This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Review: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

I, like so many others, have been moved by Randy Pausch's short life.

His "last lecture" at Carnegie Mellon was one of the most personal, uplifting, and inspiring talks I have ever heard in my life. It was a priviledge to be alive and in the moment to hear him speak. This, without a doubt, will be legendary and he has blessed his children with this legacy.

I 'followed' his health moments through his web page and watched more videos of his talks and interviews. For each and every one of the ones I have seen, he would say something that sent chills down my spine because they were so amazingly moving.

So when my book club suggested that we start our New Year choice with his book, I was happy.

The book is pretty much on par with his lecture@Carnegie (l@C). He provides a little more 'behind-the-scenes' about why he said what, or just more insight to his personal life.

I think he comes across more geeky and arrogant than the l@C and I don't mean that as an insult. He even proclaims the same in this book. It is just, IMO, more obvious as you read his words.

It was somber reading for me. And I think there is a vastly different take on this novel if you read it before vs. after he died.

Before, I assume, one still feels there is hope. Afterwards? Well, he has died and the hopes and goals of the remainder of his life is outlined here...and you know he is dead. And it's heartbreaking.

Because his life is his family.

Because he does not want to die.

And he cries in the shower when he thinks about how he won't be around to see his children grow up.

I will share some pages I bookmarked (the library, or next person who reads this copy, will probably not be too keen on my folded pages) that meant a lot to me to bookmark. The book, in its entirety, should be bookmarked...but here's just a glimpse of what I cared enough to fold.

In the chapter that describes his family (The Parent Lottery), he mentions some great advice from his dad:

My dad gave me advice on how to negotiate my way through life. He'd say things like: "Never make a decision until you have to." He'd also warn me that even if I was in a position of strength, whether at work or in relationships, I had to play fair. "Just because you're in the driver's seat," he'd say, "doesn't mean you have to run people over."

How can I pass those words on to the assholes and douche bags of my world and they would _actually_ understand its meaning.

In another chapter about his dad, he mentions that after his father passed away in 2006, he found that his father had been awarded the Bronze Star for his valor for saving men in his infantry company in 1945.

In the fifty years my parents were married, in the thousands of conversations my dad had with me, it had just never come up. And there I was, weeks after his death, getting another lesson from him about the meaning of sacrifice -- and about the power of humility.

In the chapter that he discusses some of the difficulties his wife Jai was dealing with, he mentions how she kept a daily journal, where she could write about the things that were bothering her. She wrote about how she was upset that Randy had not put away a dish and why it bothered her. She wrote it and somehow, it made her feel better and it didn't become an issue to deal with.

Jai tries to focus on each day, rather than the negative things down the road. "It's not helpful if we spend every day dreading tomorrow," she says.

This is advice for all of us.

A paragraph later, he mentions watching a movie with his son. The movie was Mr. Margorium's wonder emporium. His son, who at the time was not told of his father's prognosis, cried because Mr. Margorium was dying.

There was one line in the film, however, that remains with me. The apprentice (Natalie Portman) tells the toymaker (Dustin Hoffman) that he can't die; he has to live. And he responds "I already did that."

The chapter about "No Job Is Beneath You" was right on the money. He starts with
It's been widely known that there is a growing sense of entitlement among young people today.

Ha! I thought. I work with people who have that sense of entitlement and most of them are not "young people".

There is an entitlement that if one has a degree, they should be paid more. And if that degree is a Master's? More money. And if it's a Phd? More money, respect and instant awe should be received.

That's just an example of my stereotyping one area. It can happen when you feel you are entitled to a better job title, a better pay raise, a better office, a bigger house, a nice car, etc.

And there's never a look in the mirror to appreciate what you have, who you work with, what you do. And as I have posted before, my gratitude and respect go out to the blue collar folk, who make less money and work harder than me and my peers.

But I digress on my soapbox...what Randy writes:

...Too many are unhappy with the idea of starting at the bottom.

My advice has always been: "You ought to be thrilled you got a job in the mailroom. And when you get there, here's what you do: Be really great at sorting mail.

No one wants to hear someone say: "I'm not good at sorting mail because the job is beneath me." No job should be beneath us...

The "Be a Communitarian" chapter was something else that sings to my soul.

We've placed a lot of emphasis in this country on the idea of people's _rights_. That's how it should be, but it makes no sense to talk about rights without also talking about responsibilities.

...So I wanted my students to know. Everyone has to contribute to the common good. To not do so can be described in one word: _selfish_.

And the last excerpt I want to include is his expression of love for his youngest, his daughter, who at the time of this book's publishing, was only 18 months old.

I'm aware tht Chloe may have no memory of me at all. She's too young. But I want her to grow up knowing that I was the first man ever to fall in love with her.

This book is a keeper. It should be a 'bible' of inspiring anecdotes on being a good person and living life to your fullest.

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