When Randy Pausch, a professor and computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University, learns that he’s terminally ill, he delivers a final public lecture, which he titles “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” The lecture, and the book that quickly emerged from it, focus on the best strategies for turning childhood dreams into adult realities and, through that prism, the best ways in which to live a life.
More specifically, Randy urges his readers to do two things. First, he urges them to stay in touch with childhood dreams as adults, and to keep in mind the things about which they are most passionate. Second, Randy underscores the importance of understanding that dreams don’t come true just by dreaming them—hard work and continued effort are needed to make dreams into realities.
Randy uses his own life to illustrate his points, explaining how as a kid he dreamt of floating in zero gravity, becoming a Disney Imagineer, and playing in the NFL. He then shows how he continued to pursue those dreams as an adult: despite myriad obstacles, Randy is able to float in NASA’s zero gravity machine with his students by masquerading as a journalist, and his work in virtual reality allows him to take a sabbatical from teaching and work with the Imagineers. In these two examples, Randy’s behavior embodies his motif in the book about brick walls—that obstacles exist to keep other people out, people who don’t want something badly enough. Making dreams into realities isn’t about things falling into your lap—it’s about having a concrete goal, and scaling every brick wall that stands up between you and that goal.
Randy never achieves his dream of playing in the NFL, but he uses this failure to illustrate what he considers a more important fact: that chasing and failing to achieve a dream will also serve a purpose. In Randy’s case, by chasing the dream of playing pro football, he came to understand the value of mastering fundamental skills, as well as the necessity of simple hard work. Randy calls this concept the “head fake”: in pursuing one thing, you can learn skills necessary for other things.
So, even as he fails to reach the NFL, the very act of chasing the dream taught Randy things that allowed him to accomplish many of his other dreams, to discover new dreams, and to help other people chase their dreams. Ultimately, Randy believes that keeping childhood dreams in mind and trying to accomplish as many as possible will make adults happier and more fulfilled. Further, he believes that children should be encouraged to dream as big as they want, and adults should support children in their dreaming. In Randy’s view, working hard to achieve your own dreams, and enabling others to chase their dreams, is what life is all about—and he sees his last lecture, and this book, as leaving a piece of himself so others might follow the same path.
Dreams in Reality ThemeTracker
Dreams in Reality Quotes in The Last Lecture
…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.
Jack and I painted a large silver elevator door… we painted a panel with floor numbers one through six. The number “three” was illuminated. We lived in a ranch house—it was just one level—so I was doing a bit of fantasizing to imagine six floors. But looking back, why didn’t I paint eighty or ninety floors? If I was such a big-shot dreamer, why did my elevator stop at three? I don’t know. Maybe it was a symbol of the balance in my life between aspiration and pragmatism.
Have something to bring to the table, because that will make you more welcome.
…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.
…my dreams for my kids are very exact: I want them to follow their own path to fulfillment. And given that I won’t be there, I want to make this clear: Kids, don’t try to figure out what I wanted you to become. I want you to become what you want to become.
“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.”