As usual, as of late, I am up very late reading. As I get ready to transition back to an academic-filled life – I’m returning to school with the intention of going to graduate school this time, although in a different area than I studied ten years ago – I am training myself to be educated again. Not a passive education, but an active one in which I make it an endeavor rather than an afterthought. I’ve been reading books on neuroscience and psychology, mathematics and programming, but one book that has struck me especially is the one I am currently reading: The Last Lecture by the deceased Randy Pausch. It is a memoir of a dying man, giving a “last lecture” talk. For most, the “last lecture” is merely a theoretical exercise in summing one’s life work under the pretense of imagining what a final lecture would be like. For the author, this was to be his last lecture as he was soon to die from pancreatic cancer.
The book is a page turner and I suspect that I will not sleep this evening until I have finished it, but that is not the point. The point is that, faced with his imminent demise, the author pains a most compelling argument to chase one’s dreams and to set goals that can be accomplished through hard work and a bit of luck. According to the author, challenges are not meant to destroy the trajectory, they are merely opportunities to prove just how badly one wants something.
So what does this memoir by a dying neurotypical have to do with psychopathy? Everything.
The psychopath is known for either having unrealistic and bombastic goals that can never be attained or for having no goals and dreams at all. In many ways, psychopaths live meaningless lives. We are parasites that draw blood without thinking and have no direction for tomorrow except that ensuring we have another host to feed off of. We are sharks, ever moving forward, but with no target in sight. We move forward because we must, not because we are drawn to a dream of any substantial meaning. So once again, what does the memoir I reference have to do with psychopathy?
Pausch writes of the importance of having goals and dreams and of taking efforts to meet them. A life with meaning is a life with purpose. A life with purpose requires some sort of passion and desire toward goals. Small goals. Large goals. Few goals. Many goals. All that matters is that the person have a drive to move forward for something – something other than merely existing.
This plea – and teaching – by the author highlights what should be considered a central plight to the psychopathic condition. How can our lives have meaning if we do not have something to latch onto, something to move towards? I know, with my limited understanding of the neuroscience behind psychopathy, that delayed gratification is undeniably difficult for the psychopath. However, we can still try. Maybe our goals arise in the moment and have little longevity. Maybe we can formulate a desire that reaches far into the future. If we wish to have legacy and purpose, there is no other choice. We must find our own stars and search for ways to attain them. The alternative is to live life without meaning, and no one should be content with that.
For myself, maybe this time I will stick to something out of passion and not out of rigidity. The future is unknown to me and I will certainly waver at times with my desire and commitment, but I can still strive to take each day one at a time. My goal is simply to wake each day and take measures toward the abstract dream that has come to me of late. Maybe these dreams will change over time and I will forever drift in my inconsistency, but even then, does not attacking each day with purpose in the moment have the value of a larger goal in and of itself? Maybe I cannot envision being the best baker, for example, but I can still wake each morning knowing that I will bake something. Those little exercises over time may lead me to a larger goal even if I cannot see the bigger picture; even if I do not wish to chart the stars in full.