Pros: Good stuff, great advice in some cases.
Cons: I don't get a sense of objectivity on the part of the author.
I hate it when a book doesn't live up to the hype. Then again, when a book has as much hype built up as this one did, maybe I can cut it a little slack; that's the kind of hype you can't realistically expect ANY book to live up to.
I saw this guy on 20/20 last year, and they were talking about some internet sensation. His name is Randy Pausch and he was a professor of Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon University who had recently found out he had pancreatic cancer, leaving him only months to live--6 at most. Pausch had been selected to give an annual lecture dubbed "The Last Lecture" wherein the guest speaker gives what they imagine to be their last lecture before they die, the point being, what's the one thing you wish you could say to your students, the most important bit of wisdom you'd like to impart to them before you go? Only in Pausch's case, he really was going, and fairly soon. And apparently his lecture, on "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" was so inspirational people all over the net were drooling over it. And based on that hype, Hyperion Books decided it would be keen to get the talk in print, in expanded form of course, with Pausch fleshing out the details, adding more, and basically expanding on the whole concept.
From what I gathered in the interview Diane Sawyer was conducting, this book was the place to be, all the cool kids were reading it, and it had the power to change your life. Measuring 7 X 5 1/2, and only 206 pages, that's nothing, I can read that in no time. Unfortunately, the reality isn't quite the revelation I'd been sold.
Don't get me wrong, Pausch's book is very good. His lecture, which takes up just over 30 pages, is interesting and, sure, inspirational, but upon finishing THE LAST LECTURE I don't feel as if my outlook on anything has been changed. In fact, most of what Pausch talks about, aside from his diagnosis and his family--his childhood, what kind of people his parents were (saints, apparently), meeting his wife after a lifetime of bachelorhood at age 39, his three children, and what a great professor he was--is all stuff you shouldn't have to be told in the first place.
You can always change your plan, but only if you have one. I'm a big believer in to-do lists. It helps us break life into small steps. I once put "get tenure" on my to-do list. That was naive. The most useful to-do list breaks tasks into small steps. It's like when I encourage Logan to clean his room by picking up one thing at a time
Ask youself: Are you spend your time on the right things? You may have causes, goals, interests. Are they even worth pursuing? I've long held on to a clipping from a newspaper on Roanoke, Virginia. It featured a photo of a pregnant woman who had lodged a protest against a local construction site. She worried that the sound of jackhammers was injuring her unborn child. But get this: In the photo, the woman is holding a cigarette. If she cared about her unborn child, the time she spent railing against jackhammers would have been better spent putting out that cigarette.
Tip #1 up there? Der! That's how anyone with any sense gets their kids to clean their room. And eat their dinner. And do their homework. Tip #2: obviously Pausch wasn't a smoker. Neither am I, but I know a ton of them and it's just not that simple. Besides, putting out a cigarette takes one second; that still leaves plenty of time to file complaints.
My point is this: any reasonable person with a decent head on their shoulders doesn't need THE LAST LECTURE to lead a productive life--and productivity is the reason most people, I believe, are reading this book. You want inspiration, read the bible. You want happiness, well if you need a book to tell you how to find happiness, then you have bigger issues in your life. The reason I read THE LAST LECTURE was because I was looking for something that may help me better achieve the goals I had set. The problem is, I think Pausch and I come from such totally different worlds that achieving my dreams in the manner he did simply isn't going to happen. I don't have college professors mentoring me. My parents didn't run charitable organizations in foreign countries. When he says that, as a child, money was never really a problem, well sometimes it was. In my childhood, anyway. When he talks about being prepared for whatever may happen and says "Now that I'm an adult, you'll never catch me with less than $200 in my wallet. I want to be prepared in case I need it", well wouldn't we all? But that's just not a reality a lot of people live with. I get his point, be prepared, but, first, do I need a computer science professor's book to tell me that? Hell, I wasn't even a Boy Scout and I know to be prepared. And second, obviously his problems are not my problems. He worries about getting caught in a situation where he needs $200, he likes to make sure he's got it, whereas if I'm caught in a situation where I need $200 my first thought is, "Holy sht! How much???"
Another instance of the differing worlds is when he talks about thin mints.
As part of my responsibilities, I used to be an academic reviewer. That meant I'd have to ask other professors to read densely written research papers and review them. It could be tedious, sleep-inducing work. So I came up with an idea (Pausch comes up with lots of "ideas"). I'd send a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints with every paper that needed to be reviewed. "Thank you for agreeing to do this," I'd write. "The enclosed Thin Mints are your reward. But no fair eating them until you review the paper.”
That put a smile on people's faces. And I never had to call and nag them. They had the box of Thin Mints on their desks. They knew what they had to do.
Sure, sometimes I had to send a reminder email. But when I'd ping people, all I needed was one sentence: "Did you eat the Thin Mints yet?"
I've found Thin Mints are a great communication tool. They're also a sweet reward for a job well done.
First, I can't believe he spent an entire page relating this gem. Seriously? What if they don't even like Thin Mints? If someone sent me a box of Thin Mints, they'd be given away right quick. And if that "reminder" email showed up in my inbox, my first response would be "Go fk yourself, I've got a life; I'm getting to it as soon as I can." (I wouldn’t SAY that, but I’d be thinking it). And finally, as a life tip, this one's pretty lame. As I get older, so does my daughter, so do my cousins' daughters, where am I gonna get a box of Thin Mints? Out here in space?... At this hour?
And speaking reviewer to fellow reviewers, wouldn't any kind of cookie have the feel of "bribe"? What if you hated the paper? Would you still feel obligated to review it favorably? Of course you would, he sent cookies!!!
But I'm spending way too much time talking about this issue anyway, so let's move on.
What I did like about THE LAST LECTURE is toward the end Pausch says this book isn't for the reader--not exclusively--it's for his children. Pausch died before his daughter turned 2 and knew she would have no memory of him. Along with Pausch, I'm also a member of the Wrapped Around My Daughter's Finger club, and can't begin to comprehend how hard it must be to know she won't remember you as she gets older. The heartbreak and the struggle to come up with all the things you may ever want to say, all the advice you may ever want to offer, and a lifetime's worth of love you want to make sure your kids feel, even if you're not there. So while his advice may not always be for everyone, it's not meant for everyone. And while some tips may seem ridiculous, sometimes they're just the things a child needs to hear from their parent. Dream big, don't obsess over what people think, get people’s attention, show gratitude, a bad apology is worse than no apology, no job is beneath you, all you have to do is ask.
Much of what he says in here is stuff I would want to say to my kids, too, if my situation were the same. I liked THE LAST LECTURE, I think it’s a worthwhile book and a great thing to leave behind for his kids to better know what kind of man their father was. I also think he loses some objectivity. He discusses his flaws, how he has no tact, always says what he thinks, and doesn’t pick up his dirty laundry, but as an academic, a professor, and a husband, he’s a saint and a genius. So I come away enjoying the advice, but a bit leery of his view of himself. He comes across most times as a real life version of Ward Cleaver and Mike Brady all in one: hair in perfect order, shirt clean and straight, bills paid on time, and a smile on his face. As a show of optimism, after his diagnosis he bought himself a convertible. Must be nice, but this is not the world most of us live in, so relating to the material on some levels is difficult. Still, there are plenty of great things to find in THE LAST LECTURE, so it’s definitely worth a read. It’s not the greatest, most inspirational book 20/20 had led me to believe, but it’s worth the cover price and the few hours it takes to get through it.