The James Hay theatre was humming with anticipation for the curtain-raising event of WORD Christchurch 2023. Clutching programmes and various beverages, there were families, couples, groups of friends, old and young – a wide ranging segment of Christchurch’s population had come out on a Tuesday evening to listen to Dan Carter speak about his new book; The Art of Winning.
As he walked onto the stage he was greeted with a shout of ‘Dan the Man!’ by some eager chap in the audience, which brought cheers and laughter. Dan was joined by Duncan Grieve, who is the founder of The Spinoff, and who co-wrote Dan’s autobiography, My Story.
I had expressed in my post prior to the event that Dan Carter was not a known name to me. I was not living in New Zealand at the peak of his fame, and do not follow rugby. So I wasn’t aware of his ‘local legend’ status until I began chatting to others about this event.
Immediately Dan came across as humble, likeable and engaging; someone who has thought carefully about what he wants to say and how best to say it. It was almost like having a friend in your living room who has come over for a chat and a cuppa. He spoke with honesty and humour, but also with a sense of questioning, with the hope to encourage others to do the same.
After some jokes from Duncan about his career as a Jockey underwear model, Dan began by talking about how he felt at a loss when he finished playing professionally, ‘Who am I if I’m not a rugby player?’ This is a challenge many former athletes face, and Dan approached it by talking with those who had gone through the journey already, such as Jonny Wilkinson and Richie McCaw. He knew he had to ‘repurpose’ his life and face the challenge of identity he was going through. ‘I wanted to be really vulnerable and open up to how difficult it is,’ to be able to help people through their own journey, navigating that change.
‘I began to look inwardly for the first time. Who am I as a character? What are my beliefs?’ During that process he discovered three important things about himself: He had a love of winning, a love of leadership, and a love of giving back to others to inspire the next generation to live their dreams. One way he has been doing this is through the DC10 fund, in partnership with UNICEF, empowering children around the world, and protecting their rights. Dan also spoke of retracing his journey to his home town, Southbridge, reconnecting with his whakapapa there and the feeling of coming full circle. During his personal journey Dan found he had formed ‘a new framework and a clearer direction of the path I wanted to walk.’
Dan’s book is divided into 10 chapters, each focusing on different aspects of leadership, including the importance of a strong team culture. He spoke earnestly about how a turning point came for the All Blacks around 2003 when their coach saw aspects of unprofessionalism in their regime compared with other teams. They aimed to tidy this up, and also to prioritise building a strong team culture which celebrated the diverse backgrounds of each player; sharing stories and songs from their home country which helped connect and empower them as a team.
Resilience is another key theme within the book, and Dan spoke passionately about this. ‘Setbacks have made me the person I am’. After a 2011 injury which prevented him from playing at the World Cup at home in New Zealand he was devasted. But he learnt through the process of recovery the importance of grieving, being angry, being sad, but equally not letting yourself be overcome by these feelings. It was about ‘giving yourself a timeframe of when to bounce back’. Then, he says, you need ‘to flick the switch, remember the purpose and reset with new goals.’ Putting the team ahead of himself helped him move forward and find reserves of motivation and resilience.
And the future? Dan is looking at many possibilities – talking to CEOs and business owners, discussing projects, ‘saying yes to everything’! He’s enjoying being there for his family, being able to take his children to school and sports, and coaching his son’s rugby team (lucky kids!). He is still in the process of his transition and searching for his new direction, ‘In 10, 20 years I want to make an impact, a social impact. What is that? That is what is driving me, looking for my new personal purpose.’
Dan spoke about his personal story so effortlessly that the hour flew by, and I think we were all wishing it could have gone on a little longer. The queue for photos and autographs snaked around the foyer, with Dan smiling and personable throughout. I left the theatre buoyed up and with a sense of wanting to always stay true to my own purpose, my own path in life, confident that this would take many twists and turns along the way. I may not have known who Dan was a few weeks ago, but I now speak about him with enthusiasm, and am very much looking forward to reading his new book.
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