Feeling more alive in world of optimism


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Did you ever read The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/02/2022 (468 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Did you ever read The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch?

It’s co-authored by Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal. The best-seller, released in 2008, stemmed from a talk Pausch gave titled Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams at Carnegie Mellon University on Sept. 18, 2007. His talk was part of a series called the Last Lecture. Academics were asked to think about things that really mattered to them and speak as though they were giving their final talk. “What wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?”

In Pausch’s case, it actually turned out to be one of his last lectures. He was told his battle with pancreatic cancer was terminal only a month earlier. He was staring down death, in the prime of his life, when all the best moments were supposed to be ahead of him. You’d expect, given the prognosis, that Pausch’s lecture would be sombre (if he gave it at all). It wasn’t.

Pausch gave a talk filled with optimism, hope and even humour. It only inspired millions of people around the world, including me. The Last Lecture went viral in a time when MySpace was still the top social-media platform, Facebook was relatively new, and Twitter, Instagram and TikTok hadn’t been invented.

The reason I bring up Pausch and his book long after the death of both co-authors is because it still resonates with me, especially lately. The theme of going after and achieving your childhood dreams is inspiring. Noble, even. But it was his optimism and perspective that really struck a chord with me.

In the face of it all, nothing was going to stop him from living his life to the fullest.

There are people like Pausch who make optimism seem effortless. People who manage to find joy where there is none (or, at least, very little). People who can find the best in any situation and live their lives to the fullest, no matter what stage of life that is. I am not that kind of person. Try as I might, it usually takes me a while to find my way to the positives, and sometimes I can’t manage to do that.

But I’m working on it.

My mom is like Pausch.

As I was trying to come up with a topic for this week’s column, I called my sister Christina in Vancouver. She’s always interested in what I’m going to write next. I think she’s convinced I will one day relent on her requests for me to write about her grouchy old rescue cat, Kiesa. It isn’t going to happen, but I appreciate that she’s committed to asking and pitching different variations of the same story on a weekly basis.

We talked for a while, and I told her I wasn’t really in the mood or head space to write. I’ve got a mean case of the blahs — my annual February blahs topped with a case of COVID-19 fatigue. I’d been doomscrolling on social media sporadically throughout the day — a habit I need to break. Everything is heightened and chaotic, and in large part really negative.

Then she brought up a childhood memory I’d completely forgotten.

“Remember when we were little, and we wanted water pistols so badly, but mom never bought them for us,” Christina said. “And then she gave us old shampoo bottles instead and told us how great they were because they could spray more water?”

As soon as she said it, I was taken back to a dusty old place in my memory of two little girls playing with shampoo bottles like they were toys. To us, they were. Our mom has always been sparing with money. Back then, it was an absolute necessity. A survival skill. What she lacked in money she more than made up in creativity and a good perspective.

“Mom had us convinced that those shampoo bottles were better than water pistols,” Christina said.

I mean, who needs water pistols when you can squirt each other with old shampoo bottles. It does the trick, and it’s just as much fun, if not more.

We laughed and talked about how our mom always seems to find a way to make the best out of life with what she’s got to work with, and how much it benefited us growing up. Of course, like all humans, she has her struggles, but she has a real knack for seeing life through a good perspective.

It gave me pause and a little reprieve from my blahs. It reminded me there’s a lot of negative stuff out there that we can’t put a positive spin on, but there’s always a little something to be grateful for if you look for it. Perspective is everything.

We’re lucky to encounter people like Randy Pausch and Paula Cook.


Twitter: @ShelleyACook

Shelley Cook

Shelley Cook
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project

Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.

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