This book has held an almost mythical place on my bookshelf. I read an article somewhere about how moving and life changing it was and asked for it for Christmas, thinking that it was the answer to my prayers and would bring the change I needed.
Apparently, I wasn’t ready for that change. I got that book for Christmas and it sat on my shelf. For years. I’m not sure what was holding me back, but I’m sure it isn’t a coincidence that I also stagnated in other areas of my life during that time span.
With my new push to better myself, I took down the book, dusted it off, then read it on my tablet. (Hey, there was a deal and I wanted to try out my new toy, so sue me.)
Man, was I disappointed.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good book and I’ll talk more about it later, but it wasn’t the be all, end all book I was looking for. That is really my fault; I built it up too much. To be fair, so does everyone else it seems. The book is regularly placed on lists of inspirational books and suggested as a gift for graduates.
The book does make a good gift. It’s short, easy to read, and has an attractive cover. Add to it the emotional element of being written by a man who knows he only has months to live, and it isn’t hard to see why people buy it for recent graduates.
I just wish it were marketed as a memoir instead of an instructional booklet on how to live your life. It just sets the reader up for disappointment and, if you are like me, spending a large portion of the book readjusting expectations.
The book is an expansion of a lecture that Randy Pausch gave at Carnegie Mellon in 2006 after learning that his pancreatic cancer was terminal. The lecture quickly became viral on YouTube. Two years later, he would publish this book with most of the same advice in the lecture but with added background stories about himself and the people mentioned in the video.
The book is really an autobiography of someone successful who has fulfilled his dreams, written as a guide for children who will never get to hear those lessons from their father.
He lived a great life and achieved things that people often dream about (floating in zero gravity, working with the Disney Imangineers). This book is full of advice and and stories to explain how he succeeded. Some lessons require digging by the reader to learn, others are stated plainly. My favorite quotation from the book is from Seneca (Roman philosopher): Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity. Be prepared to get teary eyed at times and jealous of the large stuffed animals he won at carnivals.
Not all of the book was for me. I had a different childhood and my personality and values don’t line up with his. I do, however, recognize that all of the book is useful to someone. For that reason and the ones stated above, I would definitely recommend this book to other people.
Just do yourself a favor and don’t make the book into a mystical creature. The author was only human and the story is about his own very human journey. Read it for the earnest window into how another person lived a successful life.
The ability to see the world from another’s perspective is a gift in itself. Plus, there’s a rocket ship on the cover!