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Friday, July 25, 2008

Randy Pausch: Head Fakes, Bucket Lists, and Being Happy

When you talk about tributes and eulogies for heroes, you think of celebrities and athletes. In the past month or so a number of great and unforgettable people have passed away, namely George Carlin and Estelle Getty. Yes, it's sad that they've passed away and regardless of how they lived their life, you still get choked up when they go. They may be in their later years and while it is inevitable, it is still a shock and a depressing moment none the same. However, in Randy Pausch's case, the last thing you would ever know, from listening to him, is that he was going to die, perhaps very soon. I mean it was obvious that the guy had months left to live after being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer in 2006. There was fixed horizon but he never gave you the impression that he was morose or depressed about dying. It was that kind of personality and behavior that made you want to believe that if anyone could beat insurmountable odds, it would be him. Sadly, that fixed horizon never wavered and, after nearly two years, Randy succumbed to his condition today, July 25th, 2008.

I heard from my wife over the phone during my lunch and I've had a small knot in my throat since. Of all the people in this world who could have beaten something, it would have been him. But, I don't think that he wanted to beat it for the sake of prolonging his life. I think he would have wanted to beat just to see his kids live out their dreams as he did. Randy is and was happy with his position in life, cancer or not. He achieved what many others of us have no way of realizing. Our lives are good. We just don't know it. When you acknowledge that elephant in the room [cancer, death, etc] you get the worst possible conclusion out of the way. "I am going to die. Now what?" For Randy, acknowledging, familiarizing, and ultimately saying to his cancer "I'm going to make my dreams come true, even though you will beat Me." was liberating. Here was a guy that is going to die and he's got a smile on his face. It's not an act. It's not a strong front. It's the truth. He was dying, he knew it, and he was happy. So, Randy performed his "Last Lecture" in 2007 at CMU's campus. Here's the transcript. If life's too short for you, here's the YouTube link.

A lot of Randy's lecture had to do with his dreams and life lessons. One of his techniques was the "head fake," where he shows you one direction but goes another. Think of basketball or football. You make it seem like your heading in one place but you really head somewhere else. Teaching a sport can be a "head fake" as Randy describes in the lecture. They didn't set out to teach their children sports but indirectly, they taught them teamwork, perseverance, and other values. In essence, Randy's life is the ultimate "head fake." He shows you all about his life and how he achieved his dreams and in the end, it wasn't about him, it's a guide for us. Now, he states his lecture isn't for "us" it's for his kids. That's great, but if we can take anything from his words and dreams, so be it. We're all the better for it.

Randy's life and death got me to thinking. No, I'm not going to shed my worldly possessions and trek off to Tibet to commune with monks in a monetary. I just think that we need to stop being afraid of what's out there. "Oh, I could never get up on stage and sing karaoke in a bar. I would suck." So what? I'm not telling you quit your job and bank your hopes and dreams on American Idol. I just think that letting your hair down in a public setting where you’re not hurting anything is great, especially if it scares the Hell out of you. Saying "Life is short" is so clich├ęd. "Life is long." That's more accurate. Life is too long to sit around and wait for death. That's what Randy would probably think. Maybe, I don't know. I think that and I'm not dying. Then again, I'm still sitting here instead of hitting happy hour doing my best MC Hammer voice.

Life is too long to not fill up all the gaps with things that make us happy. We talk about "bucket lists" and other things we would do if we only had months to live and I say, "Why wait?" Why do I have to be dying to do the things I've always wanted to do? I know I'm going to die someday, maybe not tomorrow or in the next 25 years but there's no reason that I have to have an early expiration date to get me off my dead ass.

Since this saddening news came during my lunch hour, I haven't exactly had time to crunch some numbers and figure out what I want to do with my life, so from time to time I may pop in a quick post about how I'm achieving my life goals. But we'll start with any easy one, my job.

Like, I said, I have to be realistic, need to have a job and with today's problems, I can't just up and go to Los Angeles to be an actor. Besides, I've already done the acting thing. Let's just start small in that respect. I've gone on at length about my issues with my job and employer and companies and corporations in general. While I sit and bitch about what's wrong, I don't seem to mind collecting a paycheck from these folks. It's steady and it's there, for now. So, one of my fears is losing my job....or more in particular, this job. Whether it be my actions or the fact that we, as a company, were bought and my job could be eliminated at any time doesn't matter. In the last month, I have begun looking in other places. Normally, I would just search our internal postings, but quite frankly, I'm better off here considering those jobs might be next on the chopping block. No, I've taken that first small step towards the unknown by seeking out and applying to external positions. I believe my diverse background has afforded me a lot of different qualities that would make me a good fit anywhere I go. While I may not have the education to actually adhere to the postings, I figure, "Who gives a f---?" What's the worst that could happen? I wouldn't get the job. So? What can it hurt to polish up the resume and just get it out there among the world? Put out enough bait and eventually a fish will start to nibble.

Another fear I have is not being educated enough to get another job, so I have actively taken the first initial steps towards going back to school. After being out for a decade, I'm rusty......really rusty. But my company offers full assistance based on grade. If I get an A, I don't pay for anything other than books. That's a no brainer, I guess. Granted, I need to get some things settled around my life before I can devote attention to this but it's further along than it has ever been. I don't necessarily know that I will pursue a Master's at this point. I figure start with what I know I can accomplish until I get ingrained in the process and go from there.

While I'm greatly saddened by the death of such a likeable and prolific individual like Randy Pausch, I'm happy for him. He obviously nailed it. He did it. He got a role in the new Star Trek, he got to work as or with an Imagineer for Disney. He got to play with The Pittsburgh Steelers on their practice field. He got to a father. He got to be a teacher. He got to be an inspiration. How can you say his life was cut short? Maybe it was. Who knows what he could have accomplished if he lived? I think that's up to Randy to decide, not me or you. I think if he would have wanted to do more he would have done it in the time he had. In his own words, the bricks in the wall didn't keep him out, it kept him motivated to get inside. He had no problem with adversity when he was given an end date to his life. He had no trouble living his dreams while he was sick. Why should you when you’re healthy?

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