I was applying for a job the other day and one of the application questions was “What is your favorite YouTube video?” I first thought about finding a funny cat video or captivating travel video, but quickly decided that wasn’t the best move. So I went for humbling and inspirational instead, and picked the video that first introduced me to Randy Pausch, his eloquent presentation at Carnegie Mellon entitled “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” (a copy of the video is below).
If you have never seen the video I recommend watching it because I think the lecture really captures the spirit, tenacity, and generosity that Pausch brought to his students, colleagues, and family. He gave this lecture in 2007 about 10 months before he passed away from pancreatic cancer at the young age of 47. And when you watch and listen to him speak, you’d never know he was a man who was diagnosed with a terminal illness just a month prior.
The Brick Walls Are Not There To Keep Us Out
One of my favorite themes in this lecture is his reference to brick walls. Pausch says,
The 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. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.
These seemingly impenetrable walls are something we’ve all encountered in our lives. I’m going through a rough patch in my own life right now that’s full of uncertainties and what feels like endless brick walls. Even though we’re in a strong job market, it feels almost impossible finding a new job. So watching this video again was just what I needed the other night to help get me out of my funk.
We all get discouraged when we are faced with rejection, no’s left and right, insufficient resources, and sometimes just left alone in the dark. When you give your all at something and it doesn’t work out, you tend to want to just give up because you can’t think of any other way to exert yourself further. But Pausch teaches us that the brick walls are there for a reason. Failure is a part of life and builds character. How we react and overcome failure is way more important than how many times we don’t succeed.
The Brick Walls Are There To Give Us A Chance To Show How Badly We Want Something
While I certainly have hit many brick walls in my life and walked away, there have been a few that got me motivated enough to get out my sledgehammer and blast my way through. And I think Pausch is right that these rejections and failures are lessons that determine how much we really want something. Things don’t often come easy in life, and super successful people are great at making everything look easy. So when things get tough and we’re not making any progress, it’s natural to want to give up and just accept the cards we were dealt.
Although I don’t have any super impressive career or life stories like Pausch, I have a couple examples of my own to share about brick walls I’ve encountered and how I used them to my advantage. It’s funny how sometimes a bad turn of events can be just what we need to take control of our lives and start making positive changes.
Find Your Tackling Fuel To Beat Your Competition
My first story revolves around music. My parents insisted I take music lessons my entire childhood, and it was a long battle of juggling homework, practicing, lessons, auditions, and competitions. I liked music and had decent talent, I just didn’t love it all the time. I was more interested in arts and crafts, watching TV, playing outside, and dreaming about becoming a Broadway star. But I managed to stay in the orchestra all the way through college and I’m glad I did.
One of the main reasons I’m happy I stuck it out with music is that it taught me the thrill of competition. I had an arch rival in high school who was quite musically gifted, and also had crazy rich parents who were always giving money to the school and volunteering with the PTO. As much as the orchestra director felt pressure to show favoritism to my arch rival because of her parents’ contributions, we were fortunately fairly ranked by blind auditions for the best seats and solos.
I’ll never forget the semester my rival nailed her audition and got the principal seat I wanted in the orchestra. I was furious she beat me and felt utterly defeated. I was stuck turning pages while she got to shine in the spotlight. But I got a fire in my belly from coming in second place, and I didn’t want to stay there. Visions of her laughing at my defeat became my tackling fuel as I pretended I was Bobby Boucher in The Waterboy. I busted my chops over the next couple months and practiced several hours a day every night after school. My calluses got thicker, my intonation improved, and I memorized all the music we were working on. And you know what happened? The next audition, I beat her! I still had to hustle to stay on top of my game for the rest of the year, and it taught me that it is possible to out rank your competition if you try harder and stay focused.
Use Rejection, Anger, And Frustration To Yield A Positive Outcome
Those of you who’ve been reading Untemplater for a while know that I had a major blow a couple years ago when I was denied a promotion at work that I deserved. It affected me a lot because I felt that I had been giving the company way more than what they expected of me, my performance ratings were high, and it seemed that politics had a lot to do with why they chose to promote my colleagues over me. This was a major brick wall that smacked me right in the face and then fell on top of me.
It took me many months to figure out how to channel my anger and frustration towards positive change. I’d never been rejected in this manner for something like this before, and it made me realize how important a title and recognition were in my career goals. It also made me realize that nothing is guaranteed in life, even if we’ve gone above and beyond and deserve something. I learned that company loyalty is overrated, and I needed to start thinking of an exit plan. The other positives are that I raised hell to the management team and managed to get several pay raises as well as finally land that promotion I wanted, even though I had to wait a bit longer (for what felt like forever) to get it.
The Brick Walls Are There To Stop The Other People
I used to think that life would get easier as I grew up and that there wouldn’t be so much competition all the time. It’s hard being under pressure every day as a student when you’re competing for the best grades, the best professors, the best test scores, and the best internships in order to get the best jobs. Of course we all know that as an adult the competition is even worse lol. We have to learn to embrace it and use our competition to propel ourselves forward and to constantly learn new things.
The great news for us is that a lot of people back down when they hit brick walls. And some people give up long before they’ve even run into one! We must remind ourselves that if we want something badly enough, we have to stand up and fight for it. And if breaking through the wall in front of us doesn’t work, we have to figure out a way to climb over it, go around, dig underneath it, or find something to blow it up with.
Don’t Complain, Just Work Harder
Even when faced with a grim diagnosis that he only had 3-6 months left to live, Pausch was able to inspire millions of us through his words and actions, and did so with a smile on his face. Not everyone in his situation would have taken the approach that he did. Thinking about Pausch also reminds me that we should never take our opportunities for granted. We all have more than we think, and are all capable of incredible things even if we run into brick walls along the way. Each day is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present, right?
One phrase I tell myself over and over again when I’m under stress is “things could always be worse.” And even though that doesn’t solve the problem at hand, it reminds me to be thankful of what I have and what didn’t go wrong. So if you’re frustrated or discouraged from something that didn’t work out the way you hoped, shake it off and don’t stop fighting. Give thanks for all the things you do have and keep on going!
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