Remembering Randy Pausch II
Bill Long 7/25/08
Seven Other Lessons to Live By...
2. If You Wait Long Enough, People Will Impress You. This statement didn't originate with Randy, but he brought it to us courtesy of Jon Snoddy, a computer graphics guru. Jon's point was that you often don't "click" with people the first time you meet them. People, in fact, have a lot to offer, and we often are the poorer for cutting them off before we really have seen what they can do. Sometimes people "tick you off," but if you learn to listen to them beyond or through these times, you will be impressed by them in unusually powerful ways. This is such salutary advice to us today. My experience in the working world was that many people I ran into and worked with/for were very quick to make judgments about me and even to cut me off if I didn't fit into the "footnote" they were writing at the moment. Because of Randy's wisdom on this point, I am now seeing the people who cut me off (in my memory) as sometimes well-intentioned but often rather insecure and intolerant, people immured in their own worlds of uncertainty, insecurity and even rage.
3. Brick Walls Prove How Badly We Want to Accomplish Things; They are Really Meant to Stop Other People. Obstacles are a reality for all of us. They sometimes are so obtrusvie and daunting that we simply abandon our quest to surmount them. Learning languages, mastering tasks, internalizing procedures and professional expectations, can be a dull, withering and seemingly unrewarding thing. The cost that obstacles exact from us is often more than we want to bear. But if we see the walls only as obstacles for the other guy, we might understand them properly. Surely they stop us, too, but they are only meant to keep others back. They are only temporary setbacks or obstacles for us.
4. I Waited Until 39 Years of Age to get Married Because I finally Found Someone Whose Happiness Meant More To Me Than My Own. Wow. There is a mouthful in that sentence, and more than a mouthful. The person who says this has an instinctive sense that the essence of a successful intimate relationship is one where someone else is more important than you. It is so easy for people with abundant intellectual, kinesthetic or musical gifts, for example, to believe that the world ought to, figuratively speaking, revolve around them. What is it that permits a person to get outside of himself and realize that someone else's happiness is far more important than his own? It only can happen if you know how to give your heart away to another person. Randy teaches us that this trait is among the most noble in human life.
5. When You Screw Up and No One Tells You, You Really Are in a Bad Place. Randy alway said he wanted to be a professional football player. Indeed, growing up in the shadow of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the mid-1970s could have made anyone long to be an NFL star. But, of course, Randy was far too ectomorphic and small to enter that realm. But he learned this lesson from a high school football coach. He had just done something wrong in practice, and the coach chewed him out unmercifully. He complained of the treatment to another coach or adult, and this was his response. When no one cares whether you mess up, you know you not only have lost your way in your tasks, but you have lost your way with people. Randy was committed to the idea that you accomplish your greatest things as a result of collaborative effort with people who actually care about you. If you don't have people who care enough about you to correct you, you are in a sorry position indeed.
6. Experience is What You Get When You Don't Get What You Want. Half of life is handling disappointments. And, the other half isn't about how to handle success. Only a little part of life, I believe, is learning how to deal with your successes. But you get turned down. Just as we believe that the brick walls are for other people (# 3), so we realize that the actual experience of loss and disappointment actually deepens us. Just as the Scripture says that all discipline, for the moment, is painful but later yields the sweet fruit of righteousness, so Randy's statement suggests that even your great disappointments aren't really losses. They become the basis of learning.
7. You Defeat the Grim Reaper not By Living Longer But By Living Well. Martin Luther King, Jr., said it best a few days before he was assassinated, "Longevity has its place, but I'm not concerned about that now.." He had gone to the mountain and, like Moses, had seen the Promised Land, even though he would never reach that land with the Chosen People. Randy had that same insight, though in different words. George Herbert, the early 17th century Anglican divine, said that living well is the best revenge. So if you live well, you show all of us, who sometimes can't quite figure out what it means to live well, that fun, learning, love, and serving others really should be the focus of life. We get hung up and debilitated by the smallest things. Randy keeps our focus on living well, which he exemplified in every talk, speech and, if statements of those who knew him best are to be credited, in every interaction with people.
8. Don't Regret What You Have Done; Regret What You Have Not Done. As he was approaching his own death, he said that all the mistakes he made, all the ways that he had castigated himself for "messing up" in the past, really were not on his mind anymore. What really made him grateful about life was that he had generally tried to "go for" things that interested him. He didn't hold back in living; he sought to pursue his heart. We tend to hold back from exploration, he believed. But at the end of his life it was not the things he had done "by mistake" that occupied his mind...
Randy's children are so young that at least two of them may never have a memory of their dad. But he recorded videos, and especially the Sept. 2007 lecture, for them. What will little Dylan, Logan and Chloe think in a decade; in twenty years? Their father was taken from them but was given as a gift to the world. Maybe that will be the way that he will return to them.