Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Preparation is the true reward of success

In 1964 I had three ambitions: to win Amia Divia's heart, to attend the Naval Academy, and to become the golden gloves lightweight champion of New York City.

In retrospect, my last goal was more excruciating than the previous two.

My boxing coach, Denny Malvey, would say, “Leave nothing!” His methodology was simple. Preparation must be 150%. At the end of a training day he expected that his fighters be physically, mentally and emotionally spent. I trained three hours per day for two years working my way through the endless sea of contenders.

Mr. Malvey taught me that winning requires commitment; it's a process. Commitment is the essence of endeavor. Emerson said, “Once you commit the universe conspires to make it happen.” Commitment transcends itself as a learned behavior. However the antithesis of commitment is also a learned behavior. Being noncommittal is the quickest way toward mediocrity; it is transcending. It is easier to prepare for mediocrity than for success. Once you settle for mediocrity though, you'll know nothing higher.

This year the La Cañada High School football team made it to the CIF playoffs. Their talent exceeded their execution. However it wasn't talent that got them to the playoffs; it was heart. That says volumes about the team.

Mr. Malvey would say, “You fight with the head, not with the heart.” The implication is that excellence is a cerebral process requiring execution. And execution requires preparation. “Only when you are prepared can you serve your moment of inspiration,” he said.

I'm not a football aficionado, but I'd bet you a sawbuck that the LCHS football team did not have the preparation worthy of their talent, character and heart. Consistent execution is a product of attention to detail. What's the motto of the Boy Scouts? “Be prepared!”

I believe success is not predicated by winning the event. Instead we become champions by the hours, weeks, months and years we spend preparing for success. If you leave nothing, then winning and losing is merely the demonstration of your character. We learn by preparation regardless of the endeavor. It is the performance of a dedicated, precise set of acts both physical and intellectual that shapes achievement. Practicing over and over again for something desired — in the face of obstacles — is the hardest part of success but is the essence of our transformation. In military service, the hours of preparing for the worst pays off when the worst inevitably happens. Preparation is the critical component that invites the perfection desired.

It's not about winning. Instead, it's about having the opportunity and creating the wherewithal to actualize potential, to be the best we can be. The philosopher Thomas Carlyle reminds us that as stewards of youth our greatest charge is to actualize their potential. Any lack of commitment to that end is a disservice. Perhaps the trite expression “Play hard or go home” has merit.

Let me get back to my boxing goal in 1964: Although I was killing Red Barsone on points, I lost in the last seconds of the last round. However I never looked back or begrudged the effort preparing for the title fight. Mr. Malvey taught me something that would define my life. He taught me to “leave nothing.”


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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