The Last Lecture

a.k.a Have you figured out the second head fake?

In September 2007, Professor Randy Pausch gave a lecture on ‘Achieving your childhood dreams’. He was one of many Academics who had been invited to give a ‘Last Lecture’, the aim of which was to teach the most important life lessons they had learnt if they had only one lecture left to give. In Randy’s case it was significant that he was giving his ‘Last Lecture’ at the time, since he had been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer earlier that year and had only been given three to six months to live, so in essence, it really was his Last Lecture.

I watched a recording of his lecture today and deduced three things from it:

#1: It’s very long: 1 hour; 16 minutes and 27 seconds to be exact 
(You can watch the full length version here or the shortened 5minute version here)

#2. He’s a pretty ordinary guy

#3. He lived!

His lecture focused on three aspects: his childhood dreams; figuring out the dreams of others and some lessons learnt. Throughout his lecture he referred to something called a ‘head fake’, which is something you learn indirectly by experiences and observations, etc. One thing I observed while watching his lecture was that most of what he learnt he learnt through his interaction with people. People such as his mentors, his bosses, his friends, family and colleagues. So what did he learn?

-From his Mentor (Andy Van Dam): ‘Sell something worthwhile, like education.’
Andy told him that he was a good salesman and that people would use him for his salesman skills, so if he was going to sell something, why not may it something that actually means something?

-From his Bosses: ‘Respect authority while questioning it’
Randy says that there’s always a reason why your superiors are ‘superior’ to you, because they’ve worked hard to earn it. However, one must always question your authority while respecting it, because you cannot just accept without asking why.

-From his Friends and Family: ‘Loyalty is a two-way street,’ ‘Treat everyone like an influencer & make every influence count’  and ‘You get people to help you by being honest’
People respond to people who are honest. It’s not about how much you know or who you are, but how you treat others that matters.

-From his Colleagues: ‘If you wait long enough people will surprise and impress you, you just have to have patient’ (John Snoddy)
John taught Andy that every person has a good side, you just have to wait long enough to see it, it may take months and in some cases years, but the good will prevail.

At the end of his lecture he said that the head fake of his lecture was that: ‘it’s not about how to achieve your dreams, but how to lead your life’. His second head fake was that the lecture was not designed for the audience present, but for his children. It was his legacy to them and what he was leaving behind for them.

Randy was by no means a spectacular person, he was simply an ordinary individual but the way he lived his life made him remarkable and the legacy he left behind is something to be admired. Once he graduated, his Mom would introduce him to friends and acquaintances by saying: ‘this is my son, he’s a doctor, but not the kind who helps people.’ He may not have been able to save himself or others from life threatening diseases, but I believe he saved many by his words and more importantly his actions.

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