The Last Lecture

This past week, Randy Pausch, the man who made famous "The Last Lecture" passed away after battling pancreatic cancer. The lecture, intended for his children, moved millions of people -- but why? On the surface, many of his comments were cliche. But he was on to something real, something we all wrestle with, and these are the same reasons why my own work is moving more and more in the direction of answering this question: "How can you make good on your urge to do good?" Upon learning of his cancer, Dr.  Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, decided to give what the Pittsburgh-based school calls the "last lecture." The topic: how to live life. Millions of people have now watched the lecture on YouTube, and tens of thousands have bought his book. Most major news outlets covered his death. Pausch offered simple insights into life, including these highlighted in aUSA Today article:

Never underestimate the importance of having fun. I'm dying and I'm having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day because there's no other way to play it.

Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted.

No one is pure evil. Find the best in everybody. Wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you.

Brick walls are there for a reason. They are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are these to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop people who don't want it badly enough.

It is not about achieving your dreams but living your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you

What's striking about his comments is their utter simplicity and directness. They give people a sense of grounding in  a highly complex, fast-paced, and often convoluted society. His comments are reminders about things what we already know, but often forget. They ask us to act on what we know is the right thing to do.

My own work over the years has focused on how people can create real change and authentic hope in communities.  We've long focused on such questions as, why do some communities move forward and others don't? Or, what does it take to authentically engage people in an era of cynicism and retreat? Or, how can you create the conditions for change in a community; what does it really take to generate an environment in which change can emerge?

Over time I have come to believe that there is a second part to this work, a portion that is as important and vital as the types of strategic concerns I just mentioned. This part addresses each of us as individuals, and seeks to illuminate and answer the question: "How can we make good on our urge to do good?"

To answer this question requires each of us to articulate and examine our own aspirations to make a difference in people's lives. We must gain a genuine understanding of our aspirations, and learn how to stay true to our best instincts and hunches. This is more of a practice than a set of techniques or process. A way of seeing and being rather than a set of instructions.

Cliche though it may be, we are all on a journey, a journey to make good on our urge to do good. As on any journey there are forces and factors that push you off your path for change, disrupt your efforts, and draw your attention away from what is truly important.

The more I do this work, the more I see that what people want most of all are touchstones that ground them when their aspirations and values are questioned, undermined, clouded, tested, even devalued. That's why in the coming months we'll be unveiling new ways for public innovators, leaders, change agents, social entrepreneurs, and civic initiators -- call them what you will -- to discover and pursue their own paths for change while staying true to their aspirations.

What we say and do in life matters. That's the message from Professor Randy Pausch in "The Last Lecture." That's the inherent message in all of our efforts. Stay tuned.