Most of what we learn, we learn indirectly

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The title of this post is a quote from Randy Pausch’s final lecture titled Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams at Carnegie Mellon University. In August 2007, he was given 3-6 months to live (pancreatic cancer) and he gave his final lecture in September 2007.

After the lecture, he received such a positive response that he uploaded the 140 page slide and allowed anyone to use it (so long as they don’t stand to profit monetarily from it) however they want. I also think there is a video of the 76 minute lecture online, but I haven’t listened to it (yet).

Randy died in January 2008.

I’m not going to get too deep into what I took away from looking through the slides, but there were a few things that choked me up and a few things I found to be really insightful (yadda yadda yadda, blogworthy).

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The first thing that really spoke to me was the line”most of what we learn, we learn indirectly.” I think today, people try to absorb as much information as they can by watching videos, reading blogs, and pouring over discussion boards on a certain topic.

Last year, I wrote a weekly column for a fantasy football site. The way I got my information wasn’t organic; I mostly tried to force information into my column (square peg, round hole style). I know it wasn’t as good as a lot of the other writers who would watch the games, discuss football with their peers, and have a solid understanding of what might be in store for a particular player the next week.

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The “head fake” is Pausch’s analogy to learning indirectly. In football, the head fake is a way to beat your opponent, but the only way to truly master this move isn’t by studying it, but rather by having played so much football that the move becomes natural.

So when chasing your dreams, the best way to go about it isn’t by reading a thousand books on how to become an entrepreneur, but by putting yourself out in the world and doing it (ie- trial and error ie- thrown into the fire).

If you want to do something, go do it. Fail at it. Get laughed at. Make a mistake, it’s OK. The point is, you have to take a chance. No one that’s ever chased their dream ever regretted fumbling over something along the way. They might regret a choice they made somewhere between there and here, but I bet you 100% of those people are glad they gave themselves the opportunity to make that choice instead of playing it safe and letting someone else take whatever it is they want.

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Another slide that spoke to me had a few bullets, but the first two really stood out. “Be good at something: it makes you valuable” and “Work hard… ‘what’s your secret?'”

“Valuable” is a term that is rarely applied to a person, unless in the sense of one’s place in a company (which I guess applies, but I digress). I really like the idea of being valuable, not to a business, but to your friends, to society, and to your place in terms of reaching your goals. There is an expression that says (paraphrasing), “figure out what you want to do and go do it.” That might be an Avett Brothers lyric….not sure. I would take this a step further and say, “Figure out what you want to do and go do it…and be good at it.” (I’ll streamline that before I make T-shirts, I promise).

The second bullet, “Work hard… ‘what’s your secret?’,” to me speaks to perseverance. (Grammar people, was that secret?’,” the right way to do that. I can’t imagine it is, but to me, it logically makes sense…)

Get back on topic.

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So finding your secret is kind of that magic thing that keeps you going. I think it means working hard…at the right thing.

For example: I have been writing for Sports Monte (other blog) for about a year and a half with the intention of becoming a big time fantasy sports writer and influences. I worked hard writing and researching every week, but I spent very little time learning what things make the great writers in that industry stand out. I was headstrong and believed that as long as I work hard, good things would follow.

While this works in some cases, it doesn’t work in most cases. You need direction when you work hard and a support system of people who aren’t afraid to critique what it is you’re doing. Working hard without direction is like digging a hole without having the foresight to know you need a rope in the hole with you to climb out.

Pausch died and left an unbelievable legacy. I would encourage anyone who is feeling in a rut to at least look up his slides (easy enough to find online). Maybe I’ll follow up with this once I listen to the lecture, and hopefully I’m not too far off base with how I interpreted his presentation. The long and short of it all, boys and girls, is that if you are going to catch a dream, whether you’re six or sixty, start making the right moves that will get you on the right path to achieving that dream.