Randy Pausch: How to achieve your dreams

Within the first few statements of his lecture, titled “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams,” Randy Pausch illustrated that he plans to live the time he has left to the fullest.
“We can’t change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand. If I’m not as depressed as you think I should be, I’m sorry to disappoint you,” said Pausch, who was diagnosed a little over a year ago with pancreatic cancer.

Doctors recently told him he only has five months to live.

Pausch, a professor of computer science and design and co-founder of the Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), stressed that everyone can achieve their childhood dreams if they try hard enough, but that it is more important to help others achieve their dreams also.

The lecture contained both humor and wisdom as Pausch explained that others can get past the “brick walls” (things that get in the way of their dreams), just as he did, and, like him, achieve all their goals.

Pausch’s determination to help others is reflected in the impact he has had on his students and all students who went through the ETC program. Laura Pliskin, who will graduate in December with a master’s degree in entertainment technology, said she might still be working in retail were it not for Pausch, though she never had him as a professor.

“I had earned my undergraduate degree in art, but had a hard time finding a job,” Pliskin said. She met Pausch when he was shopping for an anniversary gift for his parents at the store where she worked, EngraveYard. Pausch told her about the ETC, a graduate program that he had co-founded with Don Marinelli, the executive producer, in 1998.

The ETC, as Pausch said in his lecture, involves “artists and technologists working in small teams to make things,” meaning that the ETC strives to create media that focuses on both its artistic and technological qualities. In addition to the ETC, the professor also developed Alice, interactive software that helps students learn computer programming in a hands-on and engaging manner.

Although Pausch had a hand in many of Carnegie Mellon’s classes and programs, in his lecture the professor encouraged students to “focus on others, not [themselves].”
“Randy encouraged us to be forces for good. There are enough people out there making zombie extermination games,” said Phil Light, a student of Pausch’s who graduated last spring from the ETC.

Light and two teammates started Electric Owl Studios, a company devoted to making electronic toys that entertain children while they are undergoing a hospital visit or cancer treatment.

Another of Pausch’s students, Mark Tomczak, who graduated in 2005 with a B.S. degree in computer science, took Pausch’s class Building Virtual Worlds as an undergraduate student. He currently works to create training worlds for occupations such as firefighters and police officers.

“Randy believes people are capable of more than they think they are, and encouraged us to push as far as we could,” Tomczak said.

Tomczak couldn’t have taken Building Virtual Worlds without Pausch’s help, he explained. It was Pausch who convinced administrators that undergraduate students were capable of handling the course’s graduate-level coursework and should be allowed to have access to the course.

“The only reason there are undergrads in there is because Randy believed in us,” Tomczak said. “It was the single greatest experience I had in my educational career.”

At the end of the lecture, Pausch posed a final question to the audience.

“Have you figured out the head-fake?” he asked.

A ‘head-fake,’ he explained earlier, occurs when someone is taught a deeper lesson under the pretense of learning something simple — when a high school football player learns determination, teamwork, and perseverance while seeming to learn a proper three-point stance, for instance.

Give up?

“It’s not about how to achieve your dreams,” Pausch said. “It’s about how to lead your life.”