A Dying Professor’s Touching Advice on How to Live Our Dreams


“I wish I had…”

Nobody wants to find themselves uttering these words on their death bed, yet how many of us spend time each and every day working hard to make our wishes reality? Not nearly as many. That’s why, now and then, it’s worth reminding ourselves that our future is unknowable, and the time in which we find ourselves laying on our death beds could come sooner than we think.

As nurse and writer Bronnie Ware noted on her blog, Inspiration and Chai, the most common way the dying end their wish is this:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me”.

That makes sense, right? Society’s burden and cultural expectation weigh heavily upon each and every one of us until we are confident we have broken from the cycle most people will never escape. So how do we free ourselves, and live the life we choose for ourselves?

Professor Randy Pausch had an idea of how to do just that. A computer scientist teaching at Carnegie Mellon, Pausch’s life took an unexpected turn when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September of 2006. After learning the cancer was terminal the following year, Pausch was presented the opportunity to retire, and spend his last days with family and friends. Instead, he decided to deliver one final lecture, appropriately titled The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.

Funny, moving, and inspirational, the 76-minute lecture became one of the first truly powerful viral videos on Youtube, and now boasts over 19 million views.

What’s most striking about the presentation is the empathy Pausch preaches. The focus isn’t just on how to achieve your goals, but to assist others in achieving their goals too. It’s an almighty point, and one of the most important that he makes in a lecture filled with potent reflection and great ideas. Pausch doesn’t waste a word. He doesn’t have the time to. And that’s what makes this video so compelling.

If you haven’t yet seen the video, now’s your chance. Set aside the time, and watch it full. If you have, consider reading The Last Lecture: The Legacy Edition, a New York Times bestseller co-written by Pausch that expands on every element of his presentation.

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