# 365: The “Last” Post
Story behind the Passage
Today is a special day. It is the last day of my 365-day blogging “challenge.” Well, I have to be honest, I did not really think it would be a real challenge. Yes, I was a bit worried that I would not make it on some days or that I would lose interest. But overall, I was quite confident I would make it. After all, writing is my gift and pleasure. So, if I would ever be able to “win” any challenge, it would be a writing challenge. I am not even convinced the word challenge suits the endeavor anymore. It has been a long reflection of some sort that would take me to a new place in life. I was kind of certain that this would happen. And it has actually happened. This is what I am grateful for.
Quite early on, as I saw how deep and emotional some posts turned out, I decided that Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture would be the book I would discuss in my last post. When I say “last” post, I do not mean the last one in general. I mean the last one of the 365 days. I will continue writing and blogging as long as I live, just a bit more infrequently. For sure, I will continue doing the Sunday book posts because it helps me stick to my reading schedule. But Pausch did not get the chance to give lectures for much longer. The “Last Lecture” truly was one of his last lectures. He passed away only months after delivering it. And the magic of the lecture relies on the fact that he knew about this. As he shares at the beginning of the talk which the book is based on, his fatal illness is the “white elephant in the room. He knows he will die soon but he decides to have fun on every single day he has left in his life.
I learned about Pausch’s lecture from some other book. It might even be Steve Job’s biography. I cannot remember. Pausch died of pancreatic cancer, just like Steve Jobs. I just know that this book and the lecture online are the most precious lectures I have ever watched/read — probably the most precious. I had not heard about Pausch up to this point and I guess that holds true for the majority of the many millions who have watched the video by now. But the lecture combines it all. If you watch it, you know who this outstanding personality was. Pausch discusses three topics in the lecture:
- Achieving childhood dreams
- Helping others achieve their childhood dreams
- Lessons learned on how to do it
It might be weird to write about such a lecture on the final day of a blogging challenge which started out as an enterprise that wanted to “teach” startup founders with the use of literature. As I mentioned before, I kind of had the vague idea back then that things would turn out differently. And they have. This blog has turned into a nameless convolution of posts and reflections which are only connected by two basic things: a) The structure, i.e., the fact that I am reading a book passage every time. b) And the subjective perspective. Nowhere am I claiming that I am presenting scientific facts or research findings, at least only in very few cases in which I also quote this evidence. In all other cases, I am stating my personal perspective of looking at the respective passage. And the topics, as you know by now, have become quite broad, to put it mildly.
While I had the intention of focusing on business and entrepreneurship literature at the beginning, it became quite clear that this focus would not satisfy me. When I write, I need to respond to something that is occupying my mind right now. And, obviously, startup issues are just some of the things I think about. There are many more that use up cognitive space. In fact, as the challenge went on, my excitement about startup life made room for more realistic approaches and political and social concerns. I would still say that I am a startup maniac and I will continue my path of bringing this spirit to fields and people who might not at all be familiar with it. Still, if there is one thing that really connects my blogging adventure with startups, it is the steep learning curve and the level of personal growth you achieve. I have definitely learned a lot from this year and I feel blessed and humbled about this experience. As Pausch says in his lecture:
“Experience is the thing you get if you do not get what you wanted.”
For me, the problem is not that I did not get what I wanted. The problem has more or less been that I did not know what I wanted. Or rather, I thought I knew what I wanted but then I figured out that what I really wanted was something else. Or, you can phrase it differently: I learned that what I wanted was not what I really wanted. This might sound pretty stupid, but there is so much truth in this, you can hardly imagine. This is because when I say “want,” I am talking about this convolution of being and doing. I am not talking about anything tangible or material anymore. I passed this point 16 years ago but there were drawbacks. Still, what I wanted to say is that my blogging adventure has brought me to this point of knowing (again) what I want, more clearly than ever.
This wanting is very much related to the endeavor of writing and Pausch’s lecture. Last week, I had a conversation with a woman whom I appreciate a lot. And based on the confusing things I was telling her, at least it must have sounded confusing to her, she ended up asking: “Why do you want this, why write?” And that was when I realized that I had missed telling her the most important thing beforehand. It was so natural and self-evident for me that I did not mention it explicitly. But for me, writing means helping. I want my texts to help people. It is very simple and so clear to me that I did not think about it anymore and therefore missed telling her at the beginning. Yes, writing helps me personally because I enjoy it. But I want my writing to help people in some way. When I write the stories of other people, I want their stories to be reand and heard, so they do something in the world. When I write a non-fiction or self-help book, I want people to learn from my experience. When I write a scholarly book, I want….?
Yes, there we are again, my struggle with academic writing. You know, a few months ago, also during this blogging challenge, my latest scholarly book was published. I feel happy that I finally managed to publish it. And I feel, I gave as much as I could for achieving this goal. But does the book fulfil my personal goal of helping people with my writing? My intuitive and emotional answer would be “no.” This answer has a rational reason because, on average, maybe 20–30 people actually read what is written in scholarly journal articles. And there is an emotional answer as well because scholarly books in our field do not really contribute “new” knowledge to the world. We read, we think, and we share this and that is about it. There is no “objective” evidence for individual thinking, except for logic, of course. And especially in my field, noone can do anything with it — so I thought.
Then, a couple of days ago, I had this remarkable conversation with a brilliant man, IN, and he really made me see this particular issue from a new perspective. He told me about the Talaquaat, a Muslim register for counting the research output of scholars. And he described how it makes sense to have this. Then he said another thing which was so comforting, I am still terribly touched. He described how he is now reading the works of people from one or two thousand years ago and how much this makes him learn and see. So, his conclusion was: “Even if nobody reads our works now, maybe not even in 10 or 50 years. But at some point, someone might get a hold of our books and articles and this person might gain something from it and use it. And that makes all the difference. If you just touch one person, make a difference in that person’s life, it was worth doing this job.”
I was fighting the tears from rolling down on my cheeks in that moment because I knew he was right. I myself am reading the works of these philosophers and scholars and saints from several millennia ago. And I always wonder how on earth they found their way to the present age and into our libraries. How much “luck” did it take in order to have handwritten wisdom passed on throughout history, even though, at the time, nobody even cared?! But the thoughts were so remarkable and innovative that later generations saw the genius in them. I am not saying that there is genius in my writing. But at least, there is some hope that someone in the distant future might even read what I am writing and gain something from it for his/her personal life. Hence, my intention of helping people, even with boring scholarly texts which academics like to circulate in their closed communities, would still be achieved.
I just have to be patient…
Patience is something Pausch also mentions in the lecture. He says that you have to be patient for people to show you their good sides. “If you are pissed off and somebody is just bothering you, you have not waited long enough. They will surprise you at some point. You just need to wait longer.” This is one of the many things he learned from one of his dearest mentors. When I just listened to the lecture again, I knew he was right. But the same applies to yourself — to myself. Sometimes I am so pissed off by my own evil sides that I do not have the patience to wait any longer. I lose the faith in the good things to appear again. But a blogging challenge like this one has the remarkable advantage that it forces you to be patient and wait. And I think, I have succeeded at this at least.
The problem with goals and decisions is not so much about the realization of them, I guess. It is about the judgement you have, their normative assessment. If I am honest to myself, I know that I feel when decisions are not right in the sense of not valuable according to my personal normative universe. Still, I pursue them because I still feel the pressure to do things the way you are supposed to do them. Most of the time, these things are even appreciated by others. But that does not help me. I have come to learn one thing over and over again which I finally need to admit and further pursue: I have to continue walking my own path and that also means that I do stuff which other people find crazy. That is totally fine. For me, the only question or guideline has become:
Who am I helping with this?
Is this help worthwhile?
Does this help have the potential to do greater good in society?
There is a passage in Pausch’s lecture where he shares how one of his professors/mentors told him to go to grad school. Pausch actually wanted to take a job. He said: “Randy, you are such a great sales person. Every company will just use you as a sales person. Why don’t you sell something that is worthwile — like education?” When I listened to this passage, I felt caught. Pausch is an unusual academic in the sense that he is so passionate and therefore really a great salesman. And I know I am like this too. People tell me all the time. But my conclusion, at least for a while, was that I rather sell something else, mostly my writing, for business. Now, in the course of this year, I have learned that this is not enough.
It is not worthwhile.
If you wonder if I will ever get to the point. No. There is no new point to get at today because, just like Pausch’s lecture shows, the topic is always the same. It is about the “lessons,” what I call “learnings” in my posts. So, yes, I will get to that in a second, as I always do. And in contrast to this long introduction, I will be rather brief. This is the same, always. The more you learn, the deeper you learn, the shorter the summary of what you have learned. For Pausch, one of the biggest overarching take-aways, which he even demonstrates in the lecture, is that actually achieving your own childhood dreams is not even the best thing. The best thing is to help others achieve their dreams. And he did that as a professor.
“The brick walls are there to show us how badly we want something.” To be honest: I said this sentence in a slightly different way to many other people. And I heard it by even more people, particularly in the startup crowd. If there is one thing you learn as an entrepreneur, it is just that: A new brick wall comes up every day and you get the chance to fight it once again. This makes you stronger but it also really tests how much you want something. In the case of entrepreneurs, it is rather easy what you want. You want to grow your company because you are convinced that what you do with your company is worthwhile. For some time, I also thought that. Then I learned, that I am lying to myself. Sorry to disappoint you, dear clients, I know this is going to kill my business if you read this (which you probably will not do anyways), but for me, it is not worthwile to support your money making with my writing.
Hence, does that mean that writing for others has no value at all? No, absolutely not. It does, but you have to decide, who you want to write for, which topics you want to write about and for what purpose. I am highlighting the “wanting” because this is the essence of my learnings and it is what connects me to Pausch. Many years ago, I made a promise to myself. It was the promise that I would try to live every day in a way that if I died the next day, I would not regret that previous day. This promise has not changed a bit. On the contrary, it has grown stronger. But your assessment of what is worthwhile does change as you grow. Back when I first made that promise to myself, I knew exactly what this one thing I needed to do was: Helping people be happier. That was it.
You might be surprised but I kind of held on to this despite all the detours. Just because you work with businesses, it does not mean that there are just machines or money involved. Business is about people and many of the founders I was lucky to meet were among the most remarkable and strongest personalities ever. I would never ever regret this time. And I did my best to help them achieve their “childhood” dreams, just like Pausch did with his students. Still, at some point, I realized that their dreams in many cases were just that: dreams. And in other cases, their dreams went completely against my definition of worthwhile dreams. And in the end, this always and always again made me hit this brick wall that showed me what I really cared about: education.
“This is why you should all become professors,” Pausch says at one point.
I absolutely agree that you can do this in this role, i.e., “sell” education by researching and teaching. But there is only one option of how to do it if you tick like Pausch and myself: You need to leave behind all the people who stop you from doing your thing. There are actually two forces that pull you back. The university systems and people therein who give a shit about what you can give to students. And there is: you! You are holding yourself back because you think the others will win and you start believing they are actually right in claiming that helping others achieve their dreams is not what professors should be doing. Actually, now I give a shit about them because if a dying man is saying these words, I rather listen to him and follow his example.
Before I truly follow his example by drawing a final conclusion of 365 days of blogging, let me do one thing he also does: review some of the major achievements, his “legacy.” I will just briefly do this with respect to my blog because the two things, i.e., blogging for a year and teaching for a life time, cannot be compared by any means. I will just give you some very brief learnings to not leave you in the dark. After all, some of you have read this blog on a frequent basis and I know that I always leave enough room for interpretations. So, today, I just want to really pin down what remains most memorable to me. Some of this might sound “selfish” but these are really things that bring a smile to my face when I think of them. And most of the memorable lessons are related to specific content:
- I never expected to post poetry here. Obviously, I ended up doing this more than once. The depth and flow of my poems as well as their style surprised me. I dearly hope, readers will take away something from these pieces. Examples:
2. My posts about academia came right from the heart. Even though I know I was harsh, in essence, I stand behind what I wrote there. Although I often hated myself for not being able to let go of the university, I see now that this was meant to be. It showed me that I still care about higher education more than about anything else. Many people might not see this but it is the truth. I am never harsh on anything or anybody just to be harsh. I am criticizing because I see alternatives for change and improvement. Just like Pausch says about one of his football coaches. This coach had worked him so hard and then somebody said: “That is a good thing. If people stop telling you what you are doing wrong, they have given up on you… That is a very bad place to be in.” Obviously, I have not given up on the university. I can see this now. Examples:
3. I really liked some of my business posts. I particularly remember the special about Lufthansa and Covid. This was not just good writing from the heart, it linked what is dear to me to some innovative insights about business in/post Covid times.
4. Some of my entrepeneurship biography posts, as well as the management ones, do have educational value. I think, one can learn something from them in a way that is also user-friendly for people who do not read that much anymore. So, since this once was the major goal of this blog, you might wonder why I am mentioning it quite late. As I said, the focus of the entire blog has shifted. But there are some good ones, especially the ones about historical women entrepreneurs and contemporary startup women.
5. My confessional writings, especially in relation to the theological works, have become the most important and valuable ones for me. They are so deep, open, and honest that it still touches and partly scares me that I was able and willing to share them with the public. These posts mostly happened within the last couple of months. And I still want to thank MD for her helpful and open comments because she actually made me see what I was doing in them and the very fact that I was obviously engaged in confessional writing opened my eyes. It also taught me a lot about language and the fact that English is dear to me but there are certain texts and certain topics which just force me to use German. Here are the three most important ones for me:
Now you might wonder, what is next? There is one answer concering the blog itself and one concerning my life. The first one is easy. I think, I will publish the blog as a book and maybe also add some audio-visual material. For some time, I completely rejected this idea because my belief in the power of books and the partly disgusting way people market themselves online (YouTube, Twitter…) made me turn away from these options. Now, I think I would be untrue to myself if I completely opposed all these publication channels. If I do want to help people with my writing, I have to “market” what I wrote. I will not do so extensively but in a way that feels alright according to my value set and my aim to reach certain target groups. After all, I learn from some of the most outstanding scholars online because they were/are not afraid of having their lectures posted. I can do the same. There is always a middle path…
This takes me to the second answer: my life. This question sounds very big but as we have all come to learn, this blog has been intertwined with my life due to the autobiographical twist it has taken way beyond some business matters. It has clearly exceeded the professional level. More or less, I have ended up with the finding that the best way of (de)scribing myself is by using the construction “academic cum ….” The word “public intellectual” might summarize it as well, even though this term sounds old-fashioned and a bit over the top, I do not know any other one that might fit. So, what I am saying: my blog has accompanied my journey to finding out what I really want and it has provided evidence for the fact that if I know what I want, e.g., blog for a year, I can achieve it.
It might not surprise you to read that my path leads back to where I started. Not the place where I started the blog one year ago, but where I started three years ago when left my university job and became an entrepreneur from one day to the next. Now I have been an entrepreneur for three years. Fine. “Check mark,” as Pausch says in his lecture when he goes through his list of childhood dreams. And this actually made something click. What he clearly showed me in the lecture is that you can be many things while also being a professor. This is what people told me all along but I denied it. I did not want to see it. Partly, I still do not believe it. And this is why I thought, I did not want to be one. Maybe I thought, it is not what I could ever be. Now I know, this or something close to it is what I have to be, even though there are more brick walls in sight than ever before. But just like Pausch encourages his audience, one of my mentors always told me one thing:
“If you really want this, you will get there.”
I never really tried.
I tried lots of other things though.
You see where this is leading and I am going to leave you with one of the major lessons which I now have to fully embrace and which will also make your life a lot more valuable. This is what Pausch shares as an overarching lesson: You have to decide if you want to be a Tigger or an Eeyore:
People who know me also know that I am more of a Tigger. But there are times when I doubt that this will get me anywhere. My blogging life has shown me that being a Tigger in university is much better than being an Eyeore in the business world. So, the path is ahead and I will figure out how to walk it as I walk. At least there is one thing, I do not have to regret: I have always been true to my heart, I always raised my voice, and I have done all the preparation I felt was necessary to take the next step towards achieving some of the childhood dreams I have left on my list. Now it is time to conclude with the final learning Pauch shares: “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”
I am ready.
Just keep reading.
And let me tell you one more secret.
Randy calls it “head fakes”:
This blog was not about business.
It was about how to live your life.
Yours faithfully, Silke (Tigger)
1) What are the childhood dreams you can remember? Have you achieved them?
2) If you were to give your “last lecture” — what would be the three most important life lessons you would pass on to your audience?
3) Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore? Do you want to change?