my time at high school; so I had little choice but to go.

To this day I am glad I did.

Having seen the lecture when it was first presented this staff member (who’s name I cannot recall – but he was young) showed it to us hoping it would have exactly the affect on everyone that it did on me. A quick aside here – after surveying other members of my class years later I am actually the only one of my friends who even remembers this lesson. It blew my mind. Randy was dying of cancer and this lecture was his last chance to teach his students valuable lessons that had taken him years to learn . A fairly catchy hook, but nothing that years of Hollywood melodrama had immunized me to; or so I thought.

I was enraptured; the dignity and grace displayed my this man facing his own mortality and yet selflessly thinking to impart his knowledge to others floored me. Being a regular student of high school I did not possess a high opinion of teachers in general so had not yet come to appreciate that this is generally part of the vocational calling of those who teach – but to this day The Last Lecture strikes me as a beautiful example of the virtue of educators.

What did I learn? Well A number of things that have stuck with me:

  1. Brick walls aren’t there to keep us out – they’re there to make us show how badly we want things.
  2. You cannot succeed without a good team – appreciate them.
  3. No one is completely evil – give them time they will surprise you; and
  4. Teach using head fakes.

Now I won’t belabor any of the above points – Randy does them far more justice than I ever could but I will say that I cannot remember facing any challenge in life since that day where one of these lessons wasn’t part of my solution. I am a manager by trade and so find myself helping my team with their problems on an almost daily basis. It is shocking to think how many times I have relayed the aphorism of the brick wall or cautioned someone to reserve judgement of a coworker that has slighted them in this or that way.

The lessons Randy imparts are not high minded philosophical ideals: they might have their roots in this or that thinker form times long ago – however the presentation is entirely accessible, entirely practical and anecdotal. That is the magic of the lecture; the ability to distill the most valuable elements of thoughts, coalesced over a lifetime of experience in a wide variety of fields and through interactions with thousands of people into just 77 minutes.

The thing I love and respect most about the memory of Randy Pausch is that despite all his relentless ambition and success he never lost touch with the humanity of his role as a teacher and as a father. That shines through so clearly to me as a watch that lecture, and I do probably more than once a year, it is a truly heartwarming piece of media. Never have I seen something that so captures the essence of a man as well as Randy managed to in his lecture.

I said at the top of this piece that I wouldn’t implore to go watch it straight away – and I am a man of my word. The link is there for those that wish to use it – the lecture is a lifetime of experience in just 77 minutes, it’s well worth your time, I promise.

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