Jim Duffy: Definition of success is not just the car, house and holiday

Think carefully about judging people who don't share your ambitions - they might just be perfectly happy, says Jim Duffy

What makes us content is often based on what stage of life we are at, says Jim Duffy.

As a 30-year-old, my definition of success, or ‘DOS’, was to become a Chief Superintendent of police - or maybe even a Chief Constable. At that time in my life, I had been in the polis for about five years and I was keen to progress. I recall one of my shift inspectors telling me not to be too ambitious, but to “achieve my potential”. That was code for those who wanted to climb the ranks and therefore can be interpreted as, “I want promoted tomorrow, but I’m not telling you that, but you know it anyway”.

Still, I was in a hurry to get to where I needed to be. I thought success at that time was a crown on my shoulder. I’m so glad circumstances arose in my own reality that precipitated my exit from the police a few years later. As I now approach 50, my definition of success has changed and keeps changing. So what about you?

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I recently spoke with a rather grounded and rounded 30 year old, who was very happy in his life. There would be no real rank to chase as in the police and no real big cash pile at the end of the rainbow. But, he was very much at peace in the job he had and the work streams that flowed from this. How lucky, I thought, that he had a wee bit of nirvana at such an early age. His DOS was reflected in how privileged he felt getting up early and going to work. Grabbing a cup of tea with his parents at lunchtime and then spending time with his bride to be in the evening. This made me think about how we calibrate our own DOS and how this rests with inner contentment and appreciating our ‘why’ on this earth.

The 30 year old – we will leave him anonymous for now – told me he had recently been to a lunch with some friends and acquaintances who had questioned him and, in fact, rounded on him during dessert. He was about to get married and he and his bride were taking a few days in Perthshire for their honeymoon. This left the luncheon guests aghast! Why was he not taking her to Bali, the Maldives or at least to a villa in Tenerife!? They interrogated him as to his lack of creativity and ambition in devising the honeymoon. Oh and his bride-to-be was there at lunch at well, listening to all of this. As they both drove back home, they felt a bit low, a bit demeaned and a trifle discombobulated as they had been made to feel small minded… by their friends.

As I sat with him and worked it through, it was apparent that he and his fiancée had a DOS that was so special and so clear and so grounded that it made me feel a bit emotional. They did not need airport queues, overpriced duty free, expensive cocktails and fancy attire in restaurant diners to make them feel special. Their version of ‘special’ was different, but perhaps even more powerful as they were being true to themselves. When I was 30, I would have been one of those at lunch judging people by the car they drove, the house they lived in or where they went on holiday. How awful. This made me think hard and I hope it will make you think hard too.

Really knowing what your definition of success is a wonderful thing. I think as people get older, some things come sharply into focus. Things like your health and your family’s health move up the scale on your DOS. If you are lucky, you will have moments of clarity, times where you see life in a different way, through a different lens.

Mark Twain, the writer and entrepreneur, penned a most marvelous quote and I wished I had known it when I was 30: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

I find this immensely powerful. And as I consider the outlook and mindset of the 30 year old who is happy at his work and is happy with Perthshire for his honeymoon, despite being able to go anywhere he wants, I wonder how many of us really know what Mark Twain was talking about too late in life.

As the maelstrom of geopolitics rages around us, sometimes working out where we fit locally and in life, and how that makes us feel in terms of our perceived DOS, is a leveler and a big win.