The Last Lecture-Randy Pausch
With thanks to my parents who allowed me to dream,
and with hopes for the dreams my children will have.
I HAVE AN engineering problem.
While for the most part I'm in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I have only a few months left to live.
I am a father of three young children, and married to the woman of my dreams. While I could easily feel sorry for myself, that wouldn't do them, or me, any good.
So, how to spend my very limited time?
The obvious part is being with, and taking care of, my family. While I still can, I embrace every moment with them, and do the logistical things necessary to ease their path into a life without me.
The less obvious part is how to teach my children what I would have taught them over the next twenty years. They are too young now to have those conversations. All parents want to teach their children right from wrong, what we think is important, and how to deal with the challenges life will bring. We also want them to know some stories from our own lives, often as a way to teach them how to lead theirs. My desire to do that led me to give a "last lecture" at Carnegie Mellon University.
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 that 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 hold dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring.
This book is a way for me to continue what I began on stage. Because time is precious, and I want to spend all that I can with my kids, I asked Jeffrey Zaslow for help. Each day, I ride my bike around my neighborhood, getting exercise crucial for my health. On fifty-three long bike rides, I spoke to Jeff on my cell-phone headset. He then spent countless hours helping to turn my stories---I suppose we could call them fifty-three "lectures"---into the book that follows.
We knew right from the start: None of this is a replacement for a living parent. But engineering isn't about perfect solutions; it's about doing the best you can with limited resources. Both the lecture and this book are my attempts to do exactly that.
THE LAST LECTURE
An Injured Lion Still Wants to Roar
A LOT OF professors give talks titled "The Last Lecture." Maybe you've seen one.
It has become a common exercise on college campuses. Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can't help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?
For years, Carnegie Mellon had a "Last Lecture Series." But by the time organizers got around to asking me to do it, they'd renamed their series "Journeys," asking selected professors "to offer reflections on their personal and professional journeys." It wasn't the most exciting description, but I agreed to go with it. I was given the September slot.
At the time, I already had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, but I was optimistic. Maybe I'd be among the lucky ones who'd survive.
While I went through treatment, those running the lecture series kept sending me emails. "What will you be talking about?" they asked. "Please provide an abstract." There's a formality in academia that can't be ignored, even if a man is busy with other things, like trying not to die. By mid-August, I was told that a poster for the lecture had to be printed, so I'd have to decide on a topic.
That very week, however, I got the news: My most recent treatment hadn't worked. I had just months to live.
I knew I could cancel the lecture. Everyone would understand. Suddenly, there were so many other things to be done. I had to deal with my own grief and the sadness of those who loved me. I had to throw myself into getting my family's affairs in order. And yet, despite everything, I couldn't shake the idea of giving the talk. I was energized by the idea of delivering a last lecture that really was a last lecture. What could I say? How would it be received? Could I even get through it?
"They'll let me back out," I told my wife, Jai, "but I really want to do it."
Jai (pronounced "Jay") had always been my cheerleader. When I was enthusiastic, so was she. But she was leery of this whole last-lecture idea. We had just moved from Pittsburgh to Southeastern Virginia so that after my death, Jai and the kids could be near her family. Jai felt that I ought to be spending my precious time with our kids, or unpacking our new house, rather than devoting my hours to writing the lecture and then traveling back to Pittsburgh to deliver it.
"Call me selfish," Jai told me. "But I want all of you. Any time you'll spend working on this lecture is lost time, because it's time away from the kids and from me."
Logan, Chloe, Jai, myself, and Dylan.
I understood where she was coming from. From the time I'd gotten sick, I had made a pledge to myself to defer to Jai and honor her wishes. I saw it as my mission to do all I could to lessen the burdens in her life brought on by my illness. That's why I spent many of my waking hours making arrangements for my family's future without me. Still, I couldn't let go of my urge to give this last lecture.
Throughout my academic career, I'd given some pretty good talks. But being considered the best speaker in a computer science department is like being known as the tallest of the Seven Dwarfs. And right then, I had the feeling that I had more in me, that if I gave it my all, I might be able to offer people something special. "Wisdom" is a strong word, but maybe that was it.
Jai still wasn't happy about it. We eventually took the issue to Michele Reiss, the psychotherapist we'd begun seeing a few months earlier. She specializes in helping families when one member is confronting a terminal illness.
"I know Randy," Jai told Dr. Reiss. "He's a workaholic. I know just what he'll be like when he starts putting the lecture together. It'll be all-consuming." The lecture, she argued, would be an unnecessary diversion from the overwhelming issues we were grappling with in our lives.
Another matter upsetting Jai: To give the talk as scheduled, I would have to fly to Pittsburgh the day before, which was Jai's forty-first birthday. "This is my last birthday we'll celebrate together," she told me. "You're actually going to leave me on my birthday?"
Certainly, the thought of leaving Jai that day was painful to me. And yet, I couldn't let go of the idea of the lecture. I had come to see it as the last moment of my career, as a way to say goodbye to my "work family." I also found myself fantasizing about giving a last lecture that would be the oratorical equivalent of a retiring baseball slugger driving one last ball into the upper deck. I had always liked the final scene in The Natural, when the aging, bleeding ballplayer Roy Hobbs miraculously hits that towering home run.
Dr. Reiss listened to Jai and to me. In Jai, she said, she saw a strong, loving woman who had intended to spend decades building a full life with a husband, raising children to adulthood. Now our lives together had to be squeezed into a few months. In me, Dr. Reiss saw a man not yet ready to fully retreat to his home life, and certainly not yet ready to climb into his deathbed. "This lecture will be the last time many people I care about will see me in the flesh," I told her flatly. "I have a chance here to really think about what matters most to me, to cement how people will remember me, and to do whatever good I can on the way out."
More than once, Dr. Reiss had watched Jai and me sit together on her office couch, holding tightly to each other, both of us in tears. She told us she could see the great respect between us, and she was often viscerally moved by our commitment to getting our final time together right. But she said it wasn't her role to weigh in on whether or not I gave the lecture. "You'll have to decide that on your own," she said, and encouraged us to really listen to each other, so we could make the right decision for both of us.
Given Jai's reticence, I knew I had to look honestly at my motivations. Why was this talk so important to me? Was it a way to remind me and everyone else that I was still very much alive? To prove I still had the fortitude to perform? Was it a limelight-lover's urge to show off one last time? The answer was yes on all fronts. "An injured lion wants to know if he can still roar," I told Jai. "It's about dignity and self-esteem, which isn't quite the same as vanity."
There was something else at work here, too. I had started to view the talk as a vehicle for me to ride into the future I would never see.
I reminded Jai of the kids' ages: five, two and one. "Look," I said. "At five, I suppose that Dylan will grow up to have a few memories of me. But how much will he really remember? What do you and I even remember from when we were five? Will Dylan remember how I played with him, or what he and I laughed about? It may be hazy at best.
"And how about Logan and Chloe? They may have no memories at all. Nothing. Especially Chloe. And I can tell you this: When the kids are older, they're going to go through this phase where they absolutely, achingly need to know: ��Who was my dad? What was he like?' This lecture could help give them an answer to that." I told Jai I'd make sure Carnegie Mellon would record the lecture. "I'll get you a DVD. When the kids are older, you can...