Jim Duffy: Life as a Rocket Man gives me new perspective on the world

Elton John sang that it was cold as hell in space, and I know what he means as I go through a time of transition says Jim Duffy

Elton John was the original Rocket Man, burning up his fuse up there alone. His 1970s song summarises so well what its like to be lonely out in space, says Jim Duffy. Picture: Rbt Stigwood Prods/Hemdale/REX/Shutterstock

I don’t think there is anything worse than being in a transitional period. I guess when I was a wee boy and the parish priest told me about purgatory, that is what it feels like. Purgatory, as I understood it, meant that when I died I would not be in heaven or hell, but somewhere in between - a kind of halfway house. And if enough people who were still alive on earth prayed for me – a Holy Soul – then there was the chance God would bump me up to heaven at some point. Nevertheless, purgatory sounded pretty boring. It felt like I would be sitting in the doctor’s waiting room with the nice receptionist staring at me, but the doctor never calling me in. That’s where I am right now ... I’m a Rocket Man.

It’s certainly made me think about life in general and how many other rocket men and women are out there. Elton John’s song, Rocket Man, is one of my favourites. Spotify tells me I played it 75 times last year. Wow! Sir Elton summarises so well what it’s like to be lonely out in space. And that is what transitioning means. I’m leaving my current role in the venture I co-founded, Entrepreneurial Spark and moving on to other things. I’m questioning the identity I had as the CEO and the one I have now. It used to be that when I walked into a hub, my team would spin on their heels and say “Hi”. Now, they hardly look up from their laptops as I waltz in the door. There is a new boss now and my ship has sailed.

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I’m on Mars and it’s definitely cold as hell. I’ve not retired at all and I am planning the next version of me. I’m hugely excited about my book - my new best-selling book. At least that’s my plan. But, I wonder how it feels for so many people who know that a job loss is just around the corner. For those who know that a retirement date has been set for the next few months. Transitioning is a weird feeling.

I recall in my old employment in the polis that many top ranking cops struggled really hard with this. One day they had control of a whole area of Glasgow, for example. The next week they were washing the car. No-one called them “sir” or “ma’am” anymore. I didn’t quite grasp or appreciate what it meant at the time. But, they too must have been on Mars. Indeed very soon, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe QPM, the Met Police Commissioner, will hang up his truncheon and handcuffs to hand the reins of power over to Cressida Dick. I’ve listened to his language on TV and radio interviews and studied it carefully. He’s telling us all about his legacy. I think he’s afraid, as he’s currently a Rocket Man and knows that purgatory is upon him. He’ll get over it and no doubt has a new gig planned after his holiday. But the torture he will go through on that holiday will be tough, for him and his wife.

Transitioning makes you question your own worth, your own existence, your own value. But from this inquisition into all this, there are huge positives. While Mars is cold and pretty inhospitable, it does give you time to have think. It gives you time to wake up again. It’s made me realise what a wonderful starter I am. I love starting things and growing them to a certain level. But, I’m not a finisher or completer. I always wondered about the story I was told while studying in America. Many start-up and founding entrepreneurs get so far with what they have started - they may take it to £1 million or £5 million (or higher) - but the investing venture capitalists were ready with, what they called, a ‘bull-pen CEO’ who would pick up the ball when the founding CEO floundered or stalled. This new CEO would steer the ship through the next growth or scale inflection point. And I guess this is where I am right now. But, I know and value that when I start something again, I’ll do a decent job.

The second positive to be taken from being a Rocket Man is that you view things completely differently. You take a step back and almost look with a new lens at what is going on in the company or organisation, the people around you and how they have no idea you’re a spaceman. Perhaps the perspective you had on themes, projects or people was a bit entrenched or single minded. Now, as you gaze through your space helmet visor, you see new dimensions to what was in front of you. You almost become an outsider and get to look in. I guess the trick here is to feed back as much as you can in a really positive, constructive way. This should be viewed as a good thing, so that those in the throes of getting stuff done can visualise new scenarios and maybe unblock some of the blockages that they perceive exist.

Yep, all the science I don’t understand, it’s just my job five days a week. Sounds about right, Elton. This period in outer space has not done me any harm. It’s been a real learning journey.

One day, you too will be up here. Or you may have been already. Purgatory? Yes, kind of. But, an opportunity nonetheless to learn from, so that you can help others come back down one day.