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BusinessSeptember 28, 2018

Last night Derek Handley gave a talk called ‘Making bold moves for your career’


The man embroiled in the scandal that saw Clare Curran sacked by Jacinda Ardern challenged an audience at AUT to think about their careers. Madeleine Chapman was there

In an AUT function room at 5pm on a Thursday, Derek Handley, the man who was supposed to be New Zealand’s Chief Technology Officer, is speaking about bold career moves. At the very least, it feels painfully ironic. Who asked him to speak this month, this week, this day of all days? Who suggested that title for a man whose latest bold career move was just famously derailed? I had a lot of questions, none of which were answered in his 35 minute talk.

Handley stressed early on that this would not be a talk. It would be an experience, an experiment, and he encouraged his small audience of 27 to “lean in” and participate. As a journalist, the only reason I was there was in the hope that Handley would speak candidly about his role, or lack thereof, in government. It soon became clear that I was the only one there for that reason.

Students nodded enthusiastically as Handley spoke about giving meaning to every component of our lives and careers. Heads tilted in thought when he asked what the purpose of life was. It all felt rather heavy for a talk on career paths.

Everything he said, I wondered if he was actually talking about the CTO saga. I couldn’t help it.

When he said “as soon as I figure it out, it changes and evolves and moves away from me” while talking about his life, I wondered if he was actually talking about the CTO role.

When he said “every single time we’re doing whatever we’re doing, it’s always now”, I wondered if he was making a comment on the expectation of a job offer being a job, and the dangers of such an expectation.

When he said “Since every moment is a new moment of now, you have to decide whatever you want to do. The legacy of when you look back shouldn’t at all impede you from designing an entirely new future set of moments because every moment is brand new”, I wondered what he was talking about at all.

Handley didn’t become a millionaire by speaking in platitudes, and that’s perhaps been forgotten in the coverage of his imminent, and subsequently withdrawn, appointment as CTO. But the advice given tonight would suggest that since earning those millions, he has had a lot of time to look inwards and think about life and happiness and the future. Time that most other people spend thinking about how to make money to survive.

(Image: Madeleine Chapman)

He described two metaphors for life. The first was a puzzle of nine dots with only three lines to connect them all. The second was a mouse in a maze. “He’s got a lot of choices for how he’s going to go from A to B through the maze, but everything outside of it is ignored. Whereas actually that’s where the white space is to think about what you can achieve.” I thought about this metaphor for a long time. I thought about a mouse looking into that white space and somehow flying over the maze to point B. I thought about how it made no sense.

Then Handley said, “If you think that way, people might say ‘you can’t do that, that just makes no sense’. And that’s exactly when you know you’re in the right territory.” Touché. Je suis mouse.

Handley spoke of an old philosophy he had which had him designing a career and foreseeing success if he followed a particular path. Then he spoke of how he has a different philosophy now. I found myself wanting to ask him to speak on his old philosophy, the philosophy of a young person who wasn’t successful yet. Because the new philosophy, while it sounded very peaceful, was the philosophy of someone comfortable. Not much help for me and the Sherbert Fizz warming up in my pocket.

It wasn’t until the end of his talk that he brought up the CTO role. He encouraged us to “be” first. Meaning don’t wait until you “have” something in order to “be” something. His example was “have” good grades to “do” graduation to “be” successful. Flip it, he said. “Be” first. Again, I was confused but in the two hours since I have tried my best to “be” successful before “doing” anything. The results are still pending.

“At every milestone I decided I would be grateful and happy for every milestone of this Chief Technology Officer recruitment process,” he said, using his own situation as an example for being. “And every day I decided whatever happens, I’m grateful for whatever happens in this process. It’s hard but making that decision at the beginning of the day, every day, it just changes the whole framework.”

Deciding to just be kind or just be grateful feel very different to deciding to just be successful, but I appreciated the sentiment and agreed with the kind part at least. Handley laughed to himself and concluded his talk with “I don’t know if that’s what you were expecting tonight when you came to talk about careers and bold moves.” Most of the audience were nodding. I heard positive reviews as we made our way outside.

At 5pm on a Thursday, in front of a small audience, Derek Handley spoke about bold career moves and choosing to be grateful every day for the past five weeks. If he can take his own advice, he’ll be just fine. Actually, as successful as he already is, he’ll be just fine regardless.

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