The Last Lecture

Talk about not taking things for granted! I had heard this lecture before but now, in light of what I'm going through as far as choices, it sounds different, very much so.

The title of the lecture to the left is How to really achieve your childhood dreams and was given by a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer.

There's a lot to be digested in the 76-minute lecture not just about how to pursue your dreams but also how to ground yourself in the little, everyday, sometimes insignificant, things that we take for granted.

The one takeaway from this lecture is that I've allowed  myself to forget fundamental things about human nature and about myself.

  • I've allowed myself to forget that there are times when a friendly word will carry you farther than anger will.
  • I've allowed myself to ignore how other people feel and put myself first without consideration to the other person.
  • I've allowed myself to forget that other people are not up to the standards you set for yourself and that you should be considerate and act accordingly.
  • I've allowed myself to be complacent and not pay attention to those people and situations around me where I could have made a difference.

The excerpt below, from Douglas McArthur's Speech "Duty, Honor, Country", reminds me of those things I've allowed myself to ignore or forget. It also paints a picture of who I really aspire to be:

They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for action; not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm, but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future, yet never neglect the past; to be serious, yet never take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness; the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.

They give you a temperate will, a quality of imagination, a vigor of the emotions, a freshness of the deep springs of life, a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, an appetite for adventure over love of ease. They create in your heart the sense of wonder, the unfailing hope of what next, and the joy and inspiration of life. They teach you in this way to be an officer and a gentleman.

. . .

Their resolute and determined defense, their swift and sure attack, their indomitable purpose, their complete and decisive victory - always victory, always through the bloody haze of their last reverberating shot, the vision of gaunt, ghastly men, reverently following your password of Duty, Honor, Country.

I've always had this fear of failure. I take failure personally and I tend to be harsh on those who "cruises" along or who don't live to my expectations. I have to constantly remind myself that most of the time I'm not up to those standards either. I hate hypocrites and, even more, I hate when I see those same behaviors in myself.  Being such an arrogant ass doesn't help the team and people in my office tend to mirror my mood, it doesn't really help, does it?

I realized that the best thing to do is play it cool, do the work I'm expected to do and not an inch more.  From my perspective I've become a glorified technician and I'll be damned if I let that happen.  Sure... I don't have the big picture, but the little corner that I do have is getting more and more uncomfortable.

And that's where Jobs'  speech at Stanford comes in. Don't settle, don't let life become boring or predictable. Seek challenges and face them head on and if you can't find them, if you find that you're not able to be happy with your life if today was to be the last day, then it's time to say fuck it and move on.

For too long I've allowed my fears to shape who I am, what I do and what I say. I know I've said this several times over the past couple years but there's a difference. I want the change, I want to live a life that makes a difference and, more important, I want to say when my last day finally comes that I am happy with my life and the way I lived it.

I found out that something I was expecting to happen did happen (I'm going to be given work time to go to a conference I am paying for) and, at first, it made me angry. Hell, it still pisses me off but it wasn't as bad, boss-type-person delivered  and softened the news over a few beers that evening :-)  And when you think about it; it is really refreshing and liberating. I can speak as Carlos without having to qualify my answers as being mine and not the University's.... I can start looking at joint projects with some really smart people whom I've always thought were awesome to work with.

The more important part of my going to TTIX is that I get to exercise the mental muscles that are really starting to atrophy and that, just like training, will become useless if they are not exercised.