By their 60th birthday, a majority of leaders have begun to contemplate retirement. By age 70, most have bid farewell to the working world. Past 80 years of age, no one is expected to work, and it’s virtually unheard of for a leader to remain at the pinnacle of his or her profession.

Don’t mention retirement to Joe Paterno, though. Spurred on by an unquenchable passion, the 82-year old legend recently signed a three-year contract extension to continue coaching the Penn State football team. The contract wasn’t simply a gesture of loyalty, either. Paterno led Penn State to the Rose Bowl last year, and his teams boast a 40-11 record over the past four seasons.

Having entered his 60th season of coaching (his 44th as a head coach), Paterno is as fiery as ever. Undiminished through the years, his passion seems to grow with each new season, fueling his competitive attitude and meticulous preparation. While critics question his ability to relate to players young enough to be his great-grandchildren, Joe Paterno keeps leading and keeps winning.

Joe Paterno’s longevity seems even more amazing in light of the demanding schedule he maintains as a college football coach. The rigors of his job span every month on the calendar. In the offseason, Paterno traverses the countryside in a quest to woo the nation’s best student-athletes to Penn State. During preseason, from sun up to sun down, he inhabits the practice facilities, exhorting his team to give its best effort.

The kickoff of the regular season introduces the most intense work of all. Week after week, Coach Paterno studies opponents, devises game plans, and leads the Penn State Nittany Lions onto the field of play. After every contest, Coach Paterno’s decisions about which players to put into the game and what plays to call are scrutinized and second-guessed by thousands of fans and a host of journalists.

Yet despite the hectic pace and extreme pressure of his job, Joe Paterno shows no signs of stepping down anytime soon. He enjoys coaching too much to quit. Passion, apparently, doesn’t age.

Life’s fulfillment emanates from passion, so it’s essential for passion to be exercised and kept alive. Joe Paterno could have heeded doubts about his age and stopped coaching a decade ago. However, something inside of him would have been lost. By following his passion instead of the standard retirement schedule, Paterno has enjoyed unprecedented success.

Abandoning passion may be the deadliest mistake an aspiring leader can make. Passion energizes us daily, sustains us through setbacks, and propels us to greatness. Daring to fan the flames of passion may put us on an unconventional path, but doing so brings fulfillment.


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