The Last Lecture

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Entitlement vs. Earning Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Dreams in Reality Theme Icon
Teaching, Learning, and Feedback Loops Theme Icon
Obstacles as Opportunities Theme Icon
Attitude and Positive Behavior Theme Icon
Entitlement vs. Earning Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Last Lecture, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Entitlement vs. Earning Theme Icon

When Randy receives tenure a year earlier than most professors, one of his colleagues asks what his secret is. Randy replies, tongue-in-cheek, “…Call me any Friday night in my office at ten o’clock and I’ll tell you.” This epitomizes Randy’s idea about success—that earning success through hard work and continued effort is far more rewarding and realistic than being handed success through luck.

Randy holds up a former student of his, Tommy Burnett, as a phenomenal example of earning success rather than feeling entitled to it. Tommy, an artist-turned-programmer, started working on Randy’s research team in 1993, and his greatest dream was to work as a special effects artist on a Star Wars movie. Though they weren’t planning on making any more Star Wars films at that point, Tommy remained resolute that one day they would, and he set out to learn the requisite skills to work on the films in the future. Randy worked Tommy hard, like a demanding football coach, telling Tommy that he was smart, but smart wasn’t enough. Randy’s ideal team member is smart and also “help[s] everyone else feel happy” to be there. After this coaching from Randy, Tommy became a fantastic programmer and team player. When The Phantom Menace was announced, Tommy got hired by George Lucas’s effects company. But, Randy notes, “they didn’t hire him for his dream; they hired him for his skills.” Rather than believing that his dream entitled him to the job, Tommy worked hard, acquired the skills, and earned his dream job.

In the end, Randy believes that earning your accolades is the right thing to do, not only because it is a more successful long-term strategy than relying on luck or resting on pure intellect, but also because earning something through hard work is more rewarding than earning it through shortcuts. If your dream is just gifted to you, you won’t be as qualified to do it well, you won’t work as hard once you get it, and, as a result, the experience will be less fulfilling.

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Entitlement vs. Earning Quotes in The Last Lecture

Below you will find the important quotes in The Last Lecture related to the theme of Entitlement vs. Earning.
Chapter 6 Quotes

Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker)
Related Symbols: Brick Walls
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy has told the audience, “It’s important to have specific dreams.” What he means is that, as a kid obsessed with science, Randy didn’t want to be a NASA astronaut because he knew his glasses prohibited him from interstellar travel; instead, Randy simply dreamed of being able to float in zero gravity, which is a more achievable dream that he fulfills when a research team of his wins a competition to do experiments in one of NASA’s zero gravity acclimation planes.

However, Randy finds out that only the students, and not their chaperone, are allowed to ride in the zero gravity plane. Never one to let a brick wall stop him, Randy combs through the contract for loopholes, and finds one: an adult journalist can accompany the students into the machine. So, Randy calls NASA, faxes them the paperwork to apply as a journalist, and though they find his efforts “transparent,” Randy convinces them that he will use his actual connections to journalists to get the story of his team’s visit to NASA published in the press. NASA agrees, and Randy is able to earn his way to achieving his dream by being hard-working, optimistic, and not giving up until he gets what he wants. Randy’s point in this quote, though, is that simply asking for the thing you want without being able offer something in return can be ineffective and, at worst, entitled. By pointing to his genuine media connections, Randy is able to offer something in return for NASA helping him achieve his dream, which makes him a more welcome guest at NASA.

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Chapter 7 Quotes

…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.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Coach Jim Graham
Related Symbols: The Head Fake
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

How you perceive failure is all about attitude: you can view it as a negative or as a positive learning experience, and the latter is how Randy chooses to view the fact that he did not make the NFL. This quote occurs after Randy discusses his deep love of tackle football, which began during his formative experiences playing peewee football under the tutelage of Coach Jim Graham, an old-school strict disciplinarian who believed in hard work and learning the fundamentals.

Randy isn’t a good enough football player to play professionally, but his experiences on the football team taught him valuable life lessons that he passes down to his students, children and readers. Those lessons include that you can’t teach self-esteem (you can only build it through hard work), and, most importantly, the idea of the “head fake,” which is that you can think you’re learning one thing (like how to play football) while you’re really learning something far more important (like how to work with others, sportsmanship, perseverance, etc.). Randy applies the idea of the head fake to many aspects of his life, including the construction of this book and his last lecture.

Chapter 9 Quotes

…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.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), William Shatner
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy explains that, since he was a huge Star Trek fan as a kid, one of his childhood dreams was to be Captain Kirk (not Randy Pausch as captain of the Enterprise—literally to be Captain Kirk himself). Though Randy obviously could never become Captain Kirk, he does get the opportunity to meet the man who portrayed Kirk on T.V., actor William Shatner, who visits Randy’s lab to ask questions in relation to a book about scientific breakthroughs that were foreshadowed by Star Trek.

While one of Randy’s colleagues is frustrated by Shatner’s inquisitiveness and lack of prior virtual reality knowledge, Randy is extremely impressed with Shatner’s humble, open, and honest attitude, and his desire to learn as much as possible from the experience. Rather than feeling entitled to the knowledge or trying to come off as more prepared than he is, Shatner is honest about his ignorance, which invites hours of explanations from experts. Shatner is able to absorb the knowledge by asking follow-up questions so that, by the end, he truly understands. Rather than trying to impress with posturing, Randy believes it’s noble and even heroic to be honest about our weaknesses and take on the attitude of continually trying to address them.

Chapter 11 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker)
Related Symbols: Brick Walls
Page Number: 51-52
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs after Randy tells of a cross-country trip his family took to Disneyland when he was eight years old, a trip that resulted in inspiring Randy’s childhood dream to one day become a Disney Imagineer (one of the people who designs the theme park rides).

Randy’s motto about brick walls is something he repeats as a symbol/metaphor all throughout the narrative, and the way he views brick walls, or any other obstacle, is that they are not a negative blocking force, but instead a positive opportunity to show the people who want to keep you out just how badly you want to get in.

In this example, though Randy is rejected from Disney Imagineering after receiving his PhD, he keeps his goal of working there in mind through the rest of his life. He works hard, rises up through the computer science ranks, and when he hears that Disney is working on a virtual reality ride (which was Randy’s specialty), he finds out who the head of the project is (Jon Snoddy) and proceeds to contact him and set up a meeting to impress him. Randy didn’t let the brick wall keep him out—he was patient, worked hard, bided his time, wracked up credentials and experience, and when he learned of a good opportunity to accomplish his dream, he worked relentlessly toward that goal until the gatekeepers believed he had earned his way in.

Chapter 32 Quotes

…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.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Sandy Blatt
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs right after Randy explains his adoration for two very different people: Sandy Blatt, Randy’s quadriplegic college landlord, and Jackie Robinson, the first non-white baseball player in Major League Baseball.

Both Sandy Blatt and Jackie Robinson never complained about their harsh situations. Sandy’s hopes of becoming a professional athlete were dashed when a truck backed into him, and as a result of his injuries his fiancé left him. Sandy never complained, he became a marriage counselor, found a wife, and eventually adopted kids. Jackie Robinson never complained or whined about the racism hurled at him on a daily basis, he simply worked harder then everyone else and earned his place on the field. In both cases, Randy focuses on how they easily could have whined, complained, and taken on a ‘woe-is-me’ attitude, but instead they simply faced their situations head-on, had a positive attitude, and earned their way to whatever they wanted.

Chapter 51 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Randy’s Dad
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is situated toward the end of the book, after Randy has lamented the growing entitlement among young people entering the work force today. This leads Randy to recall an anecdote about entitlement from his own life, when Randy was working with a group of teachers hoeing strawberries during a summer job and he complained that the job was beneath them.

Essentially, Randy’s dad told Randy that he really needed to adjust his attitude to be more positive, open-minded, and less condescending. Randy and the teachers are no different from those who do physical labor every day, and treating them or their job as unimportant makes Randy a jerk, not an impressive person. Randy’s father’s outburst had a real impact on Randy, as Randy took the feedback, worked harder the next day, and looked at laborers with far more respect through the rest of his life.

Chapter 55 Quotes

Ask those questions. Just ask them. More often than you’d suspect, the answer you’ll get is, “Sure.”

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker), Randy’s Dad, Dylan
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs near the end of the book, when Randy recounts a trip to Disney World that Randy, Dylan, and Randy’s dad took shortly before Randy’s Dad’s death. While waiting for the monorail, Dylan mentioned that he wanted to sit all the way up front near the conductor, and Randy’s dad thought that sounded really cool, too. So, when they all boarded the monorail, Randy simply asked if they could sit in the front-most compartment, and a Disney employee said yes and took them to sit there. Both Dylan and Randy’s dad were shocked, and Randy uses this anecdote as an opportunity to impart advice to the readers of The Last Lecture—often in life, if you have a positive attitude and proactive behavior and simply just ask for what you want (like when Randy and Tammy broke the salt-and-pepper shaker many years earlier and asked to have it replaced), people might be happy to give it to you. Simply feeling entitled to something and not trying to get it won’t amount to anything, but if you’re optimistic in your attitude and proactive in your behavior, oftentimes it is easier to receive the things you want than it might at first seem.

Chapter 61 Quotes

“It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you.”

Related Characters: Randy Pausch (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Head Fake
Page Number: 205-206
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote occurs on the very last page of the book, where Randy explains that he ended his last lecture by revealing the fundamental head fake that underscores the lecture. This quote explains how Randy’s last lecture, and the book The Last Lecture itself, are examples of the “head fake” because, although the lecture purported to be about achieving childhood dreams, it is really about how Randy believes people should live their lives. So, Randy believes, if people lead their lives in the proper way, always keeping their childhood dreams in mind, then the dreams will come to them.

In no way is Randy advocating for simply being entitled to achieving dreams and waiting for them to show up—instead, he is arguing that if you live your life in such a way that you consciously work hard to improve yourself and seek dream-fulfilling opportunities, then when those opportunities do arise you will be ready and able to seize them.