Thursday, April 24, 2008

My Last Lecture

A Carnegie Mellon professor, dying of cancer, gave this last lecture.

Here's the essence of what mine would be:

1. Get good at something and then work long hours at it. The extra work hours will be more rewarding to you and to the world than a round of golf, shopping with a friend, playing Monopoly with your family, or getting on a plane to go to your nephew's bar mitzvah.

2. Champion something that most people don't. I'm pro-choice, but so are zillions of other people. My efforts there would be a drop of water in an ocean. In contrast, today, no one seems to care about intellectually gifted kids, especially boys, in our public schools. When I champion their right to get an appropriate-leveled education I feel my efforts matter.

3. Do something very creative--as a hobby. Creative pursuits usually pay terribly. Doing your creative outlet as a hobby allows you to derive most of the pleasure without having to take a vow of poverty.

4. Be nice.

5. Never look back; always look forward.
I asked my father why he never talks about the Holocaust. He said, "The Nazis took five years from my life. I won't give them one minute more. Martin, never look back; always look forward."


Anonymous said...

That same professor has also just released a book based on the lecture. It's currently #1 at Amazon.

I've never given a lecture. I'm just an average person, not big enough in real life to give one. But if offered the opportunity, I might say something along these lines:

-Whatever you're worried about right now, the chances are very high that it will not matter in the future, and that you'll forget about it sooner than you think. Most everything that occupies us is trivial. If, at anytime in your life, you find anything that truly matters to you, that you are very passionate about or spend most of your time thinking about, then focus as much time as you can on that. Especially if it makes a difference in the world. The rest is just background noise.

-You are not entitled to anything in the world. Not one person owes you anything, and the world would go on without you, for better or for worse, without your presence. There's nothing wrong with asking for help if you honestly need help, but if there is something you want to have or achieve, rely on yourself first. There is no better way to boost your self-esteem (if you need that sort of thing) than working and earning something yourself.

-Pay some attention to the people that truly matter to you, as well. Even the most social, most extroverted person has only a handful of people that really matter to them. If you are fortunate enough to know such people, treasure them for as long as they remain in your life, because one day you will be out of each other's lives.

-And take just a little time to think about what you're doing with your life. There are some people in the world that do some serious damage while they're here, and sometimes they don't realize it until the damage is done. They may not be happy with themselves or what they've done when they come to the end of their lives. I know for myself that I do not want to be in that situation when my time comes.

Anonymous said...

Lot's of hubris on the part of the author and the poster. It takes a lot of nerve to play Pope. Most secure,mature adults have their own credo to live by.

Marty Nemko said...

Dear Anonymous,

Any rendering of advice implies a measure of hubris. But I believe that is outweighed by the following: Many people seek guidance. As long as that guidance is not forced down people's throats but merely presented as an option to consider, enough good is derived to justify any associated hubris.

Anonymous said...

Keep passing along your thoughts, Marty (and anonymous1).

I find myself still ruminating on a bullying boss from over a year ago, and #5 is potent.

Anonymous said...

How inspiring Randy Pausch is! If you liked "The Last Lecture", another fantastic memoir I just read and highly recommend is "My Stroke of Insight" by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. Her TEDTalk video ( has been seen as many times as The Last Lecture I think, and Oprah did 4 shows on her book, so there are a lot of similarities. In My Stroke of Insight, there's a happy ending though. It's an incredible story! I hear they're making it into a movie.

Anonymous said...

Randy Pausch died today.

To the person who said "Lot's of hubris on the part of the author and the poster. It takes a lot of nerve to play Pope. Most secure,mature adults have their own credo to live by."

I think it takes more nerve to keep what you think is important to yourself. If you have something important to share with the world, something that might help people, it takes a lot of nerve to not share. I'm glad Mr. Pausch did not feel the desire to hold back.

Sam said...

I don't know how you can tell people that working extra hours would be more rewarding than playing monopoly with their family. It's such an individual thing. Just because playing monopoly wouldn't be more rewarding to you doesn't mean it wouldn't be more rewarding to someone else. You seem to advocate your lifestyle above all others. For the person who wants to work more and is unsure of that decision, perhaps your articles support them in that pursuit. But not everyone (perhaps not the majority of people) want that. At their deathbeds, I am sure that most people wish they had spent more time doing whatever in particular that they find rewarding (whether it be work, spending time with family, whatever) not just one or the other!