Invaluable Lessons on Life from Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture”

I just watched the video of Dr. Randy Pausch‘s farewell lecture at CMU. It’s so packed with life lessons that I can’t help but spread the word out to you.

Randy Pausch is a computer science professor at CMU who has incurable pancreatic cancer. Despite the fact he has only months to live, he shows a very positive and inspiring attitude toward life. The lecture he delivered is far from just “another” lecture. It touches not just your mind, but also – more importantly – your heart.

The lecture is entitled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” which I believe is an essential topic. Many people have forgot their childhood dreams, let alone achieving it. There are so many lessons in the lecture, and I highly recommend you to watch the video yourself. So I don’t want to write too much about it. Instead, I will just mention some lessons which especially resonate with me:

  1. Brick walls are there for a reason: they let us prove how badly we want things.
  2. Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.
  3. Never lose the child-like wonder.
  4. If we do something which is pioneering, we will get arrows in the back. But at the end of the day, a whole lot of people will have a whole lot of fun.
  5. Be good at something; it makes you valuable.
  6. If you live your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, and the dreams will come to you.

In addition, there are other things I learn from the lecture which are not explicitly mentioned there. Randy called this kind of learning “head fake”, which is learning something indirectly through an experience. Here they are:

1. Stay positive no matter what, but not in denial

Randy is not in denial of his condition, but he is just as positive as you could imagine. It takes a great deal of courage to be like that.

2. Make things fun

Randy makes the lecture a fun experience, which somehow reminds me of Richard Feynman. I felt it early in the lecture, but he later mentioned that it was indeed what the CMU president told him to do when he was preparing the lecture. The CMU president told him: “Tell them about having fun, because that’s what I remember you for.” And Randy said that talking about having fun for him is like “a fish talking about the importance of water”. He said “I don’t know how it is like not to have fun… I will keep having fun everyday I have left.”

3. Dream a big dream

When he went to the Disneyland as a child and saw all the excitement there, he didn’t just think “I want to experience this”. Instead, he thought “Gee, I want to make stuff like this.” That’s a big dream for a child.

This attitude is also apparent when he talked about Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) and Alice. He is the co-founder of ETC, which he described as “The Dream Fulfillment Factory”. But, although ETC was very successful, his dream didn’t stop there. He dreamed of a “scalable” dream factory which would enable millions of people to achieve their dreams. Based on this he co-created Alice, which he described as “The Infinitely Scalable Dream Factory”.

4. Learn from all the people in your life

Randy learns from practically everyone he meets. He learns from his students, his colleagues, his mentors, his football coaches … the list goes on and on.

5. Be dare to do things differently

He did it with the ETC which he said is “not like any master degrees you’ve ever seen.” For example, ETC has no dean to report to and the curriculum is entirely project-based. Being dare to do things differently does make a difference.

6. Find the right place to nurture your dreams

He mentioned several times in the lecture that CMU is the only place in the world he knows where something unusual like ETC could happen. I learn something here: for a seed of dream to grow, it should be sowed in the right soil. Have you found the right place to nurture your dreams?

Resources for further exploration:


  1. […] Update on 2007 sep 28 – Life Optimizer: Invaluable Lessons on Life from Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” […]

  2. Hello!
    A very good post. I really impresses by the lessons mentioned here.


  3. Thanks, Antonio! Yes, watching the video was an incredible learning experience. The problem now is putting these lessons into practice 🙂

  4. This was a GREAT book. I loved it!

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