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Joe Paterno's final heart break

Updated on January 23, 2012

The will to prepare is vital

The sudden and unexpected death of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno marked a tragic end of a legendary sports figure. He achieved his iconic status after an extraordinarily long successful career where he set up landmarks that would be hard to achieve. It is thus all the more tragic that his exalted reputation was in tatters just over two months ago, after revelations of child sex scandals under his watch led to his ignominious ouster. When the scandal broke out, no mention was made of Paterno’s serious ailment - after all he had no plans to retire before end 2011. And then suddenly a few weeks later, he dies due to complications of lung cancer. Events like these tend to confirm suspicions that sudden, unexpected events can have a very deep impact on one’s mind and thus on his life.

Surprisingly, Paterno had a few things to say about achieving success in one’s career, but which perhaps unwittingly affected his personal life. He once said “ Losing a game is heart breaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is tragedy.” (From Now one can only conjecture what he exactly had in mind when he said this. But he was aware that losing one’s sense of excellence (that he himself had achieved) would be tragic. If that were indeed so, was he well prepared to face up to possible adverse events at a personal level? Did the recent events make it difficult for him to cope up with his ailment, one wonders. Was he a victim, after all, of his own philosophy?

Which brings us to one more of his famous quotes, “ The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.” (From Once again, one can only conjecture what he had in mind – obviously, he had the will to prepare for wins in football games. But did he also mean that the will to prepare to lose was also vital? And not just having the will to prepare to lose a football game, but also the will to prepare to lose out to events in personal life?

What can one learn from his two quotes, and apply them to our own lives? First, we do know that losing our sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy. It happens all too often in real life – losing a job, your business or a severe set back in your career. And the profound despair or sorrow that follows. The second quote is even more important – we must have the will to prepare in advance not just for success, but also for defeat or something even worse. Paterno has not said what needs to be done in those circumstances, but clearly we need to be prepared for such events, and have the ability to withstand such shocks and get on with one’s life. Just the way a strong physical body can absorb physical abuses and shocks, developing a strong mental attitude helps us to absorb shocks when tragedies strike us during our lifetimes.

One does not wish to draw any inferences as to how well prepared Paterno was to handle losses at personal level. But when a real life tragedy like this occurs, we may consider it as a somber reminder to us that none of us is immune to misfortune befalling us, and how vital it is for us to have the will to be prepared.


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      ndighe 6 years ago from Dallas

      Well researched and conveys a very important aspect.