The Last Lecture

Summary Written by Chris Taylor

The Big Idea

Find brick walls worth tackling

"Brick walls are there for a reason."- The Last Lecture, page 79

Pausch lived his life with the understanding that anything is possible. He believed fully in the potency of childhood dreams. Always the scientist though, he also understood that not all dreams would come easy. There will always be variables, mistakes and accidents along the road of life that are beyond our control. Rather than lament our bad luck, Pausch encourages us to be the scientist. In the face of adversity and challenge, we need to evaluate our goals and, if worth pursuing, tackle them with everything we have. The balance is to dream like a child and commit like a driven adult.

Insight #1

The beautiful thing about brick walls

"The brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop other people."- The Last Lecture, page 73

We all face brick walls from time to time – obstacles that seem truly insurmountable. And, if we were lesser people, we may pack up and go home. And sometimes, that’s exactly the right play. Sometimes we need to realize that the time, effort and ingenuity that would be required to defeat that wall is simply not worth the investment. Sometimes. What Pausch teaches though is that we can only justifiably give up if we’ve looked at the situation from a distance. If we can admit that the goal is not one that ties into our life’s pursuit, then it really is worth walking away from. When we have taken the time to cement our dreams – truly rooting them in our very beings – we are able to distinguish those dreams worth pursuing from those less worthy.

If we stop, take a distanced view, and realize that the brick wall in front of us actually does stand between ourselves and our goals, then we need to tackle that wall with everything we’ve got. We need to understand that those brick walls are there for a reason. They’re there to stop those people who don’t want it bad enough. As Pausch says, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

Join our newsletter

Sign up for the very best book summaries right to your inbox.
We care about your data in our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Insight #2

The clock is ticking…

"We all have finite time and energy. Any time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve our goals. And it won’t make us happier."- The Last Lecture, page 139

As I’m sure many do as they near the end of their lives, Pausch reflects often in The Last Lecture about the preciousness of time. As he points out, the only true valuable use of what little time we have is in the pursuit of those things we truly want; those accomplishments and milestones that will mean something at the end of our lives. The reason he encourages us to walk away from certain obstacles is simply to allow us to refocus our attention on the brick walls that are worth tackling. And, under no circumstances should we waste our time lamenting our misfortune. When you look back on your life (whether the end comes at 47 or 97), I doubt very highly that you will reminisce about the times you spent cursing your bad luck. Life’s too short – get out and live it.

Randy Pausch was human. He cried when he learned of his terminal cancer, and he struggled greatly with the fact his children would grow up without him. And yet, he spent his last few months on earth happy. Happy because he had his family, and happy because he had lived his life in such a way that he accomplished more in 47 years than many people accomplish in 90. Randy Pausch passed away on July 25, 2008, but his legacy will live on for generations to come. His message is simple – dream like a child, then live with passion and purpose. It’s the Randy Pausch’s of the world that make our society a better place to live.

Read the book

Get The Last Lecture on Amazon.

Randy Pausch

Randy Pausch was a professor of Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction, and Design at Carnegie Mellon University. From 1988 to 1997, he taught at the University of Virginia. He was an award-winning teacher and researcher, and worked with Adobe, Google, Electronic Arts (EA), and Walt Disney Imagineering, and pioneered the non-profit Alice project. (Alice is an innovative 3-D environment that teaches programming to young people via storytelling and interactive game-playing.) He also co-founded The Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon with Don Marinelli. (ETC is the premier professional graduate program for interactive entertainment as it is applies across a variety of fields.) Randy lost his battle with pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008.

Subscribe to digest
Read about our privacy policy.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.