AT university one of my close friends was French and impossibly, unshakably cool. We would go out dancing and at the bar she would say to the bartender, "And one for yourself". 

This was new to me, and so mature. This must, I thought, be what adults do. She and I are no longer in touch but the legacy of that friendship is that every time I go to the bar I say to the bartender, "And one for yourself".

A confession: I have no concrete idea of what this means. It's some form, I have gleaned, of tipping. How much am I tipping? Do they drink? I don't know. But it's met positively every time and I get a little kick out of being met positively.

Back in the day we spent a lot of time in bars; you had to know your way around or go around with someone who did. Yet tipping the bartender is less of a concern for Gen Z and I'm glad of that because, boy, this current crop of young people have quite enough else to be concerned with. 

As is oft-reported, Gen-Z drink less, smoke less, sleep around less, are more wholesome, even if they're doing it ironically and for TikTok. One thinks of all the parties and interminable events one has made it through thanks only to a couple of stiff gin and tonics and one wonders how this generation survives.

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More seriously, I look at the opportunities for this next generation and I wonder how we adjust our old, inadequate expectations of success to meet their needs in a shifting world; to be able to afford a house is more difficult, the financial crisis has made job security less dependable, the ever receding pension age means finding a job you enjoy is more vital than ever. 

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My peers and I were told to gain good qualifications, enter a profession with prospects and climb the ladder. This was success: money, a house, marriage, children. Barely any deviation over the decades from my grandparents' generation to my mother's generation to mine.

Now, school exam time has just finished and the summer vacation us about to start. For teenagers it is that weird, viscous period where the relief of finishing exams swamps you but the stress of waiting for results sours that relief. 

From memory, as unreliable as it is, this was a time of discomfort and uncertainty caused by the pressure to succeed. In hindsight, it is ridiculous to suggest that success rests on exam results at such an early time in a young person's life.

There is still a clinging notion held by adults that good grades and plenty of them are the marker of success. This outdated silliness is ever more useless to our young people in an evolving education system and job market where far broader options are available to them and far broader skills are sought by employers.

What damage must it do to the psyche of young people to group some of them in a category labelled "the best", leaving the subliminal message for the rest that they are "the worst"? 

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Solid exam results are not nothing but they are not everything. Sir John Major left school at 15 with three O levels. Is he less of a success than his Old Etonian successor Boris Johnson?

The education system, of course, needs some measure of efficacy so that teachers and politicians can ensure it's working for young people. 

But the achievement of Highers should never be framed as a measure of the success of a young person. There is no difference between the success of a pupil who goes on to study medicine and one who goes on to an apprenticeship. The doctor may be miserable where the carpenter finds joy.

A simple truth is that a great deal of our lives comes down to fortune. Maybe you'll find your dream job but the economy is a bust, the firm folds and you pack your work life into a box.

Maybe you'll find the love of your life but the timing's wrong. You cannot equate successes with being successful, just as you cannot equate failures with being a failure.The failures aren't always your fault. 

The first person I spoke to on my birthday morning, earlier this month, a person of two decades' acquaintance, wished me well and we marvelled lightly at our current age. They then asked if I had any regrets. What the question lacked in festive sentiment, it made up for in useful reflection.

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There is a photo of us at someone's 19th or 20th birthday celebrations and I imagine the only question pondered the morning after was "how's the hangover?" This is how things change: in youth, a survey of last night's damage; in adulthood, a survey of a lifetime's decisions.

The answer: I don't. Where does that come from? It comes from this notion of success - success is the ability to like oneself; a simple, plain edict and yet, to attain it, no easy feat. 

If you like yourself then you can have the confidence to choose the advice you want to keep and discard that you disagree with. It can take a long time to achieve this and meanwhile the discarded advice may continue to clang in the back of your brain.  

The person who likes themselves recognises their own hypocrisies. Plural. You will never have only one. The person who likes themself has the moral fortitude to seek forgiveness but not absolution. It is not incumbent on anyone else to comfort you over your own failings.  

As you age you find your past choices will be shimmering in the grasses; your ancestors will consider you and shiver in their graves. You are never alone with your decisions. The ghosts of earlier selves will hover on the peripheries; sometimes you will turn your head just fast enough to catch one shaking a mocking head or rolling an exasperated eye. 

A person who likes themself will be able to whip swiftly enough round to catch these ghosts, hold them by the throat and look them in the eye. That is the real challenge of success: to be able to look at yourself directly, this current self and all previous versions. 

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We leave marks on people, little smudges or deep imprints. You may find yourself in a bar 10 years from now using words you realise are not your own. That is a success to me: to affect others and be affected. 

Success is to be able to appraise the value of things, and, most importantly, the value of yourself. If you have self-regard, you have success. Using Highers as a measure is teaching young people the opposite of this, and we should count that as no success, only failure.