Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Last Lecture

The talk and then the book, “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch has been on the best-seller list for more than a year. I’d heard of it and kind of knew his story. Randy was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was told that he had a few months to live. He gave his talk, the last lecture, at CMU, in which he offers advice and last words of wisdom. I put off reading or hearing this because I wasn’t ready to hear about more cancer but last week I got the book on CD to listen to it in the car. I expected to be moved and inspired.

Nope. By the end of the first CD I was pissed. I could not believe that this guy with three months to live wanted to spend all of his time working. Rather than spend time with his wife—whom he refers to as the love of his life and not with his three young children but working. With 90 days to go he spends most of his time writing, taping and editing this talk and later book. He gives the lecture at Carnegie Mellon and—this is my disappointment I’m sure—rather than say “stop and smell the roses” or “now I know what is really important” he spouts advice on ambition, working harder, achieving your goals and even how to organize your files. Success, recognition and celebration by others are what he is pitching. The guy is dying for God’s sake and he’s thinking about whether other people are impressed.

I kept thinking of what I have heard before: “We die the way we live.” If we live full of fear we will die full of fear, if we make life all about accomplishment then we’ll make our dying into an accomplishment too. That’s what Pausch seems to be doing in his Last Lecture.

Heresy? Yep. I seem to be a heretic—so yeah, that’s probably how I’ll die. The smarmy platitudes are lost on me. I’m sorry this guy died but I didn’t like him much. I kept thinking about his wife and how broken hearted it must be to realize that the man she loved and made a life with cannot—even in the last good days of his life—give her quality time—and wouldn’t even stay home with her on her birthday.

But all is not lost. There was value for me in hearing this book. Randy Pausch died as he lived and in that he had a kind of integrity. It’s not a life I’d like or a partner I’d like. But he was a success-seeking work-a-holic and he didn’t deny that part of himself or discard that even with just 90 days to go.

John and I have talked about how he spends his time and I have felt hurt about some of his choices, but Randy Pausch reminds me that this is not my life. It’s his life. The even bigger gift in this is that both of these men now inspire me—and even push me-- to go live my life.

1 comment:

Rich said...

Continued self-indulgence, self-deception, dishonesty, an internal mental whirlwind that always ends up just where it started.