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Life lessons from Randy

You cannot change the cards you are dealt. Just how you play the hand.
Randy Pausch

I have written about Randy Pausch a few times in my blog. I feel as though he is a personal acquaintance yet I have never met this man and I never will.

For months a daily ritual of mine has been to check Randy’s health update web page. I needed to know what was happening to him and how his battle to stay alive was progressing. Since I first watched Randy give his now famous lecture last September I have felt connected to him even though he was a total stranger living on the other side of the world. At this moment I’m sitting here wondering how this happened and why?

The viral nature of the Internet has a part to play. However, I believe Randy connected with so many people because of his ability to tell stories rather than actually ‘lecture’ and tell us what to do and how to do it. He talked to his audience in a way that most of us could relate to. Randy told personal stories, intentionally told from the heart and we became engaged through the power of emotion. As we listened we questioned what all of this had to do with our own lives and in this way we became part of the story. Randy was able to connect with his audience on a human level because his story could be anyone’s story and this made us all sit up and take notice.

There was also an element of the unexpected in Randy’s last lecture. This noted academic chose to talk about life lessons as opposed to talking about his various academic and professional achievements or his visions for the future for his area of expertise. Randy had a plan and our reaction was an added bonus.

These lectures are routinely videotaped. I knew what I was doing that day. Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle what would one day wash up on the beach for my children. If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured.

I lectured about the joy of life, about how much I appreciated life, even with so little of my own left. I talked about honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I held dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring.
Source: Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow in The Last Lecture, page x.

After listening to Randy’s various talks and reading his book I learnt about a man who had dreams; who loved, lived and knew how to have fun; who made mistakes and learnt from them; who set about achieving his dreams; who inspired others to be more; who pushed himself; who taught with his heart as well as his head; who believed in others and their abilities; and who believed every single minute of his life and every experience was all worth it even when facing his imminent death.

For a while now I sensed that Randy’s health was on the decline. You didn’t have to be particularly brilliant to work this out; he hadn’t made an entry in his update page since 26 June and the medical data he had posted painted a grim picture. Yet every day I continued to check his web site and every day there was nothing new there. Then last night this message appeared:

July 24th, 2008: The cancer is progressing
A biopsy last week revealed that the cancer has progressed further than we had thought from recent PET scans. Since last week, Randy has also taken a step down and is much sicker than he had been. He’s now enrolled in hospice. He’s no longer able to post here so I’m a friend posting on his behalf because we know that many folks are watching this space for updates.

And this morning:

July 25th, 2008
Randy died this morning of complications from pancreatic cancer.

I feel incredibly sad at this moment.

Life is full of sad and incredibly unfair situations and moments. It seems so wrong that someone in their prime is taken away. On the other hand look at what Randy offered us and what we have all gained.

I do wonder though whether Randy would have said what he did if he didn’t know he was dying. Would his message have been different if his situation was different? Also, would we have listened to the same extent if he wasn’t dying; if the hypothetical hadn’t been real? We seem to learn the greatest amount during times when life is challenging us in some way.

Thank you Randy for teaching me the importance of dreams and dreaming. It is never to late too start dreaming and striving to make these a reality.

Randy daydreaming, circa 1968

This all began when a man was faced with answering the question: What would you say if you knew you were going to die and had a chance to sum up everything that was most important to you?

What would you say? What would you do?

The lesson for all of us is to work this out and act. Don’t wait. Life is short and every day is a gift that we take so for granted; that is until something happens and often this is too late! Life is to be lived. We only have one go at it. This is so easy to forget.

I know from personal experience that this isn’t easy to put into practice. At the very least be thankful for what you have because no matter how bad thing may seem for you there is always someone out there worse off than you.

Make today count. You could start by setting yourself up with a SuperViva life list.

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