By now, lots of people have learned that Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecture is heartwarmingly inspirational. It was a bestseller for over two years, between 2008 and 2011, and still comes up in comments from time to time now. I don’t remember exactly where I heard about it myself, but in someone’s wise article containing good advice.

I don’t say this to suggest that wise articles containing good advice are a bad thing. I like them. When I saw the book in the used book shop I recognized it and wanted to read it.

Cover of the Last Lecture

Now I, too, know from personal experience that The Last Lecture is heartwarming, inspirational, wise, and full of good advice. And I have the sense that Randy Pausch, its late author, must have been an exceptional individual, and would have been – at least it seems that way to me – someone I would have appreciated knowing, if I’d had that chance. Would have been a memorable and well-liked teacher, for instance. The book is something like a course, in itself, and it’s an enjoyable one, memorable, and feels valuable.

The price of reading other people’s wisdom and good advice, especially the wisdom and good advice of seemingly accomplished and admirable people, is the sense of regret it engenders for one’s own comparative lack of wisdom and accomplishments.

The Last Lecture is worth that price.

In our world, it can be easy to reach the conclusion that success – as prominence, position, influence, success of that kind – comes from constantly monitoring public opinion, playing to the crowd, saying and doing whatever gets applause, “likes,” shares, the more outrageous the better. It can be easy to reach the conclusion that success has little to do with substance, or even reality, and more to do with appearances and tribal affiliations.

The Last Lecture works as a potent antidote to that toxic conclusion. “Really achieving your childhood dreams” – the theme of the lecture – depends on values and practices that challenge that superficial spirit of the air to its core, if it has a core.

Instead, says Pausch, dream big, then do the work. Devise better solutions. Treat obstacles as opportunities. Enable the dreams of others. Tell the Truth. Don’t complain, work harder. Show gratitude, loyalty, dedication. “A bad apology is worse than no apology” (162), perhaps the lesson we might expect from a self-described “recovering jerk” [hard to believe, but presumably true … see above]. Live in the real world … optimistically.

So The Last Lecture is a “success manual” – a real one.

I know it was a bestseller, but … I think I wish even more people would read it, and aim for the kind of success it promotes. A world full of successful people like that would be a happier one, and a better one, for everyone.

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Pausch, Randy. With Jeffrey Zaslow. The Last Lecture. Hyperion, 2008.

[An installment of the “Read Me” Project.]

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interior of a hollow tower of stacked books
Continuing education.