A lot has been made out of “the last lecture” by Randy Pausch- in fact, there is a whole website dedicated to it. Here is the intro:
On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” With slides of his CT scans beaming out to the audience, Randy told his audience about the cancer that is devouring his pancreas and that will claim his life in a matter of months. On the stage that day, Randy was youthful, energetic, handsome, often cheerfully, darkly funny. He seemed invincible. But this was a brief moment, as he himself acknowledged.
Randy’s lecture has become a phenomenon, as has the book he wrote based on the same principles, celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities. Sadly, Randy lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008, but his legacy will continue to inspire us all, for generations to come.
Right now, two people I love and respect are battling cancer. It’s a horrible disease. Most of us will experience watching someone we love die from it. It’s why we have hospice programs- because, although we don’t believe in assisted suicide- we have at least learned that people don’t like dying in a hospital bed.
But- for the rest of us, we have our life to live. And one of my friends who is now in a death match with cancer- had something to say about living that I think is worth sharing. For those of you who know Allan Howard (or Opie, as many call him) you know there is something exceptional about him. From his humble simplicity is great wisdom.
I was honored to be arrested by him– and he considers my arrest part of the highlight reel of his career with the Dayton Police Department. I’ll let his words fill you in:
This was my e-mail to everyone on the police department the day I retired, 03/28/08
I’m sitting at my desk on the morning of my retirement thinking of what the last, nearly 26 years have meant to me. All I can say is it’s been one hell of a great ride. In the last quarter century I’ve learned a great many things. Some lessons I had to learn over and over, others I learned right away. The things listed below are what I truly believe have helped me more than anything else.
- If it seems like the world is working to keep you down and everyone is against you, have a good look inside yourself. Odds are it’s you working against the world, not the other way around. I can’t tell you how much this single thing changed my life.
- Don’t lie to yourself about who’s to blame for your own misfortune. I once rode my motorcycle to Alaska and then further north to the Arctic Circle. On the way there I saw a road sign that read “If it happens to you in Alaska, it’s YOUR fault”. That sign hit home and was the absolute epitome of personal responsibility. The moment you become able to honestly assess what YOU did (or didn’t do) that put you in a jam you will effectively reduce your exposure to “bad” situations by 80%. If you choose to wallow in self pity for the bad luck, poor upbringing, bad DNA or whatever else you might choose to blame, settle in, it’s going to be one uncomfortable ride. You make your own luck by either being prepared or unprepared.
- If you truly hate your job and feel compelled to tell the rest of the world about it whether they want to hear it or not, consider leaving. There have been times when I was exasperated but I always knew this was absolutely the best job I’d ever have. If you truly hate what you’re doing or the people you work with so much that it consumes you, have the courage to leave and go do something else. Keep in mind courage is not defined as claiming to be disabled, seeking and accepting a tax free pension you didn’t earn. While I’m at it, even if you do fulfill the years of service part but take a disability to avoid paying tax understand exactly what you’re doing. You are cheating a Lance Corporal serving as a squad leader in Baghdad (on his third tour) out of his salary while his wife uses food stamps at the grocery back home to feed their two children. If you can live with that, we don’t have anything in common.
- Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish if you just focus on how to overcome the obstacles in your way instead of looking at them as dead ends.
- Understand that material things come at the expense of time. Don’t put yourself in a position of having to work the rest of your life for stuff, because in the end it’s just stuff that’s going to belong to somebody else. If you can’t live within your means then get a job that has better means or get used to taking orders and not being able to spend what little time you get doing the things you truly enjoy. You can only spend time and each of us has a finite amount. When the reaper comes near you won’t regret not buying something, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do.
- Don’t waste your time with hatred. Things or people in the past that have rubbed you the wrong way or outright betrayed you are not worthy of a place in your mind. If you allow those old things to have even a part of your head you’ll miss what’s in front of you. Most of the time, what’s ahead is better than what’s in the past. When I was in the Marines we had a pilot who regularly shuttled us places when we were out of the country. He had a saying that is appropriate here, “There is nothing more useless than the runway behind you”.
I have not lived my entire life up to this point by these observations because I had to learn them the hard way. I don’t consider myself any smarter than the next person so understand I offer this in hopes that it can truly help you complete the career you started. I honestly don’t know what’s next for me and I’m excited by that. I intend to spend time with my children and grandchildren, ride my motorcycle and bicycles, explore the world and live (and I mean really live) right up to moment I die. All of that will more than likely take place where it is at least 70 degrees F.
Good luck to you all, this has been that best thing that ever happened to me and I hope when your time comes you can be lucky enough to say the same thing.
I’ve spent some of the best days of my life with Allan- riding our motorcycles through the Ohio countryside. I’m not a tenth of the rider he is, nor will I ever match his skills on two wheels. Even though we couldn’t talk while riding- I felt his love of life, and his positive energy as we wound through the twisty-turns that he loved to cut through like butter.
And although you may never meet him, every time you see a Dayton Cop on a bike, you are witnessing just one of Allan’s contributions to this community.
If there is anyone who will stare cancer down, it’s Allan.
And, if you need to give someone some good advice on which road to take through life, well, that’s why I shared his letter.