In much literature, walls serve as symbols of disconnection, separation, and alienation. In Randy’s view, however, brick walls (shorthand for obstacles) should be viewed as assets and opportunities. They are assets because they keep the other people out, and opportunities because they give people a chance to show just how badly they want something.
When Randy gets close to achieving his dream of floating in zero gravity by taking a team of students on a trip to NASA, he crashes into a brick wall when he learns that only the students, not the chaperones, are allowed to go into the zero gravity machine. However, always the pragmatist, Randy combs through every line of the contract and figures out that a journalist accompanying the trip is allowed to ride in the machine. So Randy applies for journalistic credentials, submits the paperwork, and (though the people at NASA find his efforts “transparent”) he convinces them he will use his connections to media members to promote NASA, so they allow him to ride the machine.
Throughout the book, Randy gives many examples of obstacles that he turned into opportunities, including his initial placement on the Brown University waitlist (he called Brown so much that they ultimately admitted him), and his wife’s initial skepticism of him when he tried to woo her. To use Randy’s words, “Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”
Obstacles as Opportunities ThemeTracker
Obstacles as Opportunities 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.
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.
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.