Randy Pausch: An Inspiration to All
Randy Pausch, a 47-year-old father of three, died today of pancreatic cancer. He never smoked, did not drink heavily, and exercised every day. Pausch’s message about living life with humor and joy while dying of a terminal illness has inspired millions.
Pancreatic cancer kills 75% of its victims within a year of diagnosis and only 4% live past five years. While certain lifestyle choices such as smoking or heavy drinking can increase one’s odds of getting the disease, the cause is unknown.
Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and computer scientist, knew his chances weren’t good after his diagnosis in September, 2006. One year later he gave his "last lecture" at the university, which subsequently gained international attention and led to a best-selling book.
The message Pausch conveyed in his lecture was about pursuing one’s childhood dreams and not letting setbacks get in our way. He suggested that “Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things.”
He also reminded us that we can’t change the cards we’re dealt. We can only control how we play the hand. And if we focus on other people and always try to find the best in others, we will be rewarded. Be honest, work hard, show gratitude - these things may seem like platitudes to the cynics among us, but Pausch reminds us that focusing on the simple things are the best if we want to live a life of joy.
Pausch appeared on the Oprah Show to give a short version of his lecture. His talk ended to standing ovation and tears among those in the audience. He closed with this advice: "If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."
Named by Time Magazine as one of the “World’s Top-100 Most Influential People” in May 2008, Pausch’s words have resonated with millions. Whether we are struggling to quit smoking, or suffering from an illness, Randy’s words can inspire us.
“It’s wonderful to be here. What they didn’t tell you is that this lecture series used to be called ‘The Last Lecture’. If you had one last lecture to give before you died, what would it be? I thought, damn, I finally nailed the venue and they renamed it.”
“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. If I don’t seem as depressed as I should be, sorry to disappoint you. I assure you I am not in denial. It’s not like I’m not aware of what’s going on… The other thing is that I am in phenomenally good health right now. I mean, it’s the greatest thing of cognitive dissonance you will ever see: the fact that I am in really good shape. In fact, I am in better shape than most of you. [Pausch starts doing push-ups.] So anybody who wants to cry or pity me can get down and do a few of those.”
“How do you get people to help you? By telling the truth. Being earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person every day, because hip is short-term.”
“Apologise when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself. How do I make a concrete example of that? See, yesterday was my wife’s birthday. If there was ever a time I might be entitled to have the focus on me, it might be the last lecture. But no, I feel very badly that my wife didn’t really get a proper birthday, and I thought it would be very nice if 500 people… [a birthday cake is wheeled on to the stage].”
“Remember, brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their dreams. Don’t bail. The best of the gold’s at the bottom of barrels of crap.”
“Show gratitude. When I got tenure I took all of my research team down to Disney World for a week. And one of the other professors said, ‘How can you do that?’ I said: ‘These people just busted their ass and got me the best job in the world for life. How could I not do that?’”
“Don’t complain. Just work harder [shows slide of Jackie Robinson, the first black major league baseball player]. It was in his contract not to complain, even when fans spit on him.”
“Work hard. I got tenure a year early. Junior faculty members used to say to me, ‘What’s your secret?’ I said, ‘It’s pretty simple: call me any Friday night in my office at ten o’clock and I’ll tell you.’”
“Find the best in everybody. You might have to wait a long time, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting, it will come out. And be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity.”
Anne wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for COPD.