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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Childhood Dreams

This summer, not long after I bought my new iPod, I was over at iTunes U and saw one of the top free downloads was called Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. Cool, I thought, and downloaded it. For months now, it's sat on my iPod without my making any effort to listen to it. What kept stopping me? It was an 1:16 minutes long. Yesterday, though, I finally played it--and was blown away.

This is one of the most wonderful, uplifting lectures I've ever heard. I've already listened to it twice and I printed out the transcript--That's how incredible it was.

The lecture was given by Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor from Carnegie Mellon University. You might have heard about him on the national news over the summer when he passed away from pancreatic cancer. Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams has another title, one that it's better known by--The Last Lecture.

Before you think, wow, how depressing was that speech, I can tell you it was the farthest thing from depressing. Dr. Pausch was upbeat and funny. He didn't talk about cancer, he talked about dreams: His own, how to enable others to pursue and achieve their dreams, and what he'd learned. I'm going to recap a couple of things that I found especially important.

...the brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.
Wow! That's just incredibly profound and very true.

I've always wanted to draw. I can see beautiful pencil sketches in my mind, but my attempts at drawing are, frankly, pathetic and I'd do one or two, see the results, and give up. The brick wall there was my lack of interest in practicing, in putting in the time and effort it would take to get good enough because I didn't want it badly enough.

Now let's look at writing. I started my first story when I was in 8th grade and I kept at it no matter what. From time to time, I'd let it lapse, but I always found my way back to it, and if something wasn't good enough, I kept working on it until it was. And if I couldn't fix that story, I'd move on to the next and the next. I was on the school newspaper my freshman year, the school yearbook my Sophomore, junior and editor my senior year. I majored in copywriting at the University of MN. I kept at it. My first rejection in my mid-twenties stopped me for about six months, but then I decided that if the editor thought I wrote two-dimensional characters, then by God, I'd learn and grow and become good at characterization. And one of the comments I get over and over from readers, reviewers, and others is how real my characters seem. I love hearing it.

Brick walls. Check. I didn't want the art badly enough, but I did passionately want the writing and no brick wall stopped me for too long.

So my next piece of advice is, you just have to decide if you’re a Tigger or and Eeyore.
This is something I need a lot of reminders about--attitude. I tend to be a glass-half-empty person and I'm farther toward Eeyore than I'd like, but I can learn and change and grow. I can take a step back when I'm going down the Eeyore path and try to be more like Tigger.

I'm going to stop here, but the entire speech is filled with great life lessons. It's definitely worth a listen and I've been telling everyone and I do mean everyone that they have to watch this video. Most of it is audio, so if you're like me and not able to watch, you won't miss too much. The second time through I saw the graphics and there are some funny shots, so if you can see video as well, that's even better.

You can find the lecture at iTunes U, just search for "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" and it's from Carnegie Mellon. If you don't do iTunes, you can find it on Google Video at Randy Pausch's web page on the CMU site. It's about halfway down the page. There are also links to other videos, the transcript of the speech, and the PowerPoint slides among other things.

Please, listen to this talk. It's that cool!