“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” – Randy Pausch, 2008.
Based on the extraordinary final lecture by 47-year-old Carnegie Mellon University lecturer, Randy Pausch, ‘The Last Lecture’ frames the concept of free will from its very first chapter. In the book Pausch explains how he took on his ‘last lecture’ – a common task for most university professors in their last year teaching to reflect on their experiences – or ‘journeys’. Pondering the question – what wisdom would I impart to the world if it were my last chance?
Before deciding on the topic for his lecture, the author was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. Fuelled by an epiphany in a hospital waiting room, Pausch conceived the concept of his talk: ‘Really achieving your childhood dreams’.
This inspiring catalogue of memories and musings is both powerful and raw. Pausch recounts life stories, illustrating wide ranging themes like hard work, determination, sacrifice, conviction, dreaming, bravery, hardship and misfortune. Each chapter brings a new dimension to Pausch’s character and as the book progresses you begin to feel you are getting to know the auto-biographer.
From his gratitude for his upbringing by beloved parents, to his time spent with his own wife and kids, Pausch had many experiences and learned lessons from all of them. He equates his time playing football to understanding the importance of teamwork and striving through adversity; whilst experiencing sacrifice and modesty the day that he found his late-father’s war medals – something he knew nothing about.
The book is not without humour, with Pausch also covering the sweeter things in life. He talks about his love of driving with the top down, taking pleasure in every small moment of life. He mentions the joy he felt when spending time with his children. He remembers sitting down to watch a movie on New Year’s Eve when his wife’s waters broke. He describes his tears of joy when realising a job as a Disney Imagineer, for few even get to envisage such dreams and much less have the opportunity to live them.
In a chapter entitled, “It’s about how you live your life,” Pausch opens up about living with cancer and how it might affect his life. Even with the knowledge of his prognosis, Pausch maintains a positive outlook. He gives himself permission to keep dreaming and achieving, pointing out with poignant honesty that we have a finite amount of time on this planet and time spent complaining is time that takes us away from achieving our goals.
The book concludes with Pausch’s dreams for the future, and those that he has for his family. He gives thanks for his Wife, Jai as his caregiver and on the last page of his deeply meaningful memoire he concludes; ‘The talk wasn’t just for those in the room. “It was for my kids.”
On 25th July 2008, Randy Pausch passed away, but 10 years later his legacy and wisdom still lives on. You can watch his ‘Last Lecture’ here: