We're all gonna die, so we'd better start living

The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch (2008)

**Pages: 206**, Final verdict: Should-read

Do you have a book which you like so much that you gift it to all your friends? This was The Last Lecture for me, the I-love-this-book-you-should-read-it-too that I gave to my best friends. It is a collection of stories from Randy Pausch, a young university professor who has only a few months left to live and wants to leave his best piece of advice for his children.

After being diagnosed with cancer, Randy Pausch was invited to give a last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University where he was a professor of computer science.

Luckily for the rest of us, Pausch wanted to leave a written legacy for his kids. Hence, after giving his actual last lecture, Pausch went on to write this book together with journalist Jeffrey Zaslow.

Achieving your childhood dreams

In the first part of the book Randy Pausch describes how he achieved his childhood dreams such as working at Disney or meeting Captain Kirk (he met the actor William Shatner). Later, he moves on to focusing on how he tried to enable the dreams of others.

The Last Lecture is definitely not a book with guidelines for how to live our lives. It is not a well thought collection of principles which "all successful people follow". In a humble and simple way, deeply autobiographical, it is a collection of memories from someone who seems to have achieved a state of great perspective about his life. We get to learn a lot about Pausch's personality and life, from the time his parents allowed him to paint his own room to how he met his wife.

"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." - Randy Pausch

The Last Lecture is all about being positive in the face of the direst circumstances. It is about enjoying life, and it is about all the small things which Randy Pausch believed his kids (and all of us) should learn.

How to live your life

As this was the second time I read this book, I kept asking myself: these things he mentions in the book, do I like the book because I believe in them, or do I believe in them because I've read them in the book a few years ago? Regardless of the answer, these are the lessons I would like to share with you in this review:

  • Don't be a jerk - Being very intelligent but also a bit full of himself, Pausch had to learn how to be more humble and respect others to be more successful in his career.
  • Obstacles are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough - If you think that something is difficult, it is probably because it is worth aspiring to.
  • Don't be too serious - Paush recounts how he poured a can of soda into the backseat of his new car to make his nephews more comfortable in case they made a mess themselves.
  • Be happy - Life is short, and it can sudendly become even shorter, don't waste your time with petty things. Look for the good side in everyone and every situation.

Although short, the book is full of pieces of life advice from Pausch. Whether you agree with the advice, or you knew all of this before, will probably highly influence your appreciation of The Last Lecture - but I bet that it is a great read for almost everyone.

Randy Pausch died in July 2008 at age 47. The greatest advice we can get from him is to make the best we can out of the cards we are dealt.

"It's not about how to achieve your dreams. It's about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you." - Randy Pausch

Bottom line

It was the second time I read The Last Lecture, and one of the few times I ever re-read a book. It turned out to be quite an experience, as I've re-discovered Pausch's story and confronted it with my expectations. It remains one of my favourite books - for what it taught me when I was reading it the first time at 18, and for what I hope to get from it when re-reading the book again in the future.

The Last Lecture is a simple book. With very short chapters and straightforward language, it could be described as a light read. However, the topic and its emotional charge, being Pausch's last work, make the reader engage with the book in a moving way.

My advice is: go and read the book. It might happen that you don't relate to it at all, or it might happen that you love it. But since you can read it in such a short time, I would definitely recommend giving it a shot.

As Steve Jobs said:
"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

Further learning:

Happy reading.