Randy Pausch – stories on how to live

Eeyore as depicted by DisneyImage via Wikipedia Professor Randy Pausch died last month. Until I read this in my favourite ezine Kickstart Today I had never heard of him. As his lecture from 2007 now has over 6 million views, some of you may already have heard of him, seen the video (or one of the subsequent TV programmes about him), or read the book he wrote based on this lecture.

I had some doubts about suggesting you watch a video – 75 minutes long – when neither confidence nor self esteem are discussed. Especially on a weekend when Team Great Britain have managed to win as many gold medals as Michael Phelps! But watch it if you can, otherwise jump to my summary…

You could argue (and looking at a few YouTube comments some already have) that for an affluent, attractive, articulate and intelligent academic like Randy Pausch to lecture on how to live your life is somewhat absurd. I doubt if he ever lacked self confidence – in fact his mentor politely suggested his arrogance may be a hindrance!

None of us can chose our parents and it appears Randy was lucky in having parents who encouraged him and allowed him to both dream and have a go at achieving those dreams. Likewise, he appears to have spent his life surrounded by supportive peers, teachers and had great bosses and mentors. Low self esteem? No way.

But some of his lessons are applicable to us all, and like most things in life, you can take away positives or negatives – its your choice. And whatever advantages Randy started with, he answered those who asked him “What’s your secret” with “phone me at my office 10.00pm Friday and I’ll tell you…

Like all of us he had childhood dreams. But carrying forward the attitude that those dreams were possible into adulthood is where he differed from most of us. Several dreams came about; some, like playing in the NFL didn’t. If anything this latter dream proved the most useful. His football coaches provided some life lessons:-


“if you start screwing up and no-one is saying anything – that means they have given up. If those around you are still giving you a hard time – at least they still care”

on practicing without a football “it doesn’t just matter what they guy with the ball is doing, what about the other 21… get the fundamentals right..”

Randy lived life as a Tigger rather than an Eeyore. Like many introverts, I get hacked off when the views and opinions of extroverts are taken as read. Eeyore’s can have fun too! Extroverts don’t always understand the introvert perspective.

One recurring message from Randy’s lecture is:-

Brick walls are there for a reason – they let us know how badly we want things.”

Randy entered adult life never accepting no as an answer. He accepted his limitations – changing his goal from “Being Captain Kirk” to “Meeting Captain Kirk”! But there can be little doubt that his faith in his abilities – his self confidence – triumphed over many an adversity.William Shatner as Captain James T.Image via Wikipedia

Some other Randy Pausch quotes are:-

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted”

“Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”

Don’t complain, just work harder

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

“Tell the truth, be earnest, apologize when you screw up.”

But my favourite is

“Be good at something, it makes you valuable.”

In terms of self confidence, “being good” also gives you a platform. Randy’s area of expertise – computer science, in particular virtual reality – did enable him to help facilitate other peoples dreams. Achieving childhood dreams was the subject of his lecture. One underlying message was – “never stop dreaming, never stop trying to achieve those dreams.

His take on having fun was uncompromising – “like asking a fish to talk about the importance of water.” Part of me wanted to interweave this post with a reflection on the Olympics – but I’m not sure how much the Olympics is about having fun. Certainly participating in sport should be about having fun!

As parents we encourage our children to participate in sports – but usually we don’t do so with the thought that they will become great, like Michael Phelps. No, we hope it will take their “play” to another level, so they can continue to have fun as adults. But also that they will learn “teamwork, sportsmanship and perseverance“. I’m sure Randy Pausch wouldn’t mind if I added self confidence to that list.

I have written several posts that discuss goal setting and how they impinge on self esteem and self confidence. Whilst there is no set way of using goals, the one thing that drives you towards them is passion.

As someone whose default state seemed to be low self esteem and self confidence for many years, I can understand those who feel they cannot relate to Professor Pausch. I am now able to view reflectively – what can I change about my own life to live my dreams, help others live theirs, and how about having fun?

Neither self esteem nor self confidence are permanent states. If those around us don’t praise us, we can praise ourselves – or take steps to change the company we keep. We can all work hard and adopt a positive frame of reference. We can all dream, and then take steps to make our dreams reality.

Sid Savara August 17, 2008 at 11:14 pm

David –

Thanks for sharing this with your readers (although you’re right, it has been around for a while) and also for your summary. While he doesn’t discuss confidence or self esteem directly, I think watching it is still related to the broader picture of who you are and developing a complete understanding of what you want and how to get it. I think those messages still resonate with anyone working on their confidence and self esteem.

Sid Savara’s last blog post..Leveraging Expertise – On The Shoulders Of Giants

David August 17, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Sid – Thanks for your comments. Looking at other videos on YouTube I realized Professor Pausch had been “Oprahed”, so may be familiar to US readers. However, that still left the rest of the world!

David’s last blog post..Randy Pausch – stories on how to live

Bruce August 18, 2008 at 1:43 am

Nicely written. Pausch has been around a while but the commentary you provide with it has not. I really enjoyed reading this and even though I saw the video in the past, this shined it up a bit and put it into a new context for me. Thanks.

Bruce’s last blog post..Phthalates

Raymond Chua August 18, 2008 at 4:13 am

I have watched the entire video (It was recommended by a student of mine) and I find that it is absolutely great.

I love the way he presented his speech. πŸ™‚

Raymond Chua’s last blog post..DonÒ€ℒt Get Distracted

Beachcomber August 21, 2008 at 4:38 pm

With some people there is certainly a long wait to find the best in them…

Hot Tubs January 27, 2010 at 3:00 pm

What a great read that was πŸ™‚ I really enjoyed getting stuck into that even if it is a little old now lol

Thanks and keep up the good work mate πŸ™‚

Spalsh and Relax August 9, 2010 at 12:09 pm

Thank you so much for another great article, al though this information has been known for some time now its still nice to have a quick read to remind myself and also its much better to read here as its in plan English thats easy to understand unlike some blogs I have visited.

So thank you πŸ™‚

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