Sitting in on The Last Lecture

Life doesn’t come with a manual but if you look carefully there are plenty of easy to follow lessons left by people who figured out how to do it well. I recently came across such a lesson in my family’s book collection titled, “The Last Lecture.” This real life story focuses on Randy Pausch, a Carnegie Mellon professor diagnosed with cancer who’s determined to leave an enduring legacy for his loved ones. He does this by giving a last lecture – an exercise where professors reflect on what’s important to them and share their last words as if they were dying tomorrow.

Randy uses the first few chapters to outline his life to date and the rationale behind giving a last lecture. At first it seems as if the story will just be a paper copy of his live performance. A few chapters in however the book jumps from its straightforward narrative and shifts focus to important life moments for Randy. Each mini story reveals a lesson the professor learned when encountering life challenges. At this point Randy begins to reveal smaller thoughts regarding daily life that are focused on a grand narrative. Like life the book is filled with many lessons that when combined come together to showcase a complete story.

Ultimately there are many lessons to take away from this book. Below are a few I found meaningful:

  • Make opportunity – “…If you can find an opening, you can probably find a way to float through it.”
  • Never give-up – “…Don’t believe in the no win scenario.”
  • Default to positive – “The park is open until 8 PM.”
  • Brick walls aren’t dead ends – “Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
  • Function is greater than perfection – “Not everything in life needs to be fixed.”
  • Create to-do lists – “You can always change your plans, but only if you have one.”
  • Learn from failure – “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted… Be the first penguin.”

“The Last Lecture” is a quick read with lots to teach. The title is deceptive in the fact that while it’s focused on Professor Pausch’s last lecture, it’s easily a whole quarter worth of knowledge crammed into 200 pages. It’s not required reading but the story is perfect for those looking to get a new perspective on life and its daily challenges.

Cover the book, "The Last Lecture"