Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Last Lecture

Last night I finished reading our March book club selection, The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I'd recently seen a video clip from an appearance on Oprah and became interested in reading the book. So, when it was suggested in book club, it was perfect. And, luckily, the library had a copy (large print only, unfortunately).

I actually wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if I had watched the film version, instead of the written version (heresy, I know, for a book-lover like me to say!). Having seen a small portion of his lecture "live," I realized how dynamic and engaging it would have been to see the whole thing instead of reading about it.

At the risk of sounding smug, I feel like I've already figured out a lot of the "lessons" he shared. Actually, one of my guideposts in life--depressing as it may sound--is to ask myself, "if I had a terminal illness, would I still be doing this?" If the answer is "no," I either quit whatever it is, or look for ways to make it more enjoyable/worthwhile. I've long had a semi-obsession with life, death, purpose, passion, and is-this-truly-important/worthwhile. I think it is serving me fairly well, though I do sink into a bit of a spiral of despair sometimes!

From the book, I'd marked two things. From the time management section: "Ask yourself: Are you spending your time on the right things? You may have causes, goals, interests. Are they even worth pursuing?" This is something I constantly consider. I make mistakes, but the "is it worthwhile" evaluative thought process is a guiding light in my life!

The second is something I disagreed with with regard to work habits: "'Wow, you got tenure early,' they'd say to me. 'What's your secret?' I said, 'It's pretty simple. Call me any Friday night in my office at 10:00 and I'll tell you." I don't think that is a healthy approach to life/work balance!

The title of the lecture is about your childhood dreams, so of course I thought about mine and whether I've achieved them. (This is something I've already thought about/worked over when I first became really interested in simple living in about 2001). The ones I remember are:

1. Be a writer.
2. Travel to other countries and help poor and sick people there.
3. Be a librarian.

The first two I actually have written down in a journal from 1991. I perhaps had others, unwritten, that I am not remembering right now.

Anyway, I am a writer. I have not traveled to other countries, but my whole adult life has been centered on social service/social work/community service, so I think that fits with #2. I am not a librarian, but I lend books to my friends like crazy! I also have a lending library for my LLL Group and a personal lending library box of books as well. Just a few months ago, one of my friends was over and I was picking out books to loan her. Her partner said, "getting some new books?" and she said, "yes. And Molly is the BEST librarian EVER!" So, LOL, I think I may have accidentally made #3 come true as well :-) Life is good!

Edited on March 2nd. I wrote the post above really quickly and have since had something additional thoughts (prompted in part by a comment left by Nick King, who has a really touching and useful and comprehensive website based on his wife's experience of living with a terminal illness [ALS]).

First, I remembered one more thing that was on my childhood dreams list--actually, it was the first thing on the list, since I was four when I first said it--"be a nurse." Well, I'm not one. And have realized that I could likely never be, primarily because I am WAY too squeamish about blood (though the reasons are really more complicated than just that). However, I think this was an early expression of the "I want to help people" dream that I feel like is a thread running throughout my life. Also, I am deeply involved with pregnancy and birth, which involves some elements of medicine/nursing. And, as a play on words, I am definitely committed to nursing my children!

Second, I recalled one of the exercises that first helped me explore this type of things: Gifts, Dreams, Sorrow, Unlived Lives (be prepared that it opens as a Word document). In 2001, I went back through old journals, reflected on my childhood, talked to my parents, did lots of introspection, took online quizzes, read lots of books, etc. in an effort to figure out my "life purpose." I wrote a life purpose statement at that time after a LOT of inner work and consideration. Miraculously, since my entire life has changed since then, I would not change a single word of my life purpose statement. It still completely and totally applies to me, even though I am 8 years older, have two kids, live in a different town, do a different kind of work, and so forth. I think that means it was an accurate one and that the work I did with myself to develop it was time well spent. I hope to post more about this later, because it something I really really feel deeply about (I also feel very private about actually sharing what my life purpose statement says. It is posted on my wall, but unless you're here looking right at it, I basically never share it directly with anyone. I just share that I have one and I believe deeply that it is something that is worth spending your time with).

Okay, back to the book. I want to clarify that I haven't actually LEARNED the lessons in Pausch's book--I fail A LOT, but I have heard of them and try to apply them :)

Bascially, I have heard a lot of "it changed my life" stories about this book and that was not my experience/reaction. The kinds of things in the book were the kinds of things I've spent a lot of time thinking about--sometimes I think I've done too much thinking!

Finally, the relationship content of his book was very touching. I teared up a lot when he would talk about his wife. There was a hot air balloon story from his honeymoon that made me laugh and cry. And, at the end, when she hugs him after his lecture, it was really sad. So, I feel like my first post was too flippant about the way, or not, in which I was touched by this book. I also think he had a real knack for using story telling/anecdotes to make his points. I would imagine he was a dynamic and engaging professor!


2 comments: said...

That is an interesting reaction you had to Pausch's book. Like my late wife, who was also a psychotherapist, you remind people of the need to find balance in their lives. And, that balance is different for everyone.

There were a couple of other lines in the book that meant a lot to me. "It isn't how hard you hit, it's how hard you get hit and keep moving forward" and "Brick walls give us a chance to show us how much we want something".

But the two things about Pausch's book that made the most impact on me was his focus on living fully while dying and the loving relationship he had with is wife Jai. He, like my wife, managed to find "gifts" in having a terminal illness and focus on those rather than the losses. I describe some of the gifts my wife found in dealing with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) in one of the pieces on my website

I invite you to check it out.

Nick King

Molly said...

Your site is amazing. Thanks for sharing! It is going to take me a little while to fully explore it, as there is so much content.

My previous post was made very quickly and reading your message promoted me to add some more to it!

I was really touched by the relationship content in Pausch's book as well--I teared up more than once! The balloon story in particular got to me, plus at the end when Jai hugs him after the close of his lecture and says, "please don't die."