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Principles in Perspective: A Review of “The Last Lecture”

Principles in Perspective: A Review of “The Last Lecture”

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    The Last Lecture is a book based on an internet sensation, the “Last Lecture” given by computer scientist Randy Pausch at Carnegie-Mellon University.  Pausch died tragically of pancreatic cancer in 2008; the principles he discusses in his last lecture (and in a companion lecture on time management, both of which are available on the internet) take on a whole new meaning in light of the fact that they were given by a man who was face-to-face with his own mortality.

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    The Last Lecture
      The Last Lecture

      The book has much to recommend it to the reader of Lifehack.  Pausch was the consummate go-getter who inherited from his parents a drive to go out and get the answers to questions rather than to simply ask questions (p. 22).  He inherited from his youth football coach a reverence for fundamentals and execution, without which “the fancy stuff is not going to work” (p. 36).  Pausch highlights this by asking whether self-esteem is something that can be given, as many educational theorists argue, or whether it is something that is developed by developing the ability to do things that one previously couldn’t do.

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      Pausch illustrates the principles he lays out with examples from his academic career.  He encouraged students to listen to those who would criticize them because this meant that they actually cared about their performance (pp. 36-37).  He mentions a meeting with William Shatner and holds up hiss earnest attitude and desire to learn about virtual reality as a quality that would be admirable in any graduate student (p. 45).  He discusses the power of framing in light of Disney employees who, when asked when the park closes, would reply that “the park is open until 8:00” (p. 62, emphasis added).

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      Among Pausch’s theme is his point that people are more important than things (pp. 69-70).  For the Pausch family, cars were never a status symbol but were instead means of getting from one place to another.  This point resonates with me in light of a recent addition to our family (our son, Jacob, was born at the end of July).  Life is too short and family and friends are too precious to worry about whether a car, couch, or carpet will survive if something is spilled on it.  Pausch didn’t sweat small details and uses a story about his wife crashing one of their cars into another to argue that “not everything needs to be fixed” (p. 87).  Particularly after it was discovered that his cancer was terminal, he and his wife had to learn that small things, like clothes left on the floor, don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

      The book is strongest when it moves to practical application.  As a professor myself, I found that much of what Pausch had to say about organization, teaching, and disposition resonated with me.  In discussing his educational philosophy, he argued that “educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective” (p. 112).

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      Through the second half of the book he offers a number of pithy expressions, some recycled and some original, that illustrate important principles about how to actually live.  Chapter 29 is titled “Earnest is Better Than Hip.”  On page 134 he reproduces advice from his parents, who said that “you buy new clothes when your old clothes wear out.”  A chapter beginning on page 138 exhorts us: “Don’t Complain, Just Work Harder” because “complaining does not work as a strategy” (p. 139).  He encourages people to discount what people say and pay attention to what they do.  He leaves us with sound advice about apologies (p. 161), honesty (pp. 163-164), and humility (pp. 168-170).

      I found an anecdote about treating symptoms rather than disease quite compelling (pp. 139-140).  Pausch tells us about a girl he knew who tried to deal with her financial problems through Tuesday night yoga.  Pausch pointed out to her that if she worked evenings and gave up yoga, she would be able to pay off her debts within a few months.  She did so, and I presume she was able to enjoy her yoga on a whole new level after her debts had been paid off.

      The Last Lecture is a quick, easy read that has much to recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in improving their performance.  The tragic context in which the book was written makes it all the more poignant.  Randy Pausch is no longer with us, but his legacy will live on in The Last Lecture.

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      Art Carden

      Art Carden is an Assistant Professor of Economics and Business at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.

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      Last Updated on January 21, 2020

      The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

      The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

      Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

      your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

        Why You Need a Vision

        Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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        How to Create Your Life Vision

        Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

        What Do You Want?

        The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

        It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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        Some tips to guide you:

        • Remember to ask why you want certain things
        • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
        • Give yourself permission to dream.
        • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
        • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

        Some questions to start your exploration:

        • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
        • What would you like to have more of in your life?
        • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
        • What are your secret passions and dreams?
        • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
        • What do you want your relationships to be like?
        • What qualities would you like to develop?
        • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
        • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
        • What would you most like to accomplish?
        • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

        It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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        What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

        Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

        A few prompts to get you started:

        • What will you have accomplished already?
        • How will you feel about yourself?
        • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
        • What does your ideal day look like?
        • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
        • What would you be doing?
        • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
        • How are you dressed?
        • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
        • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
        • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

        It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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        Plan Backwards

        It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

        • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
        • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
        • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
        • What important actions would you have had to take?
        • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
        • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
        • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
        • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
        • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

        Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

        It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

        Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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