This book summary was prepared by Kelly Bankston and Blaire Bolton while MBA students in the College of Business at Southeastern Louisiana University. It was written under the tutelage of Dr. Michael C. Budden, Professor of Marketing.
Cover of The Last Lecture
Summary of The Last Lecture
Randy Pausch had a wife, three small children and the job of his dreams. Everything seemed to be going perfectly, but then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The cancer eventually went into remission but shortly thereafter returned with a vengeance. The diagnosis was terminal, and there were at least ten tumors in his liver. Faced with the ultimate realization, Randy could have done many things with his remaining time, but he wanted to spend the majority of it with his family. He knew he needed to take care of them and do things to ease life without him, so Randy moved his family to Virginia for Jai to be close to her family when he passed. He felt he needed to teach his children what he would have even though he would not be there. Unfortunately, they were too young for some conversations. He wanted to teach them right and wrong, what was important to him, how to deal with challenges, life stories, etc., but he realized he would not have the chance to do those things.
However, he had also committed to doing an academic lecture at Carnegie Mellon University as part of their “Last Lecture Series”. In this lecture series, professors were asked to consider their demise and what matters most to them and to give a “last lecture”. Randy’s wife, Jai, was not particularly fond of the idea of him doing the lecture due to the fact that it would take time away from her and the children, but Randy felt a need to do the lecture. He told Jai, “An injured lion wants to know if he can still roar. It’s about dignity and self-esteem, which isn’t quite the same as vanity.” He wanted to give the lecture not only because of his desire, but also because he felt like it was something he had to do; it was a form of artistic expression. He was a lecturer, so he wanted to give a final lecture; if he were an artist, he would have painted. Jai saw how much Randy wanted to do the lecture so she eventually relented. Randy saw the lecture as a way to say goodbye to his work family and “to cement” how people remembered him. He wanted to do whatever good he could on the way out. He thought the lecture was important mainly because he wanted to help his kids understand who he was and what he cared about. He knew that no matter what he did it would not replace having a living parent, but he wanted to make the best of the time he had left. It was extremely important for him to leave a legacy for his family, and he saw an audience as a means for external validation for what he wanted to tell his kids. Randy decided to make his lecture about the joy of life, appreciation, honesty, integrity, gratitude, etc. The lecture reflected what made Randy unique as a person, and he knew it was not cancer. (In America, 37,000 people a year are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer alone.) It was his dreams, goals, and experiences. He titled the lecture “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” with the hope of helping others “find a path to fulfilling their dreams.”
In order to prove to everyone he was in good shape, he began his speech by doing push-ups. He introduced the “elephant in the room” by presenting a slide of his CAT scan with arrows pointing to the ten identified tumors. With this he told the audience, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.” For his presentation, he wore “childhood-dream garb,” which was a polo he got from his sabbatical spent with Walt Disney Imagineering. He thought wearing a representation of his dream fulfillment would enable others to chase their dreams. After all Walt Disney did say, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”
One of the more influential topics for business majors is titled “A Skill Set Called Leadership.” According to Randy, favorable skills include delegating, wanting to inspire, dressing professionally, etc. Supervisors should never profess to have skills better than their subordinates. They should also be aware of what they are saying and how they are saying it. It is important to remember even the simplest comment can be taken negatively if said in the wrong way. If a supervisor approaches a situation and negates an idea right away, the employee may feel discouraged and be less likely to approach the supervisor with ideas or problems in the future. It is also important to acknowledge the skills of your subordinates and even take the opportunity to learn from them. A good leader knows their faults and is willing to attempt to better themselves in areas where they fall short. As an employee, it is also important to know your morals, and be sure to follow them. Others will attempt to sway you, but you need to remember to do the right thing so you will not regret it in the future.
“Brick walls are there for a reason, not to keep us out but to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.” “…Brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people.” Things standing in your path are there for a reason. Persistence is the only way to overcome them. If something is important and wanted badly enough, find a way to achieve or acquire it. When Randy was courting his wife, Jai, he employed persistence. They were living in two different states, so he gave her his frequent flier miles in order to see her more. She refused at first; however, after he sent a dozen roses and a note that said he was sad but respected her decision and wished her the best. She then got on a plane to visit him. Later, he asks her to move to Pittsburgh. She ended up backing out due to fear and saying she did not love him when he came to visit her in order to help her pack and move. Randy’s response to her uncertainty was “Look, I’m going to find a way to be happy, and I’d really love to be happy with you, but if I can’t be happy with you, then I’ll find a way to be happy without you.” After not talking to him for a few days, Jai decided she missed him and moved to Pittsburgh. Without Randy’s persistence, he may have never married the woman of his dreams. This is definitely an example of persistence paying off.
Even in fairytale situations, things do not always go as planned. It is important to remember that things do not always go perfectly and a backup plan is a necessity. If you plan for disaster, you will have a plan if it strikes. It is important to make the best out of every situation, and optimism is important in the situations that seem impossible. When Randy and Jai got married, they decided to ride away in a hot air balloon. Well, the balloon ride was not exactly a fairytale. Hot air balloons cannot just be put down anywhere and conditions for the balloon ride were not perfect. When the balloon was finally set down, it was near a set of train tracks with an oncoming train rushing towards them. The newlyweds had to make a run for it, but thankfully everything turned out okay. There was no horrible ending, but they made a run for it just in case. Even if you do not need a plan, it does not hurt to have one.
Randy Pausch is also someone who is all about enabling others to achieve their dreams. In order to help enable others to be better people, he shared his ideas for living and ways to make life better. They include the following:
1. Time is finite.
a. Time must be managed, like money. Once wasted, it can never be replaced; therefore, it should not be wasted on irrelevant details. “It doesn’t matter how well you polish the underside of the banister.”
2. If you have a plan or goal, you can always change it, but you have to have one.
a. This will keep you grounded and on task to accomplished things that need to be done.
3. It is important to ask the question, “Are you spending your time on the right things?”
a. Self-examination should be something practiced by all. “Are your causes, goals, and interests worth pursuing?”
4. Develop a good filing system.
a. This will allow you to waste less time searching for things and more time with the people you love or doing things you need to get done.
5. Rethink the telephone.
a. Unnecessary phone calls should be kept shorter.
b. Think about using speakerphone to keep your hands free in order to do other things.
c. If you have something you need to get done in view, you are more likely to keep the call shorter.
d. If you call someone before lunch, they are more likely to keep the call short because you are not more entertaining than lunch.
6. In order to really enjoy your vacation, do not email, call, or read work-related information.
a. If you are thinking about work, you are not enjoying your vacation or having a real one.
It was very important for Randy Pausch to dream big, and he wanted others to do the same. In 1969 when Randy was only eight years old, man walked on the moon. He saw a man on the moon as something that could inspire everyone to achieve maximum human potential. At that moment, he knew anything was possible, and he set forth to achieve all of his dreams. Inspiration is the ultimate tool for accomplishment. We also have to give ourselves permission to dream and fuel the dreams of our children, even if it means staying up past their bedtime. When Randy was younger, his parents did just that. They fueled his dreams by allowing him to paint whatever he wanted on the walls of his childhood bedroom. They encouraged his creativity and his need to express himself in unconventional ways. Randy painted everything from an elevator on the wall of the one-story ranch house to a quadratic formula by the door. Randy said this was a wonderful thing he got to do and asks the readers to allow their children to do the same and not to worry about the resell value of the house because enabling dreams and creativity are more important.
Randy also reminded us that we should not complain we should just work harder. Too many people go through life complaining. According to Randy if we take one-tenth of the energy used to complain and applied it to problem solving, we would be surprised at how well things turn out. Jackie Robinson was the first African American Major League Baseball player. He endured racism, but he knew he had to play better and work harder than the white players. He did just that while vowing to never complain no matter what. Remember, “Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals, and it won’t make us happier.” Another non-complainer Randy talked about was Sandy Blatt. A truck backed into him while he was unloading boxes into a cellar. He toppled backwards into the cellar, and when Randy asked him how far the fall was he just said far enough. Sandy was a quadriplegic who was athletic and engaged at the time of the accident. He did not want to burden his fiancée, so he gave her an out and she took it. He then decided to become a marriage counselor. He later got married and adopted children. He made an impression on Randy as someone who did not complain and was always optimistic even though he was not “dealt the best hand”.
We are also told we cannot obsess over what other people think. A substantial fraction of most peoples day is spent worrying about what others think. According to Randy if no one spent time worrying about this, we would all be 33% more effective in our lives and jobs. Randy told his students, “You don’t ever have to worry about what I am thinking. Good or bad, I’ll let you know what’s in my head.” Randy wore his thoughts on his sleeve; if he was unhappy he spoke up even though it was often direct and untactful. He told his students that if he had not said anything they had nothing to worry about. He felt this was a better way of living and could make everyone’s lives less stressful and easier.
Randy also tells us to watch what they do not what they say. If you ignore everything people say and watch what they do, they reveal their true selves. Randy also reminds us, “It’s not how hard you hit. It’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward.” It is not whether you win or lose it is how you play the game. Randy also reminded us to be the first penguin. He says, “Experience is what you get when you did not get what you wanted.” Failure is not just acceptable, but essential. You cannot learn without failure. Try new things and do not be afraid to fail. People who fail will often know how to avoid failure in the future, and that is something you cannot get out of a classroom. A person who only knows success can be more oblivious to pitfalls because you learn nothing from success. Experience is often the most valuable thing a person has to offer.
Randy Pausch also reminded us of the lost art of thank-you notes. Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other, and it is easily delivered. These thank-you notes are best done the old-fashion way. This means taking out a pen a paper and writing them yourself. Job interviewers and admissions officers see lots of applicants, but they do not see many handwritten thank-you notes. Thank-you notes will set you apart from the others and may even help you achieve your dreams, but they are also just the nice thing to do. If you feel you cannot adequately show gratitude to someone, pay it forward. “Go out and do for others what somebody did for you.”
The Last Lecture also gave us suggestions and words to live by. These suggestions and words to live by are a good tool to utilize in many situations that may occur. Some of the more helpful suggestions and hints are as follows:
1. Send out thin mints.
a. Randy needed a paper he had written reviewed, so he sent the paper to the reviewer with a box of thin mint cookies. The box of cookies had a note on them saying do not eat the reward until you are done. When he would want to know if the reviewer had looked at his paper he would send them a message, “Did you eat your cookies yet?” This message was better than just asking if the reviewer had reviewed the paper yet. He felt like this was a friendlier way of getting what he needed done accomplished.
2. A bad apology is worse than no apology.
a. When apologizing, it is important to be sincere. If your apology lacks sincerity, it is worse than not apologizing. People will feel you are mocking them or that you think less of them if you are insincere; they will find half apologies insulting. When giving an apology, any performance below an A just really does not count and may make things worse than they were before the half-hearted apology. Randy gives us the analogy that “A good apology is like an antibiotic a bad apology is like rubbing salt in the wound.”
3. Remember to tell the truth at all times.
a. If Randy could only give three words of advice it would be, “Tell the truth.” Remember you are only as good as your word. We must always tell the truth in order to gain the respect of others. Also, honesty is more efficient in the long-run. People do not tell the truth because it seems like a way to get what they want with less effort; however, most of the time you do not get away with it and it ends up causing more problems than good.
b. Randy was pulled over for speeding one day. The officer asked him what he was doing in Virginia. He told the officer he moved closer to his wife’s family because he is dying of terminal cancer. The officer said he looked good for being terminal and told him to prove it. Randy then pulled up his shirt and revealed his surgical scars. The officer immediately knew he was talking to a dying man, and the truth set Randy free, literally with no ticket.
4. Know where you are.
a. We need to remember to be sensitive to other cultures, respect them, and work with them. If you can find your footing between two cultures, or ways of life, sometimes you can have the best of both worlds.
5. Never give up.
a. Randy told us that if we want something bad enough we should be persistent, or tenacious. Randy gave the example of when he was not accepted into Brown, the graduate school of his choice, and did not like the others where he had been admitted. He never gave up, and his mentor helped him get into the school he wanted. Randy believed this brick wall was only there for the ones that did not want it bad enough, and he was able to overcome it because of his persistence. Randy also tells us the story of when he wanted to be a Disney Imagineer. This was one of the many childhood dreams he pursued. He asked for a sabbatical in order to pursue this dream and was told it may not be a good idea, but he did not give up; he persisted on trying to make his dream come true until he was able achieve it.
b. “If you want something bad enough, never give up (and take a boost when offered).”
6. Don’t be afraid to ask.
a. This suggestion can lead to all your dreams coming true. We should not spend all of our time waiting we should just ask, and more often than expected the answer will be sure. Randy always asks for what he wants; he never lets an opportunity to ask pass him by because you never know when the answer may be yes.
When Randy Pausch was young, he took a family trip to Disney world. He and his sister got to go explore the park by themselves without their parents. While they were doing this, they stopped at a Disney gift shop and bought a pair of Disney salt and pepper shakers. When they were leaving the store, they dropped and broke the shakers. Randy and his sister decided to take the shakers back to the store. When they did, the Disney employees gave them a new pair of salt and pepper shakers. The employees did this claiming it was the stores fault for not packaging the shakers well enough. Randy’s parents appreciated this so much that they were regular visitors to Disney World and estimate they spent over $100,000 over the years at Disney World. Randy refers to these salt and pepper shakers as the $100,000 salt and pepper shakers and reminds us we have to remember there is always more than one way to measure profits and losses.
During the last lecture, Randy asks the audience to make a decision. He asked them if they are a fun-loving Tigger or a sad-sack Eeyore. Randy said that he did not know how to not have fun; he had cancer and was still having fun (with the time he had left). He reminds us that we need to have fun everyday no matter what and tells us that is exactly what he is going to do with the remainder of his time. We have to decide if we are going to be a fun person to be around or if we are going to be the type of person people do not like to be around.
Randy Pausch also talked about the importance of being optimistic. He gave us a way to understand this hard to understand topic. He said he was living like he’s dying while living like he’s still living (or making the most out of what little time he had). Optimism is defined as an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome. Randy’s personal take on optimism was that it as a mental state can “enable you to do tangible things to improve your physical state.” Optimism is also a better mindset to get you through your day and will enable you to endure more. ”The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.” He also tells us there needs to be a healthy balance between optimism and realism. You can be optimistic, but you also need to stay grounded. Randy was an incurable optimist. The Vice President for Advancement, Robbee Kosak, saw a man in a convertible one day. He was listening to the radio, bobbing his head, tapping to the beat on the searing wheel, smiling absentmindedly, with the top down. She thought it was the epitome of a person appreciating this day and this moment. As she became closer to the car, she realized it was Randy Pausch. She knew his diagnosis was grim and yet she was moved by how content he seemed. She wrote him and said, “You can never know how much that glimpse of you made my day, reminding me of what life is all about!” Randy said that he had once wondered how he seemed to other people with his diagnosis. She gave him a window to himself; he still knew life was good, and he was doing okay.
Randy finished his last lecture by telling the audience that the dreams will come to you. He said he was not grateful he had cancer but he was grateful he had an advanced death notice; he saw it as a chance to thank, complete, finalize, etc. He used this time to make sure his family would be okay after his passing and tie up loose ends. He also got to thank people who had helped him throughout life. He thanked certain people during his lecture several times. At the end of the lecture, Randy wanted to do something nice for his wife Jai, and it just so happened that her birthday was the day before the lecture. Randy realized this may be the last birthday he got to spend with her, so he brought out a cake and had his audience help him celebrate by singing her Happy Birthday. She immediately started crying and gave him a hug and whispered something in his ear. She said “Just don’t die.” He says it sounds like Hollywood dialogue, but that was what she said. He then went on to finish his lecture while trying not to cry. He said “today’s talk was about achieving childhood dreams but did you figured out the first head fake?” ”It is not about how to achieve your dreams but how to live your life.” If you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself because the dreams will come to you. Then he asked, “Have you figured out the second head fake?” ”The talk was not just for you it was for my children too.” He then clicked the last slide revealing a photo of him standing by their swing set, holding his smiling son Logan with his right arm around his sweet daughter Chloe and his other son Dylan sitting happily on his shoulders.
Randy Pausch was an amazing individual, who used some of his remaining time to share his knowledge. This is an admirable feat for anyone, but more so because he shared his knowledge with others while taking precious time away from his family and other things he could have been doing. His children will one day come of age and realize what an amazing father they truly lost. Whether that is good or bad, remains to be seen, but at least he has preserved some of himself in the things he did in his final time. Also, he has shared his knowledge with the masses, which will hopefully be grateful. We can only hope that he touches or touched every life that knew him and knows of him and continues to even in death.
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When Randy Pausch lost his battle with cancer in the summer of 2009, the world lost a brilliant man. Randy was a man of honor, loyalty and intelligence among many others. Randy was a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and he loved his job. Randy also loved his family and through his book he taught the reader that family comes first, and then you should worry about the other things. Randy wrote about childhood dreams while remembering his own. He taught the reader no matter what they face they should never give up. He did this by telling them about the “brick walls” he faced in his life. These walls never stopped Randy because he was always determined to succeed, and succeed he did. He was a professor admired by students, and he never gave up on them or enabling their dreams. He wrote about practical things everyone should know. He reminded his readers life is short, and they should live every day to the fullest. He did not want to dwell on the fact that he had a terminal illness, and he never wanted the reader to feel sorry for him. He just wanted to teach them some very important life lessons. He did this through examples and personal experiences. Randy Pausch was a great man everyone should emulate and strive to imitate.
Reviews of the Book
There are many reviews for the book The Last Lecture. Most reviews praise the author and believe that the book is an inspiration. Mark Flanagan who writes reviews for About.com: Contemporary Literature gave the book a four out of five star rating. He said that, “Pausch is a fantastic storyteller, and recalls and distills the essentials of his life’s anecdotes more than most of us would be able. The Last Lecture addresses more of his struggles with cancer than it did in video form, but always from the angle of a challenge requiring a creative solution, which is how Randy Pausch seems to have approached his entire life.” Time magazine named Dr. Pausch one of the 100 most influential people in the world. ABC declared him one of its three “persons of the year” for 2007. In addition, Oprah Winfrey promised him 10 minutes of uninterrupted speaking time, and he used it to give a condensed version of the lecture.
The Top Ten Things to be Learned
The book The Last Lecture taught us a lot. It shared with the reader many practical life tips. These tips are great for any practicing manager. They can help out in almost any situation in life or at work. Here are some of the most important tips that practicing managers should take from this book.
1. Remain Optimistic
a. The author reminds us optimism is a very important trait for people to have. He tells the reader optimism will enable them to endure more. He also says optimism is a better mindset to get you through the day. Practicing managers should remember this when hard times come their way. They should always try to remain optimistic.
2. Enable the Dreams of Others
a. The author reminds us it is very important to enable the dreams of others. Practicing managers should do this for their employees to create more successful and happier workers. The author was always trying to enable the dreams of others and was very successful in it.
3. Dream Big
a. Practicing managers should always dream big. The book teaches us that we should give ourselves permission to dream and to fuel those dreams. Managers should take this advice and live by it. They should be constantly dreaming and fueling their dreams.
4. Don’t be Afraid to Ask
a. The book teaches us to always ask for something. It reminds us that asking for something can never hurt. It explains that in most situations people will get a “yes.” Practicing managers should always remember this and always ask for what they want or need because after all asking cannot hurt.
5. Remember there is “More Than One Way to Measure Profits and Losses”
a. When the author was younger, he took a family trip to Disney World. He and his sister bought a Disney salt and pepper shaker. When they left the store, the salt and pepper shakers were dropped and broke. They took the shakers back to the store and the Disney employees took total blame for not packaging them well enough and gave them a new set of shakers. The author’s family appreciated this so much they went back regularly and estimate that they spent around $100,000 at Disney. Practicing managers need to always remember the little things count, and there is more than one way to measure profits and losses.
6. Romancing the Brick Walls
a. The author reminds us “The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it bad enough. They are there to stop the other people.” Managers should always have this in mind when they face tough situations. When they are told no, they should fight through the brick walls that can be torn down.
7. Remember the Skill Set Called Leadership
a. All practicing managers need to remember these skills to become better managers. The author tells us what it takes to be a dynamic manager, these skills include:
ii. Passion to inspire
iii. Professional dress
iv. Never profess to have skills better than your subordinates
v. Be in charge of your morals
vi. Be aware of how you say things
8. Not All Fairy Tales End Smoothly
a. The author reminds us things will not always go perfectly. Practicing managers need to always remember this and find a way to deal if things do not end smoothly. Managers also have to remember even fairytale moments have risks. They need to take these risks but also be prepared for them to not end in the way they initially expected. Back-up plans are important in the event a situation goes wrong.
9. Make a Decision: Tigger vs. Eeyore
a. All managers need to decide if they are going to be a fun-loving Tigger or a sack-Eeyore. People love being around a fun-loving Tigger not a sad-sack Eeyore. We need to pack as much fun into our lives while we can.
10. Don’t Complain Just Work Harder
a. Too many people go through life complaining. All managers need to remember this. Stop complaining and work as hard as you possibly can. Complaining does not accomplish anything but working harder will accomplish everything.
Things to do Differently
The author of the book should have also kept in mind his entire audience in order to make the book a better read. It is important to know to whom your writing and Randy Pausch is writing to his children, which is fine. However, if he would have kept in mind the masses would have been reading this it may have been a slightly better read. (Not that the original is not phenomenal; it is just that it may have had more information about how to live.) It would have also been better if it could have been longer, but given his short amount of time it is understandable that it is not. It is evident that Randy had more knowledge, experiences, life lessons, etc. than he had time to share. It was important for Randy to share his history with his children and to leave a piece of him behind for them; however, it would have been interesting to see more thoughts on life from this brilliant man. The things he shared are invaluable, but more quirky tidbits of helpful information from him would have been a joy to read.
Reading this book changes your perception on life and how to live. It shows that no matter how hard things get there is always room to persevere. It preaches on valuable traits that are sometimes overlooked and not seen as important such as honesty, integrity, and gratitude. It also gives quirky helpful hints that make you stop and think about life, how you are living, and how precious time really is. This is a book that makes you examine yourself and how you are living. It makes you want to live everyday as if it is your last so in your final moments of reflection you can be proud of how you lived your life and the decisions you made.
The applications to a career are numerous. Some of the most important things to take into a career include delegation, honesty, integrity, gratitude, attentiveness, persistence, decisiveness, etc. In regards to gratitude, remember to send thank-you notes when necessary; you will be thought of highly because you did. It is also important to not profess to be better than your subordinates, to know what you do not know, and to be eager to learn about what you do not. In a career, it is important to be prepared for things to go wrong and to have a backup plan. Above all learn from people, pay attention, and be patient enough to find the best in everyone.
Flanagan, Mark. “The Last Lecture.’” About.com: Contemporary Literature. N.p., Apr. 2008. Web. 3 Oct. 2009. .
Martin, Douglas. “Randy Pausch, 47, Dies; His ‘Last Lecture’ Inspired Many to Live With Wonder.” The New York Times. N.p., 28 July 2008. Web. 6 Oct. 2009. .
Pausch, Randy, & Zaslow, Jeffrey. (2008). The Last lecture. Hyperion Books.
David C. Wyld (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Robert Maurin Professor of Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, and executive educator. His blog, Wyld About Business, can be viewed at http://wyld-business.blogspot.com/. He also has a book summary/review blog that is a collection of his students works at http://wyld-about-books.blogspot.com/.