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Published October 29. 2011 09:01AM

When I served my Pennsylvania community as the principal of the high school, there were many times when I was asked to give a speech. Once, an organization requested that I speak about the topic "What is Success?" I truly believe that was one of the hardest speeches for me to write. There are as many definitions of 'success' as there are people in this world.

One man's success might mean lots of money and expensive cars. Another's might be a satisfying, powerful job. A third might say that his success comes from watching his family grow. I'm sure that as you are reading this you are thinking of what 'success' means to you.

My favorite definition of 'success' comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a little bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

The first time I read that definition, it was attached to a guidance counselor's bulletin board. Paul Mazzocchi was the counselor at our high school. Paul had been born in Italy, became a priest, left the priesthood, got married, and became a counselor. I was lucky to have him as a co-worker and friend.

Whenever some disaster occurred at work, I could always count on Paul to help me put the incident in perspective. He would say to me, "Ginny, not all the evils come to hurt." He taught me that even in the depths of despair there is a lesson to be learned. Paul truly believed that everything happening to us occurs for a reason.

When Paul was diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer, I visited him in the hospital. Neither of us knew that it would be our last conversation. I told him how unfair it was that he had to deal with the Big C. He said to me, "Not all the evils come to hurt." I retorted "Well, this evil is hurting you a lot." He smiled and sighed and said, "This is my final lesson and I want it to be a success."

How on earth can someone consider dying of cancer as a success? Then I remembered Emerson's words "to know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived." I nodded my head and told Paul "My life has breathed easier because you were my friend." He grinned at me and responded, "Then I have been a success."

I tell you that story so that you can understand why the word "success" carries such importance to me. Paul died shortly after our conversation. His wife Sue asked me to give the eulogy at his funeral mass. I quoted Emerson's words and there wasn't a dry eye in the congregation. Everyone knew that Paul's success resided inside those he touched.

So, dear reader, when someone gives you a definition of success that involves acquisition of material goods, be sure to quote Emerson to him. Perhaps you will help him re-evaluate his priorities. I use the Emerson quote as a yardstick for my life. And, I'm sure that Paul is smiling every time he hears those words.


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