Randy Pausch has died. If this does not bring tears to your eyes and fill your soul with inspiration then, frankly, just stop reading. I don't want to know why it doesn't, and I don't want to hear whatever cynical bullshit reasons you've come up with to justify it. Your soul is dead. Go away.
Of course the one exception would be if you've not watched the Last Lecture or any of the variations broadcast after the original. If that's the case, go here:
There were many, many moments in his lecture that I identified with, too many for me to write about in a blog post. But since we're here on Red Room, Where The Writers Are, I figured I'd write about the first one that got to me. Pausch put a list of his childhood dreams up on the video screen. His went like this:
- Being in zero gravity
- Playing in the NFL
- Authoring an article in the World Book encyclopedia
- Being Captain Kirk
- Winning stuffed animals
- Being a Disney Imagineer
Whenever people ask me when I knew I wanted to be a writer I tell the story about how when I was five or six I was playing on the beach, my mother standing nearby, and I suddenly stopped building my sandcastle, squinted up at my mother and said, "When I'm done with all the grown-up stuff I'm going to be a very good writer."
Of course this is not something I remember, but it was a story told to me many, many years later, after I started writing seriously. I think it's likely true, though there's no question that we make a lot of stuff up in my family.
But, the thing is, I did know from that age that I wanted to be a writer. To be more specific, I wanted to write novels. I suppose most people have lists like Pausch's, with several different things on it. Had I written a list of childhood dreams, it would have only had one thing on it:
- Write books
As I got older I still had that dream, but I rarely mentioned it to anyone. It seemed ridiculous. I bet Pausch didn't mention wanting to be Captain Kirk much past nine. The older we get the more absurd our childhood dreams seem.
I did grow up, and I did, indeed, start getting tired of "all the grown-up stuff." And I knew that my childhood dream was out of reach and unrealistic. I might as well have had this list instead:
- Be a ballerina
- Live in a candy castle (75% butterscotch, no peppermint)
- Maintain straight hair for more than 17 seconds
But something made me, at age 30 (and actually, I know exactly what it was, and it wasn't angst at turning thirty, but it's a post for another day), take a first tentative step. And the more steps I took, the more that dream seemed attainable. And the more attainable it seemed, the more done with all the grown-up stuff I wanted to be.
And now, nine years later, I am still surprised, and grateful, and in a constant state of wonder that I am living my childhood dream. Do you remember what your childhood dream was? Or dreams if, unlike me, you were able to keep more than one thought in your head at a time.
Give it some thought. Don't brush it off. Don't be cynical. That's grown-up stuff, get over it. I'd be willing to bet that in some small way you're living at least one of your childhood dreams. Or you're pursuing it. Or, maybe it's still inside you, sitting there quietly, waiting for you to be done with the grown-up stuff.
If you haven't done it yet, watch the video. If you've seen it once, watch it again.
Thank you, Randy Pausch. You inspired thousands, surely, if not millions. If I could inspire ONE, what an honor that would be. But even if I don't, my life is a gift, in which I am doing exactly what I wanted to do, and so are many of you. Stop for a moment, and be amazed.