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What lessons do you want to leave your children?

By Alice Bradley

In September of 2006, Randy Pausch, a professor of computer sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is, plainly speaking, the worst kind to get: survival rates are extremely low, and the end usually comes within months of diagnosis. So when Professor Pausch was told in the summer of 2007 that the cancer had spread and he had only a few months to live, he elected to step down from his position to spend more time with his family. But before he did, there was time for one last lecture.
Carnegie Mellon has a lecture series called the Last Lectures—what kind of lecture would you give you if you knew you were on your way out? For Pausch, the question is, of course, not hypothetical. So he gave his lecture, and before long it was uploaded to Youtube, where it was viewed kabillions (technical term) of times. So popular did the lecture become that Pausch gave an abridged version on a show hosted by a certain Oprah person; the lecture is also now available in print.
The topic of Randy Pausch’s lecture was “Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams.” It’s a topic he would know something about, as he is in the enviable position, even at the relatively young age of 46, of having achieved his. In the lecture, he talks about how he achieved his dreams, from becoming a Disney Imagineer to experiencing zero gravity. During his talk, he dispenses nuggets of wisdom: Show gratitude. Don’t complain. Work hard. Find the best in everybody. Have fun. At the end of his lecture, he reveals the true purpose of his talk. It wasn’t meant for the 400-something people in the audience that day (nor the thousands who have watched it since); the lecture was meant for his three young children, whose memories of him will be dim at best.
His lecture is a wonderful gift to his family, and it left me wondering: what would I leave my son, if I knew I was on my out? I didn’t think I had much in me, advice-wise, but then I sat down and thought about it (without crying, which is unusual for me when it comes to pondering my own death and thinking about Henry), and here’s what I came up with.
1. Pay attention. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, in that moment, there’s something to be learned. Find out what it is.
2. Notice what makes you curious. If you want to learn more, that’s a sign. Keep moving toward that thing. If the topic doesn’t interest you, don’t force it.
3. Withhold judgment. You never know the whole story about a person. No matter what you think, remember, there’s always more you couldn’t possibly know.
4. Respect your feelings. If someone makes you feel bad, you have the right to keep away from that person, even if they seem to be “nice. “Especially if they seem to be nice.
5. It’s okay to be angry. Just don’t take it out on other people. Or yourself. Let yourself feel your anger. Write it out. Yell into a pillow. Whatever you need to do.
6. Same goes for feeling sad, by the way. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
7. Find people who you feel good around, smart and funny and kind, and don’t let them go. Aim to be like them.
8. Tell the people you love how much they mean to you. Use specifics.
9. Take care of yourself. You can’t give all you were meant to if you’re not 100%.
10. Notice how good helping others can make you feel. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help, if you need it. We need to help each other, in this world. Let your friends take care of you sometimes.
I could probably think of 100 more, now that I’ve started. It’s a good feeling, because I was about 90% sure I had nothing to say except OH GOD DON’T LET ME DIE. So that’s a relief.
Now it’s your turn. What would you want your children to know about life, if your time was running short?

Published April 11, 2008. Last updated May 10, 2010.
Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

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