Monday, July 28, 2008

In Memory of a Tigger: Randy Pausch, 1960-2008

  • Randy Pausch, husband, father, computer scientist, teacher, recovering jerk, inspiration to millions, and self-professed Tigger died on Friday, and the world is a poorer place for that.

    If you don't know who Randy Pausch is, you can read this thorough tribute to him that appeared in my local paper, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Or google him and be prepared to be overwhelmed. But an even better way to get to know him (and it will be well worth the effort) is to watch his youtube phenom last lecture "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" here, and then order a copy of his book based on it that he wrote with Jeffrey Zaslow. And then stick up little post-it notes all over your house to remind you of the particular lessons that will help you live a better, more matter-y (and more fun) life.

    First, I have to confess that I usually hate all those schmaltzy, feel-good, life-lesson bestsellers (even though they do reliably make me feel senimental or teary anyway). But this one has hit home. It's not that the lessons are necessarily novel - you've heard much of the same advice, about showing gratitude, working hard, apologizing when you've done wrong, etc., countless times before. Partly it's more effective because of Randy's delivery: funny, honest, self-deprecating. And partly it's because he's a Pittsburgher like me (by virtue of having taught for many years at Carnegie Mellon University and delivered his last lecture here), and we Pittsburghers are an intensely loyal, proud-to-claim-each-other people. And partly it's because he uses metaphors from children's literature, like naming his virtual reality teaching program after Alice in Wonderland. But mostly, it's because I know he has really lived his advice, learning it the hard way and sometimes having to learn it repeatedly.

    My post-it notes say:
    "Sometimes all you have to do is ask." I am terrible at asking for help or what I want from other people; I feel awkward, shy, and like I'm imposing - and I'm always sure I'll be turned down - but Randy is right, that much of the time when you just ask, the answer is "sure."
    "Anybody out there who is a parent, if your kids want to paint their bedrooms, as a favor to me, let them do it. It'll be okay." Sometimes I need a reminder, to stop and think about it before I automatically say "no" to my kids (or my husband or myself). It's a powerful thing to have faith in someone, to let them take a risk and try something that may not seem entirely wise. Recently, I let my 16-year-old daughter stay home all by herself for an entire week while the rest of us were a 9-hour drive away. Not only was my cautious, responsible daughter fine, but she proved to me and herself how capable and self-sufficient she can be. (And my sister was only 5-minutes away, in case she wasn't - not a bad idea to have a safety net!)

And finally:

  • "Make a decision: Tigger or Eeyore." I'm always tempted to be an Eeyore. But how much better to be a very Bouncy Animal who will try new things without hesitation and who trusts that others will like you and that someone will be there to cushion your fall when you accidentally bounce a wee bit too high.

If you can't be a Tigger, you don't have to be an Eeyore - maybe try being a Piglet or Kanga instead. (Piglet has always been my favorite.)

"Piglet was still a little anxious about Tigger, who was a very Bouncy Animal, with a way of saying How-do-you-do, which always left your ears full of sand, even after Kanga had said "Gently, Tigger Dear," and had helped you up again."

A.A. Milne

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