During the process of writing my book The Art of Winning I celebrated my 40th birthday. It’s a milestone, a moment that certainly warrants celebrating. These occasions need to be recognised. But it also requires something else: time to allow it to sink in. Given that I was a recently retired rugby player, at a time in life when many people in the workforce contemplate mid-career changes, I had some worries that I hope might sound familiar to anyone reading who has gone through this: Man, I’m 40 now. Am I too late to start back at the beginning again and learn over the next 10 years?
I wouldn’t do anything differently if I had my time again. But the doubt, the worries, the apprehension, they’re all there, making their presence felt. That voice in my head, piping up, telling me to take the easy route, not to try. After all, I’ve had a successful career, I could probably find an easier way to make a living than putting myself through the wringer again . . .
But if my book The Art of Winning is about anything, it’s about being able to win those battles with your mind. It’s about being able to strive for something where success is never guaranteed, where pressure and doubt come with the territory. It’s about chasing victory when defeat is a very real risk. It’s about striving to get that little bit better every day, without becoming overwhelmed by the outcome.
Nobody wants to be an ‘ex’ forever. If, at some point in the future, I could be known for what I’m doing then rather than still be labelled ‘Dan Carter, ex-rugby player’ then I’ll know I’ll have done something right.
When you’re making a major transition in your own life, one thing I have learned is that, just as on the rugby pitch, if you have the luxury of time on your side then use it wisely.
Everyone I spoke to offered me this piece of advice: “Don’t rush into anything. Take a bit of time first.” And it’s true: whether you’ve just finished playing professional sport, you’ve recently been made redundant from a job you’ve been in for many years or you feel you’ve hit the ceiling in a role you should have left years ago, it can be tempting to say yes to the first thing that comes along.
But if you’re fortunate enough to have some time on your side, you can look at these opportunities a bit more clearly, and using the art of subtraction, truly map your next journey in line with your core values and purpose.
I said yes to too many things when I retired. Opportunities were coming my way and I thought I had to grab at them. Who knows if they’re still going to be on the table tomorrow? And that’s where the art of subtraction comes in – learning to say no to more things so that you can focus on your core purpose, the thing that gets you out of bed each day with a sense of excitement and possibility.
When you look at the next chapter of your own life, I urge you to follow the core principles of The Art of Winning.
A strong and powerful personal purpose, to guide your way and ensure you remain swimming in the centre of your lane, even as the pressure builds and challenges mount. This purpose will be an evolution of your core values, not a revolution – just as mine evolved from the question I’ve spent the last couple of decades of my life asking: What would an All Black great do? Your purpose will describe a journey whose destination you may never reach.
Once you’ve looked back at where you’ve come from, you can establish your core values to walk forward empowered by the knowledge of the past – of something far greater than only you. For me, I’m no longer an All Blacks player, but my work to enhance my legacy will continue for the rest of my life.
To know that you’re willing to be humble, to embrace a beginners’ mindset and go back before you can go forward. When I retired, I knew that I had no right to just parachute into something at a level I wasn’t ready for. I was at the starting line. You have to be humble enough to remember that.
4. MIND MANAGEMENT
That little voice in your head, telling you to quit, that you’re not good enough, is a test of your mental strength. Find ways to focus on the present, to live in the now and quieten that voice. If you can think of it as a game, a challenge, just as I do when I’m fasting and that voice is telling me to open the fridge, then you stand a better chance of winning.
5. PRESSURE IS A PRIVILEGE
The knowledge that pressure is a privilege. If you aren’t facing moments of pressure, forcing you out of your comfort zone, then you aren’t in the business of high performance, you’re cruising.
A huge amount of resilience. There will be more setbacks ahead of you, plenty of which you can’t even begin to anticipate now. But accepting that they are inevitable – that they’re a part of life and that even as you stand on the verge of your greatest triumph, the rug can always be pulled from under you, you can build the mental resolve to not only weather them, but to learn from them and to come back stronger than before.
Clear, precise and direct communication. As you ascend the ladder in any organisation, you’ll soon learn that good communication is one of the key drivers of a high-performance environment. You must listen, but you must also make yourself heard. Build your lines of communication, learn to give and receive feedback and, crucially, use it to improve.
A constant process of evolution. Stand still for too long and the competition will catch you up. You must change your game, even when you’re on top – especially when you’re on top.
Know your identity. Know who you are and celebrate that. Whether you’re from a tough background or a privileged one doesn’t matter, just be true to who you are.
At times I had to put my rugby career first and family and friends second to achieve the success that I did, and no one who reaches the top of any discipline does so without making some form of sacrifice. You can still be a good partner, parent or friend and have a top-class career, but there will be challenges along the way and difficult decisions to be made.
How much you’re prepared to sacrifice can be the difference between good and great.
A mildly abbreviated extract taken with kind permission from the bestselling self-helper The Art of Winning by Dan Carter (Penguin Random House, $40).