Randy Pausch on Resilience

Randy Pausch in his last lecture and in his book, The Last Lecture, had a lot to say about resilience.  His lecture at Carnegie Mellon University, designed to leave a life skills legacy for his children, focused on the realisation of childhood dreams.  Randy maintained that nothing should stop you from realising your childhood dreams and he illustrated this from his own life history.

He urged people to “never give up”.  He had wanted to go to Brown University, but they would not accept his application until he hounded them so much that they finally let him in.  His mentor, Andy van Dam, then urged Randy to do a PhD even though he himself wanted to get a job.  When Randy applied to Carnegie Mellon University to do a PhD, he was able to lodge his application with a letter of referral from his mentor.  However, he was still refused entry.

After exploring other options, he went back to his mentor who made a personal call to a colleague at Carnegie Mellon and arranged for Randy to be interviewed – which led to his admission to the PhD Program at the University.  Randy conceded that the advice to do a PhD was one of the best bits of advice he received – it enabled him to pursue his passion for “building virtual worlds”.

I had initially refused to undertake a PhD myself when I was working at Griffith University but my mentor, Professor Ortrun Zuber-Skerritt, encouraged me with the comment that, “You have a PhD inside you, if you don’t get it out, you will suffer for it”.  This also proved to be sound advice.  I did not have trouble with admission, being on the staff of the University, but I had great difficulty agreeing a focal topic and obtaining a supervisor.  I persisted for 18 months, with ongoing encouragement from my mentor, and then enrolled and received my PhD six years later.  The lesson, once again, was persistence pays and resilience enables you to overcome obstacles and brick walls to achieve your goals.

Brick walls and how to deal with them

Randy prided himself in his ability to break through “brick walls” – seemingly impregnable roadblocks – in his professional and academic life:

The brick walls are there to stop people who don’t want it badly enough.  They’re there to stop other people.

Randy stressed the importance of having specific dreams to pursue in life.  However, he had many obstacles along the way when pursuing his own childhood dreams:

  • He wanted to experience weightlessness but was initially refused permission by NASA to join his competition-winning students to experience this sensation.  So he talked NASA into allowing him to be a reporter to accompany his students and provide positive publicity for NASA.
  • As discussed above, his persistence got him into Brown University after an intiail knockback and resilience enabled him to pursue a PhD through Carnegie Mellon University
  • He also wanted to be a Disney Imagineer and went around the formal application process (which knocked him back), by arranging lunch with a key player in Disney who enabled him to take a sabbatical with Disney Imagineering   He had initially to bypass his Dean to obtain permission to pursue what was considered a crazy idea.
  • On entry to Disney, he found that he was not accepted at first by the designers who queried what useful skills an academic could have.  However, he worked very hard at gaining acceptance and used his academic skills to demonstrate how the process for a virtual ride could be made more efficient – this gained credibility and acceptance.  He was eventually offered a fulltime job at Disney Imagineering but negotiated a one day-a- week contract as a consultant instead, so that he could continue to teach at the University.  As Randy commented, “If you can find your footing between two cultures, sometimes you can have the best of both worlds”.
  • As a child he wanted to be Captain Kirk from Star Wars but this proved to be unrealistic.  What he did achieve through creativity, persistence and hard work, was a meeting from William Shatner (Kirk in the movie) who visited Randy’s virtual reality lab to see what technology, foreshadowed on Star Wars, had been realised in practice.  Despite scoffing from his colleagues about his passion for the movie, Randy was able to prove that this passion stood him in good stead during his career.

Throughout his life and career, Randy demonstrated time and again the true nature of resilience – the ability to bounce back quickly from setbacks and the willingness to persist over time with a goal despite roadblocks and “brick walls”.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation, we can strengthen our resilience and persistence in pursuit of our goals.  We will find ways around, over or through “brick walls” to enable us to achieve our meaningful life and career goals.  Mindfulness helps us to find creative ways to achieve our goals despite setbacks and blockages.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of dimitrisvetsikas1969 on Pixabay

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Conversations with Ourselves Can Remove Blockages to Learning and Performance

Recently, I was watching some video presentations and podcasts on mindfulness, including a number available on YouTube.  I passed over a number of offerings for one reason or another.  However, in a conversation with myself about overlooking one presentation, I was suprised to realise that my decision was impacted by my unconscious bias.

I was ashamed to admit to myself that my unfounded assumptions got in the road and effectively became a block to learning.  I had decided not to listen to one person’s presentation because they appeared to be overweight (on the surface, an entirely non-rational omission).

However, once I unpacked my assumptions I came up with a rational basis for my decision.  My assumption stream seemed to go like this:

  1. a person who is overweight is not someone who has mastered self-management/self-control
  2. a person who has not mastered self-management cannot be someone who has developed a high degree of mindfulness
  3. I do not want to learn from someone who does not practise what they preach.

Besides the obvious unconscious bias in my decision to overlook this person, there are clear fallacies in my assumptions.  Firstly, someone being overweight may have nothing to do with self-management – it may be the result of a genetic condition.  Secondly, one cannot assume that if someone has not mastered one facet of their life, they have not achieved some level of self-management. Thirdly, a person who is overweight may be highly developed in mindfulness in many other arenas of their life and hence have a lot to offer someone like me who is still at the early stage of developing mindfulness.

After confronting my unconscious bias in my conversation with myself, I did listen to the person involved, who not only was an exceptional practitioner of mindfulness, but also taught others on a global basis.  So my assumptions almost created a block to learning for me.  Their presentation was rich and insightful, and I will certainly revisit it.

In a previous post, I mentioned the recommendation of Sakyong that we should regularly undertake a conversation with ourselves.  It is clear that this type of conversation can help us to identify our own biases and unfounded assumptions and realise how they impact on our learning and our personal effectiveness.

Patrick Chan, a member of the winning Canadian figure skating team at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games, demonstrated that having a conversation with yourself can remove blockages to self-awareness and open the way to exceptional performance.  Chan had skated in the short program for the team’s event and had struggled with his first two jumps but went on to land the first two quads of his free skate.  His explanation of the transformation was reported as follows:

The Canadian admitted he was nervous and he “just had a conversation with myself” to get back his focus. “I achieved a big thing, which was to land the two big quads in one programme,” he said. “I’m going to hold this medal tight to me.” Chan, who won silver in the team and men’s singles events at Sochi 2014, is a three-time world champion but has never won Olympic gold until now. (emphasis added)

As we grow in mindfulness through having a conversation with ourselves on a regular basis, we can overcome the blockages to our learning and personal performance, whatever the arena of our activity.  We grow in self-awareness through this process as we encounter our unconscious biases, unfounded assumptions and emotional impediments.  We can also progressively build our self-management and self-control as we address these blockages.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of putevodnik on Pixabay