Monday, October 8, 2007

Life Is Precious

I've been deeply moved by the story of Dr. Randy Pausch, a professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Randy has been battling pancreatic cancer for the past year. He initially had successful (yet very major) surgery in September 2006 to remove a tumor and part of his gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine and stomach.

During late 2006, Randy underwent chemotherapy treatment at the renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and in the first half of 2007 was able to receive a cancer vaccine being developed by Johns Hopkins University. Although he lost 43 pounds during his treatments, Randy bounced back quickly and was playing rec-league flag football within 6 days of completing chemotherapy!

His 5-year survival rate was determined to be 45%, and Randy had been focused this past summer on rebuilding his strength and stamina, and most importantly dedicating time to his wife and three small children. Unfortunately in August he received some bad news.

While outwardly looking strong and active, Randy had a recurrence of cancer. A CT scan showed 10 tumors in his liver and additional smaller tumors in his spleen. Doctors said it is one of the most aggressive recurrences they have ever seen, and gave him a consensus of 3-6 months to live.

Randy's story came to my attention through ABC News, which discussed a "last lecture" he delivered a few weeks ago at Carnegie Mellon entitled, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams". Watch the ABC News summary below:

Also watch follow-up questions sent to Randy by ABC News, and his responses: Click Here

Both moving and inspiring, the lecture allows Randy to share with the audience his childhood dreams, life's ups and downs, and the lessons he learned from along the way. Some fantastic quotes from his speech include:
  • "We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand."
  • "...experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted."
  • "...brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something."
  • "...the best gift an educator can give is to get somebody to become self reflective."
  • "I don’t know how to not have fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there’s no other way to play it."
  • "Decide if you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore."
  • "Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us. Help others."
  • "You get people to help you by telling the truth. Being earnest. I’ll take an earnest person over a hip person every day, because hip is short term. Earnest is long term."
  • "Apologize when you screw up and focus on other people, not on yourself."
  • "Get a feedback loop and listen to it ... When people give you feedback, cherish it and use it."
  • "Show gratitude."
  • "Don't complain. Just work harder."
  • "Be good at something, it makes you valuable."
  • "Find the best in everybody. No one is all evil. Everybody has a good side, just keep waiting, it will come out."
  • "Be prepared. Luck is truly where preparation meets opportunity."
  • "It’s not about how to achieve your dreams. It’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you."
I highly recommend taking the time to watch the full lecture linked below. It is full of many humorous anecdotes and poignant stories, and most of all showcases Randy's energy, spirit and humanitarian nature:

And yes, if my kids want to paint their bedroom, I will certainly let them do so, not only to spur their creativity and imagination, but to honor Randy.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

"Play the Right Way"

We live in a world where sports is a metaphor for everything in life. Newspapers seek dazzling quotes from athletes and turn them into nuggets of wisdom. Corporations provide thousands of dollars to coaches to speak at their annual sales meetings, extolling the virtues of teamwork and dedication.

As much as I see through the hypocrisy of today's sports, a big part of me wants to be excited about it. For every interview with a surly Barry Bonds, I'm reinvigorated by the friendliness of Greg Oden. When Larry Brown tells the media in 2004 how much he enjoyed coaching the NBA champion Detroit Pistons because they "play the right way", I'm overcome with giddiness.

Why? Probably on the most basic level I want to see others do well. I want people have success doing what they love and maximizing their talents to the best of their ability. Sports offers a way for this to happen which doesn't exist in many other avenues in life. There are very tangible results--a champion is crowned, individual statistics are tabulated, and many inspirational stories are written of athletes overcoming physical adversity to once again prosper.

As much as I'd like to celebrate the things that are good in sports, today is not one of those days. Instead, it's another sad day due to an admission of guilt by Marion Jones. The track-and-field athlete who was a media darling during the 2000 Sydney Olympics admitted to using performance enhancing drugs and lying to federal investigators.

So Victor Conte of BALCO, who always seems to come across as a rather snarky fellow, was once again telling the truth. Despite the charismatic smile, boundless energy and enthusiasm, and continually denouncing the use of steroids, Marion Jones was caught in quite a mess. However, given she had previously been partners with two track-and-field athletes (CJ Hunter and Tim Montgomery) who had ties with BALCO, should we at all be surprised by this result?

The issues of sport seem to be never-ending ... Dennis Franchione writes a private e-mail newsletter to boosters for $1,200 annually, Nick Saban tosses his integrity and character out the window by joining Alabama, even Larry Brown who uttered the "play the right way" phrase listens to overtures from the Cleveland Cavaliers during the season, then joins the New York Knicks only to have it crumble after one year. How can we expect much of athletes when the people leading them do no better?

Now, I don't expect for people to be saints. Heck, I don't even expect athletes to be role models. That is ultimately the responsibility of parents. However when I see these types of actions in the sports world, it makes me wonder if people are focused on the right things in life.

I really believe everyone should use their talents to achieve the highest level of success possible, where success is a combination of personal, professional, financial and spiritual fulfillment. To me, this starts and ends with something for which someone has passion--in the case of these athletes, sports. If you truly love what you do for a living and have passion for it, and are well compensated for doing it, shouldn't it be enough? Why are people willing to jeopardize everything to gain one more small inch?

I'd like to call on people to pursue their life's dreams and aspirations, but do so with integrity and character. You'll feel better about yourself if you do, and be taking a large step toward making the world a better place.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I never thought ...

I never thought my first main post on this blog would be about politics, but let's dive in head first and see where this takes us.

This story starts about 9 months ago, while driving in Texas. I see on the side of the road a sign touting "Ron Paul for President 2008". I had heard his name mentioned as a candidate, but really knew nothing about him. Actually, I probably knew less than nothing about him.

My immediate reaction was to laugh a bit inside. My thought was, "how funny, this person who no one knows and has no chance against big name candidates is spending money on roadside signs." In time, I started to see more signs and bumper stickers and people waving flyers. I scoffed a bit assuming Ron Paul's interest around Texas was more attributable to him being a Congressman from the Houston area.

Then, something changed. Actually I like to think of it as the "Sean Hannity Effect". I happen to catch this video from the 2nd GOP debate:

I was shocked and amazed when I saw this. Here is someone seeking to have an insightful, open discussion about foreign policy, and he is attacked. Why is he attacked? I'm certain you'd never see such a vitriolic and vigorous response toward any of the big name candidates. Many people will say the "Mainstream Media" purposely looks to support only the Clinton/Guiliani/Obama/Romney campaigns of the world.

However I think the issue at hand is more basic than that. It's human nature to marginalize those who have less money, stature and don't throw the most elegant parties. People like to associate themselves with frontrunners, and this campaign is no different. I think members of the media, just like most other Americans, fall into this trap. Candidates like Clinton and Giuliani have more photo-ops, are on television more often, and generate more fundraising dollars, so people start to assume they are more important than they actually are.

George Stephanopoulos in a recent interview with Ron Paul embodied this smugness and marginalization widely held by many:

Such feelings at a national media level has not slowed what seems to be a significant grassroots effort by Ron Paul supporters. Q3 fundraising for Ron Paul was in excess of $5M, roughly the same amount raised by higher profile candidate John McCain. Over 900 Meetup groups exist around the country with mobilized volunteers. However old habits die hard, and the media outlets have been marginalizing this message by noting the donations and volunteerism are from people on the Internet, as though people who use the Internet are odd, strange or abnormal.

Am I the only one who finds this ironic? Media outlets continually espouse how the Internet, Google, eBay and are powering a new revolution in the American economy, yet people who use the Internet to learn about second-tier candidates and make a donation are odd. Selective listening and messaging at its finest.

So take the time to learn about candidates and their positions, even if they are not the prime candidates. Like me, you might be surprised what some of them have to say.

Why am I here?

... Who am I? Why is the sky blue? Why do I so often procrastinate when it comes to cleaning the bathroom? So many questions, such a short lifetime to ponder them.

After many interesting life experiences, I think I have a fairly good grasp on who I am, but of course I'm always learning more. In fact my life is dedicated to learning and exploration ... and most of all self-awareness.

I'm starting this blog to share some of my daily musings across a wide variety of subjects. And when I say "wide variety of subjects", I mean anything. And everything. And all the little things in the cracks between anything and everything.

Politics, art, human behavior, sports, travel, and probably most of all, dreaming big. So check in regularly and look forward to reading all of your comments.