Would You Live Differently if You Were Dying?

by Mark on April 29, 2010 · 2 comments

Back in early 2008, I heard about a remarkable 47-year-old man named Randy Pausch. Randy was dying of pancreatic cancer. This is the most deadly form of cancer, with only about a 4% survival rate after 5 years. This deadly disease did take his life on July 25, 2008. Randy wasn’t remarkable because he had cancer, but rather because he maintained an amazingly positive attitude despite the knowledge that he was going to die soon. On August 15, 2007, Randy’s doctors told him that they expected him to have only 3-6 months of healthy living remaining. There wasn’t much that they could do for him. Palliative treatment extended his life for almost a year after the doctors told him the grim news. I remember following his progress with great sadness on a website dedicated to telling everyone how he was doing. Even though I had never met the man, it was painful to know that such a nice person was dying and would soon be dead.

After his diagnosis, Randy could have given up on life and felt sorry for himself, but instead he dedicated himself to squeezing every bit of joy out of his remaining days. He also prepared for his inevitable death by spending as much time as possible with his very young children, teaching them as much as he could, and preparing lessons for them that would live on forever, so that they would be able to learn from him after he died and when they would be old enough to really understand. In the process, he has given us lessons that we all can learn from.

“It seems only right that a place called Dead Man’s Hole should belong to a guy who nearly died – and who, by the way, has no intention of just barely living.”
– Lance Armstrong (Every Second Counts) –

The Last Lecture

Randy Pausch was a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University. Randy tells us that there is an academic tradition called the “last lecture.” The question is: “Hypothetically, if you knew you were going to die, and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?” For Randy, the situation wasn’t hypothetical. He knew he was going to die. So Randy gave his “Last Lecture” on September 18, 2007, and the YouTube video of the lecture quickly became an Internet phenomenon. It is very inspirational and entertaining, and I highly recommend it. In his 76-minute lecture called Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, he talks about how to live your dreams, but in doing so, he also talks about how to live your life. I recommend setting aside some time to watch the whole thing, but if you want to start with something shorter, watch his 11-minute reprisal of his last lecture on Oprah. One of his recommendations that I loved was his recommendation to “Be a Tigger, not an Eeyore.”

“Do not fear death so much, but rather the inadequate life!”
– Bertolt Brecht (The Mother) –

In April 2008, ABC had a special about the “Last Lecture” that includes a powerful interview with Randy and his wife. The ABC special is 41 minutes long, but a lot of it consists of parts of the lecture. If you have already watched the original lecture, you will probably want to skip ahead to the interviews and video clips of him, his wife, and his children. They will really tug at your heartstrings. Randy also gave a 76-minute talk on Time Management. As he says in the video, he is “an authority to talk about what to do with limited time.” He gives some great advice, such as increasing your focus on doing the right things rather than doing things right. As a perfectionist myself, this is something that I am continually making a conscious effort to do. In any case, whether you expect to live only a few months or another 100 years, he has some great advice on time management.

Randy’s Book

Randy wrote a book before he died called The Last Lecture. If you liked his speeches, I think you will like the book. He wrote the book for his children, but it contains advice that we all can benefit from, such as, “If I could only give three words of advice, they would be, ‘Tell the truth. If I got three more words, I’d add, ‘All the time.’”


The title of this post is Would You Live Differently if You Were Dying? I’m not a doctor, but I’ve got some bad news for you. You are dying. We are all dying. We all have a very limited time on this Earth, and there is nothing we can do to change that. We might not have the misfortune of dying as young as Randy Pausch, but our lives are still all too short. We also can never be sure of just how much longer we have to live. We could even die in the next moment. I’m not saying this to be morbid. I’m saying it to remind you to focus on enjoying every single day. If you don’t have any health problems, it’s easy to take your time on this Earth for granted. The challenge is to stay focused on the present moment instead of always focusing on the past or the future.

“Near-death cleared the decks, and what came after was a bright, sparkling awareness: time is limited, so I better wake up every morning fresh and know that I have just one chance to live this particular day right, and to string my days together into a life of action, and purpose.”
– Lance Armstrong (Every Second Counts) –

As the old saying goes, live everyday as if it were your last, because one day you will be right.

Carpe diem. Seize the day.


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