Sunday, November 07, 2010

Final salvo

I had the chance to read The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch, recently. If you aren't already aware, Pausch was a professor in the computer sciences department at Carnegie Mellon. He was in his early 40s, his career was cooking, and he was married and had three very young children. Everything was going great.

Then, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His physician gave him 3-6 months to live.

While Randy beat the odds for something like 10 months, he eventually succumbed to his disease. But fighting cancer for nearly a year gave him time to put his affairs in order, make some plans for his family, and give one final lecture at Carnegie Mellon.

He decided to talk about how to live well and achieve your dreams. The lecture was an instant phenomenon, and the book grew out of that presentation.

Though the book is slim, it can be difficult to read sometimes. Not because the writing is, in any way, clunky or tiresome, but because as you read, you feel sorry that a person like this didn't beat cancer. The book shares stories of some of the people who impacted Pausch's life, taught him things, made him a better person. Several stories illustrate the importance of following one's heart and going about one's life work with passion. Still more vignettes teach us how to get out of our own way and keep trying, even when things seem hopeless.

There is a lot of good advice in this book. Pausch noted in the final pages that part of his motivation for giving the last lecture, and for writing the book, was so that his children would have something tangible to remember him by once he was gone. Though some books an recordings are certainly cold comfort in place of a living, breathing father, I admire Pausch for all he did to try and be a presence in his children's lives, even after he was gone.


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