Friday, 8 June 2018

Book Review #102 : The Last Lecture

If you know that you have a very short time of good health, how would you like to spend your time? You want to fulfill your dreams, spend quality time with your family or do what you are best at. Very similar is the case of Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He was asked to give a lecture and he couldn’t imagine it to be his last one. Randy said “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand”. 

This book is inspiring, motivating and can craft the inanimate to life. The author has beautifully combined humor, intelligence, and wisdom. He has exemplified many stories which cover subjects like hard work, team work, sacrifice, self-confidence, modesty, dreaming big, perseverance, positivity, courage and dealing with adversity. For the reader, the book is a glimpse into the life of a dying man who fights every moment to be alive and not a mere story.

He finds himself winning the parent lottery. He was influenced by his loving and supporting parents. During his life, he learnt many lessons from his experiences and has shared them in a striking manner. He also reveals how he achieved his childhood dream of becoming a Disney Imagineer, getting to Zero Gravity, being the coolest guy at amusement park and playing in the National football League (which he never made it).

The book shows a transformational change of his life when he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, portrays the changes in his day to day life and how he managed to achieve more in those turbulent times. He always maintained a positive outlook. Pausch loved his wife and children and he expressed it after every slide of his last lecture. He has dedicated his last lecture to his children and concludes by looking forward to sharing his dreams for his children. He recounts that his wife Jai was his caregiver and this means a lot to him. This book makes us feel like family to him, supporting him in his battle against a terminal cancer.

In a chapter entitled, “It’s About How to Live Your Life,” Pausch talks of his cancer and it’s effects on the remainder of his life. He described how he tried to live his life and offered some tips on coping saying “this is what worked for me.” He talks about giving yourself permission to dream big, and achieving your goals. He points out that we all have a finite amount of time and energy and that time spent complaining cannot help us achieve our goals. 

The book is an easy read, that’s packed with a lot of punch. It’s a collection of 61 short stories and is a celebration of a life worth living. Pausch packed a lot of distilled wisdom and knowledge of his 47 years.

There are many nuggets of wisdom interspersed throughout The Last Lecture. 

If you want something bad enough, don’t give up. 

Luck = Preparation + Opportunity. 

Recognize when it’s time to change your strategy. “I signed up for the hardest treatments that could be thrown at me because I wanted to be around as long as possible to be there for my kids.” When Pausch realized that, that was not going to be the case, he changed his strategy to leaving a legacy and spending quality time with his wife and each of his three children. 

Get the fundamentals down for everything. Have you mastered the fundamentals for your job? 

Your attitude affects the outcome of every situation. 

Complaining does not work as a strategy. 

Value people more than you value things. 

While reading The Last Lecture, I gleaned three questions to differentiate us, and I’m still trying to answer them for myself: 

What are three things that matter the most to you? 
What’s unique about you? 
What do you alone truly have to offer? 

Written in a highly personable and conversational fashion, The Last Lecture is part autobiography, part life lesson, and all heart. Through a quick tour of his life and career, Randy demonstrates how one should live while being candid about his impending death.

Despite his condition, Randy’s writing is light-hearted and upbeat. One can’t tell from the prose that its the work of a dying man as its often peppered with deadpan and occasionally self deprecating humour. 

Perhaps the hardest part of the book to read are the sections where Randy writes about his family. One can feel how painful it must be for him to plan so many things ahead – writing little notes to his kids, making videos, bringing his family on various activities etc – while in the throes of death.

It is certainly admirable that Randy manages to rise above his circumstances and to continue to be a teacher even unto his death. As the author himself has shared, the book isn’t about dying but about living. I do know for sure that it has provided me with lots of food for thought about what I should do with my own life.

What readers take away from The Last Lecture is in this same vein. The book isn’t about one man’s struggle against cancer, or the outcome of his treatment (Pausch died on July 25, 2008). It’s not an overcoming-all-odds story. It’s about making the most out of what you have, and enjoying every minute of the adventure, regardless of how it turns out in the end.

RATING -5/5 

A must read.

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