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The Last Lecture

by Randy Pausch

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What are four main ideas in The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch?

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1. People should strive to follow their dreams, no matter the opposition. Pausch encourages young people to not be intimidated by adversity and struggle, even if achieving one's dreams seems an insurmountable task. As he says at the end of chapter 6, "If you can find an opening, you can probably find a way to float through it."

2. Be kind to other people, even if it doesn't seem like it will benefit you in the long run. In Chapter 50, Pausch describes an incident at Disney World where he and his sister bought a salt and pepper shaker set and broke it by accident. The employees replaced it free of charge. When his parents heard about this, they appreciated Disney even more and returned to it more over the years than they would have otherwise. In the end, Disney did not lose anything by giving the kids a free replacement—in fact, they gained loyal customers who kept returning to the park. So Pausch emphasizes, "There is more than one way to measure profits and losses. On every level, institutions should have a heart."

3. You need to work from the bottom on up to achieve your goals—there are no shortcuts. Pausch describes his students often having feelings of entitlement, believing menial jobs such as mail-sorting are beneath them. He argues that if you claim you can't sort mail or do the most basic low-level work, then where is the proof you can do anything requiring a more sophisticated skill set? Humility is a must in pursuing one's passions and a way to prove mettle.

4. Your relationships with others are the most important thing. Pausch emphasizes the significance of maintaining one's relationship with loved ones and friends. At the end of the book, he says the worst part about dying is the effect it will have on the family he's leaving behind, so he spends as much time with his wife and children as he can so that they will remember how much he loved them. Throughout the book, loving and appreciating family (and anyone you meet) is a big theme. In fact, one could argue love is as integral to Pausch's idea of happiness as following one's dreams is.

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I believe one main idea Pausch asserted was that everyone should make everything they do fun.  He continually made the point that if it wasn't fun, it wasn't worth doing, because he believed life should be enjoyable.

A second main idea Pausch presented was that of living life to its fullest each and every day.  He used his experiences to show that he was happy with the way he lived, because he had given everything his all as much as he believed he could.

Similarly, Pausch asserted that people must work hard to be successful.  He told multiple stories of times when he lost out on something because he did not work hard enough, or times he got something because he worked hard.  He is quoted as saying "Brick walls are there to...

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stop the people who don't want it badly enough."

And lastly, I believe a fourth main idea would be Pausch's determination to find a way to be happy.  He was convinced that he had to find some way to be happy and enjoy life, or it was simply not worth living.  Being unhappy was worthless to him, because it made other people unhappy.

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What is the take-home message in The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch?

The "take home message" of The Last Lectureis that our dreams must play an active role in the lives we lead.

Pausch is confronted with a challenging reality as he decides to deliver his "last lecture."  He knows that he has only months to live.  He also knows that the summation he gives should not be about dying as much as how to live life even in the face of a defined end.  This understanding determines his message:

Whatever my accomplishments, all of the things I loved were rooted in the dreams and goals I had as a child…and in the ways I had managed to fulfill almost all of them. My uniqueness, I realized, came in the specifics of all the dreams—from incredibly meaningful to decidedly quirky—that defined my forty-six years of life. Sitting there, I knew that despite the cancer, I truly believed I was a lucky man because I had lived out these dreams.

Randy's "take home message" is that individuals should live their lives in accordance to their dreams.  He believes that a dream worth dreaming drives a life worth living.  

Randy employs several key moments to communicate this message. One such moment is when he recalls painting the walls of his room.  When he paints the quadratic formula and the elevator, it is clear that Randy's aspiration will fuel his hard work. His dream of utilizing math at an early age as well as the dream of smashing boundaries through the image of the elevator helped to fuel Randy's purpose in life.

Another detail that reveals the importance of dreams in Randy's life is when he was able to meet "Captain Kirk." Randy talks about how he "imagined a world where I actually got to be Captain Kirk."  It fuels his desire to build his landscape of virtual reality and share it with William Shatner, the actor who played Kirk on the television series.  Randy's dream fueled his work as an engineer. Randy's dream also played a role in how he faces death. This is seen when he received an autographed photo of Shatner playing Kirk with the line "I don't believe in the no-win scenario."  Randy's dream and "infatuation" with Star Trek kept him "in good stead" because it fueled his life's work and assisted him with how he would confront cancer.

Finally, Randy's dream of "making it" to the National Football League (NFL) was another instance where one's aspirations provides the blueprint for how to live life. Randy wanted to be a football player, a dream that never came true.  However, in this key detail, Randy's message is that there are instances where we can derive much from not accomplishing our dreams.  When Coach Graham treats Randy in a rough manner, he realizes that Coach won't "give up" on him.  Coach Graham taught Randy the value of hard work and that our work ethic must match our dreams.  He gave Randy "a feedback loop for life." Randy's experience with Coach Graham taught him the "head fake," where we learn a life lesson "well into the process" of doing something.  This provides the inspiration for Randy's last lecture.  It becomes a head fake for his kids, an instruction manual on what to do and how to live even when their father is absent.

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