In The Last Lecture, Randy admits that his attitude can’t change the facts of the world around him, but he argues that it can change how he reacts to and interacts with the rest of the world, which positively affects how the world reacts to him.
Randy uses a story about Disney World, one of his favorite places, to illustrate his point. When he was 12, Randy and his sister bought a $10 salt-and-pepper shaker at Disney for their parents. When Randy accidentally broke it, they returned to the store and the shop workers quickly replaced it at no charge. This positive experience led Randy and his family to return to Disney so many times that they ended up spending more than $100,000 at Disney throughout their lives: his parents even made trips to Disney an integral part of their volunteer work. If the attitude of the Disney World employees had been more negative, it could have cost the company life-long customers.
Randy relates the Disney staff’s behavior to Disney’s policy on answering the question “When does the park close?”—staff are required to respond that the park is “open” until eight P.M., which re-directs the focus from the negative (closing) to the positive (how long the park is open). Thus, Randy lives his life, even while dying, as if he is open until the end, rather than closing down prematurely. This allows him to fully enjoy the time he has left.
But Randy goes even further, making the case that by acting positively—by controlling your attitude and behavior—you actually can sometimes change the facts. Put another way, Randy believes that by behaving positively and generously, you are more likely get good things in return. For instance, Randy tells a story about reviewing a young woman’s application to Carnegie Mellon. He is about to reject her until he discovers a single handwritten thank-you note addressed to an employee with no power over her admission. This note leads Randy to accept her, because the fact that she took the time to write it teaches him more about her personality than anything else in her file.
And so, while Randy knows his attitude can’t make his cancer go away, he also knows that panicking and succumbing to fear and anger will only diminish what remains of his life. Randy decides to die as he lives—an optimistic, practical, mostly happy, hard-working person, who deals with every obstacle as it comes.
Attitude and Positive Behavior ThemeTracker
Attitude and Positive Behavior Quotes in The Last Lecture
Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children.
…engineering isn’t about perfect solutions; it’s about doing the best you can with limited resources. Both the lecture and this book are my attempts to do exactly that.
…all of the things I loved were rooted in the dreams and goals I had as a child… despite the cancer, I truly believed I was a lucky man because I had lived out these dreams. And I had lived out my dreams, in great measure, because of things I was taught by all sorts of extraordinary people along the way. If I was able to tell my story with passion, I felt, my lecture might help others find a path to fulfilling their own dreams.
…kids—more than anything else—need to know their parents love them. Their parents don’t have to be alive for that to happen.
Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.
…even though I did not reach the National Football League, I sometimes think I got more from pursuing that dream, and not accomplishing it, than I did from many of the ones I did accomplish.
“When you’re screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they’ve given up on you.”
…I was hugely impressed. Kirk, I mean, Shatner, was the ultimate example of a man who knew what he didn’t know, was perfectly willing to admit it, and didn’t want to leave until he understood. That’s heroic to me. I wish every grad student had that attitude.
The brick walls are there for a reason. They’re not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.
Now, here’s a lesson for managers and administrators. Both deans said the same thing: They didn’t know if this sabbatical was a good idea. But think about how differently they said it!
…I had strengths that also were flaws. In Andy’s view, I was self-possessed to a fault, I was way too brash and I was an inflexible contrarian, always spouting opinions. One day, Andy took me for a walk. He put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as being so arrogant, because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life.”
While my sister was outlining the rules, I slowly and deliberately opened a can of soda, turned it over, and poured it on the cloth seats in the back of the convertible. My message: People are more important than things. A car, even a pristine gem like my new convertible, was just a thing.
The dents would be OK. My parents had raised me to recognize that automobiles are there to get you from point A to point B. They are utilitarian devices, not expressions of social status. And so I told Jai we didn’t need to do cosmetic repairs. We’d just live with the dents and gashes.
Through the whole ordeal, I don’t think we ever said to each other: “This isn’t fair.” We just kept going. We recognized that there were things we could do that might help the outcome in positive ways … and we did them. Without saying it in words, our attitude was, “Let’s saddle up and ride.”
At Christmas, I had made an adventure out of putting the lights on the tree. Rather than showing Dylan and Logan the proper way to do it—carefully and meticulously—I just let them have at it haphazardly. However they wanted to throw those lights on the tree was fine by me. We got video of the whole chaotic scene, and Jai says it was a “magical moment” that will be one of her favorite memories of our family together.
I’ve long held on to a clipping from a newspaper in Roanoke, Virginia. It featured a photo of a pregnant woman who had lodged a protest against a local construction site. She worried that the sound of jackhammers was injuring her unborn child. But get this: In the photo, the woman is holding a cigarette.
…educators best serve students by helping them be more self-reflective. The only way any of us can improve—as Coach Graham taught me—is if we develop a real ability to assess ourselves.
“It does take a lot of luck,” he said. “But all of you are already lucky. Getting to work with Randy and learn from him, that’s some kind of luck right there. I wouldn’t be here if not for Randy.”
…if it is presented as a storytelling activity, girls become perfectly willing to learn how to write software. In fact, they love it… Everybody loves telling stories. It’s one of the truly universal things about our species. So in my mind, Caitlin wins the All-Time Best Head-Fake Award.
…my dad had taken a photo of our TV set the second Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. He had preserved the moment for me, knowing it could help trigger big dreams.
…Complaining does not work as a strategy. 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.
I made a comment to my dad about the job being beneath those teachers. (I guess I was implying that the job was beneath me, too.) My dad gave me the tongue-lashing of a lifetime. He believed manual labor was beneath no one. He said he’d prefer that I worked hard and became the best ditch-digger in the world rather than coasting along as a self-impressed elitist behind a desk.
Ask those questions. Just ask them. More often than you’d suspect, the answer you’ll get is, “Sure.”
My personal take on optimism is that as a mental state, it can enable you to do tangible things to improve your physical state.