Lessons Learned from the “Last Lecture”


Laster LectureThe idea of the last lecture is a hypothetical question, “if you knew were going to die, and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?”

For Randy, it wasn’t hypothetical.  He was fighting pancreatic cancer.

This talk is not about death, though.  It’s about life and how to live.  Specifically, it’s about achieving childhood dreams and about how you can try to achieve them.

Video of The Last Lecture

In this video, the “Last Lecture,” Randy Pausch talks about his dreams, enabling the dreams of others, and what lets you get to achieve your dreams.

Lessons from the Last Lecture

Here are my lessons learned from the “Last Lecture”:

Have specific dreams.

Randy didn’t want to be an astronaut, he wanted the floating.  When he got older, he found a way to experience zero-gravity, without having to first become an astronaut.

Brick walls are there for a reason.

They let us prove how badly we want things.  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.”

Be good at something.

It makes you valuable.  Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcomed.

When you don’t get what you want, you get experience.

Randy says it so well, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.”

Most of what we learn, we learn indirectly (or by “head fake”)

Randy teaches us that we actually don’t want our kids to learn football … but we send our kids out to learn much more important things: teamwork, sportsmanship, perseverance.  “These kind of head fake learnings are absolutely important and you should keep your eye out for them because they are everywhere.”

It’s all about the fundamentals.

You’ve got to get the fundamentals down, because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.

Have fun.

Never underestimate the importance of fun.  Choose to have fun.  Have fun while learning something hard.  Randy says, “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, everyday I have left, because there’s no other way to play it.”

It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Randy shares an example, where two people say the same thing, but they say it in different ways: “I don’t know” is different than, “Well, I don’t have much information but one of my star faculty members is here and he’s all excited so I want to learn more.”

You can have your cake and eat it too.

Randy, wanted to be a Disney imagineer, but liked his life as a professor.  He struck a deal where he could consult one day a week with the imagineers.

Hand the torch to somebody who can carry it forward.

“When you’ve had something for 10 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.”

Get somebody to be reflective.

“The best gift an educator can give, to get somebody to become self-reflective.”

Never lose the child-like Wonder.

It’s just too important.  It’s what drives us.

There are moments that change your life.

10 years later if you know in retrospect, it was one of those moments, you’re blessed.  But to know it, *at* the moment …

Work and play well with others.

What goes around comes around.  You can’t get there alone.  Tell the truth, be earnest, apologize when you screw up, and focus on others, not yourself.

Apologize properly.

Apologize (properly).  A good apology has 3 parts: 1) I’m sorry.  2) It was my fault. 3) How do I make it right?

Never give up.

“Don’t bail; the best gold is at the bottom of the barrels of crap.”

Do the right thing.

When you do the right thing, good stuff has a way to happen.

Get a feedback loop and listen to it.

When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it.  “It can be a spreadsheet of data or it can be one great person that tells you what you need to hear.  The hard part is listening to it.”

Show gratitude.

“Please” and “Thank you” go a long way.

Don’t complain.  Just work harder.

Jackie Robinson had it in his contract not to complain, even when the fans spit on him.  You can choose to take your finite time, and energy and effort and you can spend it complaining or you can spend it playing the game hard, which is probably going to be more helpful to you in the long run.

Find the best in everybody.

Find the best in everybody, no matter how you have to wait for them to show it. “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.”

Be prepared.

“Luck” is where preparation meets opportunity.

If you lead your life the right way, your dreams will come to you.

“It’s not about how to achieve your dreams, but 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.”

Decide If You’re Tigger or Eeyore

Decide if you’re Tigger or Eeyore.  You just have to decide if you’re Tigger or Eeyore.  Tigger finds the fun in every situation.  Eeyore wallows in self-misery.


Leadership Skills from Captain Kirk

Randy shares how he learned the value of leadership from Captain Kirk.  “What I learned that carried me forward in leadership later is that  he wasn’t the smartest guy on the ship.  I mean, Spock was pretty smart,and McCoy was the doctor, and Scotty was the engineer … and, you sort of go, and what skill set did he have to get on this damn thing and run it? … and clearly there is this skill set called leadership, and whether or not you liked the series, there’s no doubt that there was a lot to be learned about leading people by watching this kind of action.”

When Nobody’s Saying Anything to You Anymore, That Means They Gave Up

Your worst critics can be your best coaches.  It’s tough love.  Randy tells the story of one of his most grueling football practices.  When it was all over, one of the assistant coaches came over and said, “Coach Graham rode you pretty hard, didn’t he?”   Randy replied, “yeah.”  The assistant responded, “That’s a good thing … When you’re screwing up, and nobody’s saying anything to you anymore, that means they gave up.”

Randy’s take away was … 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.

People vs. Things

Randy shares a lesson about the importance of people vs things.  His parents taught him early on the importance of people over things.  When he got his first convertible, he drove to his sister’s house to pickup his niece and nephew to watch them for the weekend.  While his sister explained to her kids how careful they needed to be in Randy’s new car, Randy slowly poured a can of soda on the back seat of his car, to make the point that it’s just a thing.  Randy says this was a good thing because his nephew got the flu and threw up on the backseat on the way back.

The point Randy makes is that he doesn’t care how much value you get by owning a shiny thing.  It doesn’t feel as good as he felt that his 8 year old nephew wasn’t embarrassed that he had the flu.

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  1. What a great post! I also learned a lot from this lecture (and from the book too). I especially realized that I’d spent my life being an Eeyore and it was up to me to become a Tigger. Really great post…Thanks for highlighting all of the really important lessons.

  2. Hi JD,

    That lecture is so awesome. The first time I watched, it was about a year after my mom passed away from cancer, I was so touched by his courage. Cancer is a horrible disease and he handled it with grace.

    So many wonderful points. The two that stick out to me is how we should never lose our childlike wonder and to learn to actually listen to feedback and not be offended by what we hear. Those two points are beliefs that I use everyday and it has made the journey so much more fun. Life is so short, no moment should be wasted.

    As for being a Tigger or Eeyore…I am a Tigger all the way! Must be a Jersey thing. 😉

  3. JD,

    Loved the Tigger or Eeyore advice 🙂 I’ve heard the lecture twice and it still brings tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing it, with so many lessons that I never stopped to learn amidst all those tears!

  4. Dittos re: the comments. I still can’t watch Randy without crying. Who can? JD. you’ve provided additional insight (but then, that’s the point of your blog,eh?). From time-to-time when I’m working through challenges, thinking of Randy can help put things in perspective. My favorite lesson is “You can have your cake and eat it too”. This is one of my mantras (& I want it served with decaf, hot, with one blue sweetener, thank you very much).

  5. JD, what a great video and discussion!
    When I first read the first portion of this blog, I was halted as I read these powerful words: “If you knew were going to die, and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?”

    Wow, I think it goes hand in hand with what someone asked me recently: “Apart from the books, and what you’ve read, what do ‘you’ believe is the meaning of life?” I believe when we are put on stage and asked to speak with absolute transparency, we are speechless out of reverence for our life and the sacred being before us. We live on sacred ground. I did answer, after thinking how to say what I really believed in as few short words as possible: 1. We are here to learn to love our self. ~It is essential, before we can ever 2. Learn to love one another. 3. Our heart must be pure before we can serve. We each have a gift to share with the world. It’s that simple, and it’s that hard to practice – 4. It will require ‘everything’ of us to commit to this life-long task of serving ourself and sharing this gift with another, holding such reverence. This is why many of us have stalled for so long. We know it, but we don’t want to commit to one of these necessary steps along the way.

    The other point that resonated with me which you shared was to ‘have fun!’ In conversation today, I was just sharing with someone how I am learning how to have fun again, while remaining committed to what matters most to me! I’ve learned that the more serious we are, the less impact we have. When we commit to something, the microphone is already on. There is no validation that we need; to start being, embracing the joy of living and leading our own life. Our experiences and the fact that we are here is enough permission for our sharing.

    I value leadership as committed service more than ever before! It’s amazing how the heart expands, when we get the focus off striving to be anything other than who we already are! Choosing to Let go, and just do my best is what I’m going with lately, and it’s working! 😉

    Thanks for this lovely post, JD! Once again, you continue to inspire me, and I am blessed to share in your positive network!


  6. That’s a really good list JD. I like the Tigger/Eeyore bit as well – although I have heard it somewhere else before I think it’s a nice and simple way to look at things. 🙂

  7. Yesterday I was thinking you are working on something big and thoughtful… Here you are.
    This list resonates tons with me. Reminds me another list I compiled recently too. The circumstances related either…

    Thank you.

  8. @ Positively Present

    Thank you. I really like Randy’s delivery and the Tigger vs. Eeyore really stuck out for me.

    @ Nadia

    Cancer is horrible, and I’m very sorry to hear about your Mom. I’ve lost people to cancer too, and it sucks.

    Curiosity is a wonderful thing, and whatever feedback doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.

    @ Daphne

    It’s powerful. I didn’t realize how much info he packed, but each time through I find something new to chew on.

    @ Jimmy

    I think the cake and eat it too lesson is especially powerful. You can trade and cross-pollinate your skills across domains.

    @ Jen

    Thank you. I like your example, and I think of it as “give your best where you have your best to give” and “lead from the inside out.”

    Fun is essential. It’s the key to relationships, it’s the key to work, and it’s the key to life.

    @ Louisa

    Thank you. Randy’s delivery is really what makes it an experience.

    @ Alik

    Thank you. I think this one was long overdo.

  9. A truly inspiring video and I will ‘hand it as torch to many who can carry it forward’. There is so much here that touches me and that I see as important life lessons for all thinking individuals. Maybe we need not view of life as a process of finding answers, rather as a time to be, with wisdom and with enjoyment, spent to find more interesting questions. Now I know why the Tigger ‘toy’ spent so much time on my desk. If only the world had more Randys.


  10. Hi J.D.,

    This is a beautiful post. Randy Pausch touched many lives, and rightfully so. I love the fact that even though he has passed, his lessons live on.

    I love the lesson on apologies having 3 parts and “When you don’t get what you want, you get experience”. So true!

  11. Hi J.D.,
    Randy Pausch was an amazing individual, and he touched so many lives. And you’ve summarized it so well here, the many lessons he shared. For me, the lesson I keep coming back to is this idea of people vs. things. And it helps me so much to remember that people are truly what matter.

  12. @ Richard

    I like that … “a time to be.”

    @ Barbara

    Experience is the best teacher 🙂

    @ Lance

    People vs. things was a big take away for me too. Interestingly, I didn’t find it in the original lecture, but I found it in the reprise on Oprah. That’s actually why I linked to both videos. It’s a great story. It highlights that no matter how much he valued his new car, it was still just a thing.

  13. JD
    This is a perfect time to remind of us of this important spirit and his lecture on living life to the fullest.

    The part about the person not working on helping one get better – that they have given up….that happens to a great many folks at about age 60…especially women – they talk about being invisible to others when they have so much energy and time to give it a whirl.

    Thank you for your post

  14. @ Patricia

    I think more people are learning that life is about sustainable results and renewal. I think perpetual curiosity and a lust for learning are key.

  15. Thanks for this J.D., it never gets old.

    Getting somebody to be self-reflective is lovely. Some of my best coaches, teachers and friends had/have this ability and I cherish it.

  16. […] Lessons Learned from the “Last Lecture” – Sources of Insight * Have specific dreams * Brick walls are there for a reason * Be good at something. It makes you valuable * When you don’t get what you want, you get experience * Most of what we learn, we learn indirectly * It’s all about the fundamentals * Have fun * It’s not what you say, but how you say it * You can have your cake and eat it too * Hand the torch to somebody who can carry it forward * Get somebody to be reflective * Never lose the child-like Wonder * There are moments that change your life * Work and play well with others * Apologize properly * Never give up * Do the right thing * Get a feedback loop and listen to it * Show gratitude * Don’t complain. Just work harder. * Find the best in everybody * Be prepared * If you lead your life the right way, your dreams will come to you * Decide If You’re Tigger or Eeyore (tags: inspiration lessons life career insight lastlecture randypausch) […]

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