Achieving your dreams: Lessons from Randy Pausch

Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch, who is dying from pancreatic cancer, gave his last lecture at the university on Sept. 18, 2007. In his moving talk, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Pausch talked about his lessons learned and gave advice to students on how to achieve their own career and personal goals (View entire speech on YouTube).

Here are some of my notes from watching the video (pdf of speech transcript).

All right, so what is today’s talk about then? It’s about my childhood dreams and how I have achieved them. I’ve been very fortunate that way. How I believe I’ve been able to enable the dreams of others, and to some degree, lessons learned. I’m a professor, there should be some lessons learned and how you can use the stuff you hear today to achieve your dreams or enable the dreams of others. And as you get older, you may find that “enabling the dreams of others” thing is even more fun.

Lessons from reaching his childhood dreams:

  • When you are 8 or 9 years old and you look at the TV set, men are landing on the moon, anything’s possible. And that’s something we should not lose sight of, is that the inspiration and the permission to dream is huge.
  • Have something to bring to the table, right, because that will make you more welcome.
  • You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.
  • When you see yourself doing something badly and nobody’s bothering to tell you anymore, that’s a very bad place to be. Your critics are your ones telling you they still love you and care.
  • Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
  • Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.
  • Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you.

How can I enable the childhood dreams of others.

  • Go back into class tomorrow and you look them in the eye and you say, “Guys, that was pretty good, but I know you can do better.” And that was exactly the right advice. Because what he said was, you obviously don’t know where the bar should be, and you’re only going to do them a disservice by putting it anywhere.
  • I think that that’s one of the best things you can give somebody – the chance to show them what it feels like to make other people get excited and happy.
  • When you’ve had something [a class] for ten years that you hold so precious, it’s the toughest thing in the world to hand it over. And the only advice I can give you is, find somebody better than you to hand it to.
  • That is the best gift an educator can give is to get somebody to become self reflective.
  • The best way to teach somebody something is to have them think they’re learning something else.
  • Alice Programming Software – Millions of kids having fun while learning something hard.

Lessons learned:

  • The Last LectureGo get a Ph.D. Become a professor. And I said, why? And he said, because you’re such a good salesman that any company that gets you is going to use you as a salesman. And you might as well be selling something worthwhile like education.
  • I mean I don’t know how to not have fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there’s no other way to play it.
  • “Decide if you’re Tigger or Eeyore”
  • Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us.
  • Help others.
  • Loyalty is a two way street.
  • Never give up.
  • You get people to help you by telling the truth. Being earnest.
  • Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself.
  • Remember brick walls let us show our dedication. They are there to separate us from the people who don’t really want to achieve their childhood dreams. Don’t bail.
  • The best of the gold’s at the bottom of barrels of crap.
  • When you do the right thing, good stuff has a way of happening.
  • When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it.
  • Show gratitude.
  • Don’t complain. Just work harder.
  • Be good at something, it makes you valuable.
  • Work hard.
  • Find the best in everybody. One of the things that Jon Snoddy as I said told me, is that you might have to wait a long time, sometimes years, but people will show you their good side. Just keep waiting no matter how long it takes. No one is all evil. Everybody has a good side, just keep waiting, it will come out.
  • And be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity.
  • If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.

Randy’s speech is quite powerful. I especially appreciate his sense of truth, perseverance and determination. At one point in the speech he describes the learning environment he has created with his students. Randy states:

“The keys to success were that Carnegie Mellon gave us the reins… We were given explicit license to break the mold. It was all project based. It was intense, it was fun, and we took field trips! So we did things very, very differently. The kind of projects students would do, we did a lot of what we’d call edutainment.”

How exciting. What an environment to work in! Randy was instrumental in the development of Alice. Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a teaching tool for introductory computing. Kids are learning to program but they just think they’re making movies and video games. It has already been downloaded well over a million times. There are eight textbooks that have been written about it and according to Pausch, ten percent of U.S. colleges are using it now. Pausch exclaims, “Millions of kids having fun while learning something hard.

That reminds me of the motto during OMET program at Pepperdine: “hard fun”. We spent our first week in the program at VirtCamp, kind of a grown-up version of tech camp – programming pirate legos and having “harrrrrrd fun”.

Gary Stager, one of my professors at Pepperdine university would assign us “learning adventures” instead of assignments. I never worked so hard at having fun and learning. But you know what, I loved it and it challenged me to try things I never would have experienced.

Randy’s speech makes me think of what lessons I have learned in life. I will have to reflect on that and share my reflections in another post. Meanwhile, I have a whole lot of dreaming to do.

In the words of Randy Pausch, “If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”

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