Self Confidence and The Last Lecture

Today is Monday, so this post is on self confidence.

Did you watch the ABC TV special last week about Randy Pausch?  I hope so.  Dr. Pausch is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University.  In September of 2006, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and cancer that has a 4% survival rate.  He delivered his "Last Public Lecture," titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," at Carnegie Mellon on September 18, 2007. His talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical "final talk," on the wisdom they would impart to the world if they knew it was their last chance.

Dr. Pausch’s last lecture was so powerful that it was downloaded over seven million times within a month of hitting the internet.  His lecture led to some amazing things.  He has been on Oprah.  He has testified before Congress.  He was asked to write a book, expanding of the message in the lecture.  That book, “The Last Lecture,” was released on April 8 2008.  Diane Sawyer did a one hour piece on him this past Wednesday. 

You might say that Randy Pausch has taken on rock star like qualities.  He has met Sting and The Police.  He has practiced with the Pittsburgh Steelers.  He has a small part in a new Star Trek Film.

Dr. Pausch also has been through an extremely difficult regimen of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments.  He is dying. Yet he is positive and upbeat. 

Here is a summary of what he has to say in “The Last Lecture.”

• Always have fun.
• Dream big.
• Ask for what you want.
• Dare to take a risk.
• Look for the best in everybody.
• Make time for what matters.
• Let kids be themselves.

“Dream big, ask for what you want, and dare to take a risk” are descriptive of self confident people.  Dr. Pausch is nothing if not self confident.  He’s a great teacher, winning numerous teaching awards at Carnegie Mellon. 

However, what impresses me the most about Dr. Pausch, is his ability to look death in the eye and approach it with a sense of serenity.  And, that what marks him as a truly self confident person.

When I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer over ten years ago, my doctor said, “The bad news is that you have cancer.  The good news is that it’s thyroid cancer.”  With the exception of anaplastic thyroid cancer, the type that killed US Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, most people survive thyroid cancer.  The doctor was right.  It’s been over 10 years, and I am healthier today than I was 10 years ago.

Nevertheless, a cancer diagnosis, no matter what my doctor said, gave me pause.  It made me wonder if I would survive.  I became quite introspective.  This introspection led me to a surprising realization.  I didn’t want to die, but if I did, that was OK. 

In sum, I figured I have had a great life.  I have a wonderful wife.  We live in Denver, a great city.  I’ve achieved more, and done more interesting things than I would have ever thought possible when I was growing up in Pittsburgh.  I have an EdD from Harvard.  I’ve run a successful business for over 20 years. 

Most people who know me would say I’m a pretty good guy.  I’ve helped a lot of people.  I’ve received a lot of help from a lot of people.  I’ve seen the world.  I’ve ridden a camel around the Great Pyramids and Sphinx.  I’ve played rugby all over the world.  I’ve been to Hong Kong, Singapore, Rio de Janeiro, and a million other very cool places.  I’ve ridden my bicycle to the top of Vail Pass – that was a tough one.

So, I decided that if I were to die because of thyroid cancer, that was OK.  I was confident that I had lived a full life and had done a few small things to make this world a better place.  I sense this type of confidence in Dr. Pausch.  As he is dying, he is at peace with himself.  He is at peace with himself because of how he has lived his life.  It takes a confident person to look death in the eye with a sense of calmness and serenity.

We are all better for people like Randy Pausch and Alexandra Scott, a little girl who set up a lemonade stand in her front yard and gave the money to the doctors at the hospital where she was being treated for a severe form of pediatric cancer.  I support The Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation.  You can make a donation by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post.  Randy Pausch is still with us.  Alex Scott is gone.  But we are all better off for them having been with us. 

There is a simple, but profound, common sense point for today.  Live your life in a manner that makes you proud.  If you do, you’ll be a self confident person.  If you are proud of how you conduct yourself, you’ll always be confident.  Confidence comes from within.  Living in a way that allows you to be proud of yourself will light that internal flame of self confidence. 

You can watch “The Last Lecture” by logging on to:

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.”

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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