Recently I decided to join the book club at work and I have to be real about the fact that it’s been a very long time since I’ve read anything that could be considered “not a magic book.” My repertoire generally consists of a books that include SOME form of magic, dragons, or werewolves… or I don’t pick it up. Those are what I enjoy reading about and that’s it. Well, that’s not exactly true, that’s just what I generally read for enjoyment. Anyway! It’s been since college that I’ve picked up anything that’s made me think quite as much as “The Last Lecture” has. There was a lot to reflect on and I greatly enjoyed doing a “book report” on it once I was finished. Below are my brief thoughts and reflections on portions of the book.
If you feel up to reading a good book that’s all about how to be humble and confident, and how to coach people and encourage them towards living out their childhood dreams, don’t delay. This book is filled with gems.
What is your favorite quote from the book?
“Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
“Brick Walls,” were something that were continually brought up throughout the course of this book and I felt aligned highly with the overall message of how to coach others to successfully fulfill their childhood dreams. Life is inherently difficult. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
If your life really is “so easy,” then you likely suffer from being over privileged and and will have to try harder to understand the wonder of working hard for something. That’s unfortunate. From the time we are pushed out kicking and screaming into this new world, to our high school or college graduations, straight through and into the lives we lead once we are a part of the work force. Nothing worth doing is ever going to be “Easy” and it’s good to understand that while a brick wall may appear in your way, it’s likely because there is a very different view point in which to look at something. A “Brick Wall” is a road block, a detour, but never a dead end. They are simply there to supply us the necessary mental gymnastics in order to out perform others and plow ahead towards our dreams with renewed vigor and sense of the challenges that could be presented ahead.
Which coworker would you recommend this book to and why?
All of them, and for one particular reason. There was a bar chart shown part way through the lecture and mentioned in the books in a different way. It was a performance ranking built to show how well everyone worked with their peers. How approachable, how easy they were to work with, or how difficult. Everyone was put against one another on the bar chart and all were able to see exactly where they stood with one another.
At a level other than a college level course this may seem almost cruel, or like those difficult people were being singled out, but why shouldn’t they be? If one doesn’t understand that they have an issue in working with others and have put up their own “brick walls” if you will, then it disables them from functioning within the group, class, or job. In doing so they are also cutting themselves off from the wealth of knowledge, ideas and input that can be gained when working with others. No matter what the task or assignment is.
I found it “humbling” that the author Mr. Pausch was able to admit to his students over the years in blunt terms, “I used to be just like you,” he tells one of his students, “I was in denial. But I had a professor who showed he cared about me by smacking the truth into my head. And here’s what makes me special: I listened.” “I’m as recovering jerk. And that gives me the moral authority to tell you that you can be a recovering jerk, too.”
We all need to be aware and understand the impact that we have on those around us and how we are not the center of our universes but rather a part of the universe that we exist within. ((Universe: whatever our realm happens to include, classroom, place of employment, etc.))
What is a specific real world application that you will be able to make at Guidant based on what you learned in this book?
Too. Many. To. Count.
The entire book is a lesson on not only how to allow yourself to be coach-able, but also how to help coach those around you towards the success of their own missions. I find that brilliant. It would take me far to long to detail every lesson and mini-lesson that were contained within these pages. As written above, I try to be mindful regarding how I work with others as well as how to approach challenges that are laid out along the way.
The entire book offers one a mental shift from the way they are currently functioning, and gives material to lay down new tracks and head in a more productive and impactful direction.
At this current juncture in time, the most applicable use of this book is to hopefully take it’s lessons and apply them to the “Emerging Leaders” program that is about to start. I’ve applied and while I am hoping I don’t come up against a “Brick Wall” of entrance, I know that if I do, then it simply means there are other options and lessons that will be included on my way to the acceptance into the “Emerging Leaders” program. Once in the “Emerging Leaders” program I plan to practice what has been “preached” within the pages of The Last Lecture and assist others in getting to the points they wish to achieve on their own Guidant Journeys.
The book greatly reinforced things that I have learned in the past, from coaches, my father, and those around me. The most important thing I think to take from this book is that we are not as “all important” as we’d like to think we are. That enabling others to achieve their goals is just as rewarding as achieving our own goals. Also in working together on goals, we are all the more powerful.
Without his students, there would be no Alice Program. With out him to teach, the students wouldn’t have had the same chances and opportunities to participate in such classes and use such technologies. We are all on this road together, whether we initially realize it or not. It’s important to remember.
True progress is never made alone. Even if it is 1 person with the ideas, it can take many to execute. Whether it is someone building parts, someone writing parts, someone coming up with the idea, and then others still who have to believe that it’s even possible and be willing to give their time and energy towards whatever it is one may be doing.
Mr. Pausch spends time to go over his childhood dream of being Captain Kirk. Explaining how when you are watching the show it’s clear that he’s not the smartest guy on his ship. Just look at Spock! There’s an engineer, a doctor… so what does Captain Kirk have to bring to the table in front of all of these people. The answer, in short, is leadership. Some people have a very good capacity of bringing forth what others are best at and utilizing peoples talents towards the completion of whatever “mission” they are on.
What is the one thing that you think you will do differently or think differently about since you read the book?
It would be a lie to say that this book will make me do something different from what I am already doing.
Instead the book for me was a realignment to a path I have long ago put myself on. The path I choose to walk (and yes it does take reinforcement and occasionally I fall flat on my face in the mud) is one of ever pushing forward while being mindful and helpful towards those around me.
In a lot of ways Mr. Pausch was a lot like myself.
I say that with the realization that there were those in the discussion group that found him an Ego Maniac.
To this I would challenge you to think of it from a different angle. An Ego Maniac (or jerk, as the author admitted to being in recovery from) is someone who is so involved with self and self importance that they are unaware and/or uncaring about those around them.
In the beginning of his life, he was surrounded by a family who was willing to help give him checks and balances on his behavior (as with his sister throwing his lunch box into a puddle. As my sister was always brutally honest with me in my treatment of her and my friends). He was surrounded by friends in college that understood he was an ass at times but still saw the value in being around him. They understood the knowledge he carried and how he perceived the world and saw how it enabled him to seemingly fly over “Brick Walls.”
Is Mr. Pausch not allowed to feel a little self important at these great strides he’s taken?
Take another look at what that self importance gained him: Courage and Strength and the impulsiveness to go for his dreams.
While giving a talk on Virtual Reality while still in college he had the chance to speak with some of the leads in his field. “I’m sorry did you just say you were Tom Furness? I would love to answer your question but first, would you have lunch with me tomorrow?” Someone who lacked courage, and confidence would have backed off and passed the opportunity in fear, of wanting to be too polite. Not Mr. Pausch.
We hear throughout the lecture that he put himself in these types of positions time and time again. It wasn’t arrogance. He knew he could get turned down, but he tried to present himself and the opportunity in such a way that it allowed the other party to “maintain control,” while it also provided the necessary space for great things to take place. In addition, if one doesn’t have self importance of any kind, how can we expect to become anything? Should we not value ourselves and the talents that we bring to the table? Should we not be as loud as the other members on our team about what we can give to the project and then give ourselves completely to the projects we are working on?
Out of everyone I’ve known in school throughout the years, I’ve always had the best ability to “create.” I can come up with 1000 ideas that are more than not applicable in some round about way, to whatever situation is going on. I also have an anal retentive knack for making things as pretty and polished as possible, believing entirely in the importance of presentation. (Then I met my jewelry professor in college and he REALLY taught me how to properly polish and finish an art project. I was an amateur before!) But the CONTENT had to be just as polished and meaningful as whatever artful cover I wound up wrapping everything within.
So that when it came to turn in group projects I was more often then not the one taking everyone’s research and compiling it into a well written paper that was then hand bound into a book. Yes, I was the kid that made hand bound books for high school projects. I don’t know how to not give 120% towards whatever I’m doing. I also realized in school that my education was my own. That even if the rest of the group didn’t care about the grade, I did. I wanted to succeed so even if I was placed with an entire team of “Brick Walls,” I would load everyone up in a sled and haul all to the finish line. I wanted it that bad.
In reading The Last Lecture and watching the lecture, I see that Mr. Pausch “Suffered the same affliction.” He did what he did and was able to accomplish as much as he did because he believed in what he was doing 100000000000% (<–totally a valid number…) He did it because he knew that while he was the best at some things, that he would be continually astounded by what his students could do if given the chance. I always strove to be that student and continue to do so with every job I take. The student/employee who takes one look at the bar and goes out to the shed to grab a poll vault and start running towards it with all my might.
If I were to do something “differently,” it would actually be to further dedicate myself to being a little more of an “Ego Maniac,” of holding a little more “Self Importance,” and understanding again ((after years of battling with depression and enough abusive relationships that I was left with NO self worth or esteem)) that not only do I have skills to bring to the table, but if I can help others realize the skills they themselves possess and have to utilize that together we will create and work on projects that are far greater than any one individual could complete on their own. Greatness comes from the minds of many, and the work of many more. When was the last time you saw a Blockbuster created by one individual? There’s a reason you haven’t.
Eventually others are going to follow in the footsteps of great leaders. I could say “I can only hope that someday people will follow me as a leader,” but that would do me no good. Just having “Hope” gets one no where. Not without the application of hard work.
So instead I will say, “I will work towards ever improving my skills as an individual and as a leader so when the time comes I can fall into step with my team and together we can walk towards our dreams and success.”
What is one point you disagreed with, or at least questioned, in this book?
I’ve walked an odd duality throughout my life for many reasons. Most of which are far too long and complicated to contain within a single book report. One of those dualities is in both wanting to be seen and completely hidden at the same time.
To me, being the “guy with the biggest stuffed animal at the fair” was the last thing I wanted to have happen in my youth and something I’ve struggled with in different ways as an adult. Having been a victim many times over throughout my youth I practiced again and again at not being seen, at blending in, and becoming one with a crowd and how to properly stealth away from situations, people, and places that felt they may bring me “danger” in some fashion.
This worked in direct conflict with also wanting to be the “Best” at anything I did as a child. When you’re the best, society has this bad habit of wanting to place you in front of everyone and show you off. Almost as if at that point they are riding on the coat tails of your greatness and as to say “look at the greatness that was achieved because I was here!” Congratulating success is always important, as was with the success of Mr. Pausch students, but if you’ll notice, he aided them on their way and then got OUT of their way, allowing them to show their greatness through what they did without needing to be paraded about. Greatness with Humility. Just as his coaches and mentors did for him. ((we’re going to ignore the presentations given at the end of the classes with this reference as the presentations given at the end were done by the students as a portion of their final assignment and grade. The purpose of the presentations were to allow the students to show their own greatness, NOT for Mr. Pausch to gain credit for being the coolest dude with the biggest stuffy so to speak))
While the talk of being the “most seen individual with the big bear” spoke to Mr Pausch as being the coolest guy in the park, he overlooked what I found to be a different lesson that was there for him in his youth: whatever we pour time into, we will become great at.
For him it was about winning the large stuffed toy at the end, for me it would be about the time and practice spent in order to gain that animal. If I heard just that one small anecdote I would have hoped intensely that as an individual one would understand that to be truly great, time and effort MUST be spent in all one does in working towards their goals.
How does something you learned from this book tie into one of the core values of the company?
Passion: We have to be passionate in life about things or you will get no where. If you don’t have something that you look forward to doing why would you do it? Mr Pausch was incredibly passionate about Virtual Reality. He was also passionate about helping others succeed and used Virtual Reality as a medium in which to not only bring people together but also in order to allow them to fulfill their (and his) dreams. This lucky man was able to use Virtual Reality on so many amazing levels. -Teaching teams of complete strangers from different fields of study how to come together to build a new world.
- -Using Virtual Reality in order to float in 0 gravity and experience weightlessness as was a childhood dream for him.
- -Using Virtual Reality and being good enough at it that his idols (thank you Captain Kirk) were interested in what he was doing.
When we are truly passionate about something in life, it perpetuates all we do and if used appropriately can allow others to meet their full potential as well, when it is properly guided. Passions must be fed just as a fire and nurtured twice as well.
Adaptability: Remember all that talk of Brick Walls? Without adaptability, Mr. Pausch would have never been able to scale any of the brick walls he came up against. Using ingenuitive reasoning we can allow ourselves to see different paths and solutions to the brick walls we all come up against.
Community: Without community to share our thoughts and ideas with, they are nothing. Mr. Pausch would not have succeeded in all he did without help from his parents, coaches, professors, and the contacts that he was brave enough to engage and willing enough to LISTEN to. In turn it gave Mr. Pausch the ability to pass on those same lessons and same listening skills to his students. The importance of community was obvious and Mr. Pausch gave credit throughout his talk and book on who deserved credit and when and what for.
Excellence: “They Just Blew Me Away” (Chptr 26) Upon giving his students a two week assignment Mr. Pausch was so blown away by the results his students presented himself with that he had to relearn and examine where the bar actually was in what his students COULD be capable of. Rather than stifling his students by simply giving them all A’s and moving on, he confronted his mentor and was given great advice, “Go back into class tomorrow, look them in the eyes and say, ‘Guys, that was pretty good, but I know you can do better.” It compliments the students on all they have so far achieved yet gently elevates the bar to allow them to stretch and meet it again and again over time. We all have our own opinions on what “Excellence” is, and I would say that if done right it is an ever evolving bar that continually raises itself allowing us to engage, learn, and continue to experience growth while ever providing the best we can give at any particular time.