If you have never seen “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” you really owe it to yourself to invest ten minutes (the abridged version) or a little more than an hour (the full version). Randy Pausch may change your life, even if he only meant to change the lives of three people: his children who survived him.
If you are unfamiliar with the name, Pausch was an American professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. After he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and learned he had three to six months of good health left, he gave an upbeat lecture at the university as part of its last lecture series. It was eventually given again on Oprah and adapted as a book that became a New York Times best-seller.
The reason the lecture had such an impact is because Pausch realized that he had a choice in how to spend his last few months to live. He could become depressed and remorseful or he could live the rest of his life twice as hard. He chose the latter.
In truth, as the lecture unfolds, people begin to learn that chasing childhood dreams wasn’t something new for Pausch. He had chased those dreams all his life. Why?
“As a child, I had an incredibly happy childhood,” said Pausch. “I couldn’t find any photos when I wasn’t smiling.”
As children, Pausch recognized, we are the most open to all of the opportunities and possibilities that life has to offer. And much of his lecture retells his lifelong quest to reach them. He also reminds everyone that any barriers between you and your dreams are simply there to discourage those who aren’t willing to work hard enough to achieve them.
But more than that, despite his medical condition, he wanted to share his life lessons with his children so they too might charge forward and chase their dreams because it will make for a life well lived. What he did, knowingly or not, was create a legacy.
The Pausch legacy is one that touches everyone because it revitalizes people to pursue their dreams. It might not always be easy, but it’s always possible. And even when you don’t reach them, you can still benefit from the journey you take to reach them. Equally important, you can share your journey with those you will leave behind to inspire them.
It also raises an interesting question for many people. If you were asked to write or record your last lecture, what would it be? What life lessons and stories do you have to share with your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on?
Will it be upbeat like the one that Pausch delivered at Carnegie Mellon University? Or will it be filled with regrets, decisions made that distracted from your dreams and thrust you into a daily routine? And perhaps more importantly, do you have time to change the script?
The most remarkable aspect of the Pausch story is exactly that. Even when he was faced with a truncated amount of time, he still went out to change the world, at least for a few million people who were inspired by him and set out to rewrite their last lectures.
Randy Pausch died four years ago, July 2008. But the legacy he left behind is one of the most enduring of our time. It dares us to re-imagine our lives and leave a legacy.